A number of watchmaking houses have decided recently to invest in expanding their catalogue of women’s watches. It’s a strategic decision.
“These days, when we present our new men’s collections to retailers, some of them will give a little sigh and say, ‘don’t you have anything new for women?’”
For Alain Zimmermann, managing director of Baume & Mercier, this little anecdote just about sums up the current state of the market: the watchmaking industry has set the dial too far over to the men’s side.
“Over the last twenty years we’ve seen a strong movement towards masculine designs. In terms of innovation and product choice the watchmaking industry has tended to rather overlook women.”
“When we present our new men’s collections to retailers, some of them will give a little sigh and say, ‘don’t you have anything new for women?’ ” Alain Zimmermann
With his new ‘Promesse’ collection, Alain Zimmermann is hoping to reverse this trend and redress the gender balance. And he believes he is not the only brand manager looking for a new direction. “I think we’re seeing a groundswell of renewed interest in ladies’ watches, as this year’s Baselworld showed. Women are the new big thing!”
Baume & Mercier’s own history is illustrative of the ‘masculinisation’ of watchmaking, an episode it now hopes to leave behind. In the past, parity between men’s and ladies’ watches was a given, but that was before the inexorable rise of the gents’ watch.
“Because of our heritage many people still spontaneously think of Baume & Mercier as a women’s brand,” notes Sylvain Verdon, head of the Swiss market. The house’s history is marked by several iconic ladies’ models: the ‘Marquise’ in 1946, the ‘Galaxie’ in 1972, the ‘Catwalk’ in 1997 and the ‘Linea’, which was relaunched in 2011 and, prior to the advent of ‘Promesse’, remained the latest emblematic iteration of Baume & Mercier’s feminine DNA.
While welcoming the market’s endorsement of the ‘affordable luxury’ brand’s strategy, Sylvain Verdon stresses an important point: “The Promesse collection isn’t just a man’s watch that has been altered to fit women!”
These days, watchmakers are obliged to satisfy an increasingly demanding clientèle, customers who may not be content with a watch designed originally for men, that has been adapted to make it more ‘ladylike’.
Drawing inspiration from its almost hundred-year history, the Promesse collection, which was launched at the beginning of September in fourteen models and two sizes (30 mm and 34 mm), features an oval bezel in a round case, with a drapé guilloché dial. There is also a space on the back of the watch for an engraved message: “More and more clients want to personalise the watches they give as gifts.”
Luc Perramond notes a growing interest in mechanical movements among women.
- Promesse by Baume & Mercier
The collection includes both automatic and quartz models. Alain Zimmerman points to a growing interest in automatic calibres: “In Asia in particular, there is strong demand for automatic movements. But at the same time - and this is very interesting - women are less reluctant to opt for quartz if the brand also offers automatic models.” For these reasons, Baume & Mercier decided to postpone the launch of the collection in order to be able to offer both quartz and automatic movements, thereby leaving nothing to chance.
Luc Perramond, CEO of La Montre Hermès - a brand with a distinguished pedigree when it comes to catering for women - also notes a growing interest in mechanical movements among women. “But women are not turning to mechanical watches for the same reasons as men. Where men are primarily interested in performance, what women go for is a sense of authenticity, particularly in comparison with quartz, which is not specifically Swiss. This is what we are seeing, particularly with our Asian clients.” The brand is also preparing to pursue a ladies’-led strategy across the pond (see our cover story on p.12): “In the United States, where the majority of watchmakers are fighting it out in the men’s sector, there is far less competition in ladies’ watches.”
In recent years, some of the more traditional masculine brands have also been seen fleshing out their women’s catalogues. A telling example is TAG Heuer, which launched its ‘Link Lady’, as modelled by Cameron Diaz, two years ago now. In a similar vein, Omega gave its ‘Ladymatic’ a facelift in 2010, and promoted it with the help of an equally charming brand ambassador, Nicole Kidman.
The rarefied worlds of haute horlogerie and major complications also appear to be joining the fray. A pioneer in the field, Christophe Claret’s stunning ‘Margot’, which has been available since the end of September, builds on the timeless theme of a lovelorn lady picking the petals off a daisy, hoping to be told that ‘he loves me... madly’.
Until now, the catalogue of the Le Locle-based independent watchmaker has been exclusively masculine. So why this venture into the world of ladies’ watches, with a new complication for women? “I pitched my innovative projects for women around the watchmaking houses for a long time, but the men who ran thebrands were never convinced by my ideas... my vision is to create complications designed specifically for women. I promised myself that once I had my own watchmaking brand I would see this project through. The Margot is just the beginning.”
“This women’s complication is in a way the story of my life.” Christophe Claret
- Margot by Christophe Claret
Since none of his clients wanted to bet on developing a major complication for women (prices for the Margot start at CHF 198,000), he is going it alone, with an initial limited edition of 20 pieces (16 of which had been sold at the time of going to press).
“The demand is there, but it’s negated by the lack of supply. We are starting to see some success. This women’s complication is in a way the story of my life. It took me two years to develop. There will be more to come!” The watchmaker has observed strong demand in Asia, particularly from Singaporean businesswomen. “But in fact, we are seeing as many collectors buying this product for their wives, as women buying it for themselves.”
The beauty of the watch lies not just in its complications, but also in its elegant and understated jewellery elements. Titanium petals, droplets of gold and diamonds, and a tiny chime as each petal is removed. The familiar childhood chant is displayed: He loves me, he loves me not... or, in French: Il m’aime un peu (He loves me a little), beaucoup (a lot), passionément (passionately), à la folie (madly), pas du tout (not at all), the verdict appearing randomly at each press of the button located at 2 o’clock. The pusher at 4 o’clock resets the flower: all the petals instantly reform around the centre.
The timepiece is as captivating to incurable romantics as it is to connoisseurs of mechanical complications. “The aesthetic details are exquisite but they were very difficult to manage in production. Giving someone a watch like this is truly a gesture of love!”
Another watchmaking company dipping its toe into the waters of women’s watches is Revelation, founded by designer Anouk Danthe and her partner Oliveir Leu, who hitherto offered only men’s models. The watches’ unique feature is a ‘magical dial’ that turns to hide or reveal the mechanism at their heart.
The new ‘Revelation R05 First Lady’ uses the same system of polarised crystals to reveal not the date but miniature figurines. For this first ladies’ model, due to be unveiled at next year’s Baselworld, a clover leaf and a ladybird will adorn the dial of a collection on the theme of lucky charms.
“We didn’t want to just add colours.” Anouk Danthe
“It opens the door to an imaginary world, peopled with fairy tale figures, ghosts, even giant squids and underwater treasures!” enthuses Anouk Danthe. Why this foray into ladies’ watches? “We want to be a complete brand, with models for men, women and sport. One of our men’s models will be adapted for women, but we also have this purely feminine creation. We didn’t want to just add colours.” The company’s sales presence is focused in Switzerland and Japan, both mature markets in watchmaking terms.
“The market for women’s watches remains dominated by brand. When a man gives his partner a Cartier or a Hermès, there isn’t the same element of risk as there is if he gives her a Revelation! We want to capture the interest of all those women who know a little bit about watches and want to be surprised.”
Eventually the brand intends to stabilise its catalogue at one-third ladies’ and two-thirds gents’ watches, although the demarcation is not always clear-cut. Some models, such as the orange and turquoise versions of the classic R05, have proved equally attractive to men and to women.
Titoni’s watchmakers have also been thinking a lot about women. The brand founded in 1919, which is active in the mechanical mid-range, already has a solid record in women’s timepieces, with a back-catalogue of elegant models from the 1930s and brightly-coloured pop art lines in the ’60s.
It’s now the turn of the most recent collection, ‘Miss Lovely’, to rejuvenate Titoni’s feminine DNA with classically inspired designs featuring soft, harmonious lines. “In our production portfolio, we have about 65% gents’ and 35% ladies’ watches. However, we’re gradually developing our selection of women’s watches. And this figure is also a little bit misleading since many women nowadays also buy gents’ watches”, explains Daniel M. Schluep, CEO of the Granges-based family firm.
“Many women nowadays also buy gents’ watches.” Daniel Schluep
Titoni’s new ladies’ collection consists entirely of self-winding mechanical watches: the intricate dials express a style that combines traditional touches with features aimed at a new generation. “It is the ideal companion for the self-confident woman. The Miss Lovely models all play feminine and come with a frisky touch. It is not produced for a specific market. They fit the lighthearted lifestyle of the young modern-day woman, whether in Europe, Asia or the Middle East!”
According to Daniel M. Schluep, it is important to also offer some complicated pieces for a new generation of female connoisseurs, such as moon phases, world timers or skeleton watches. “Of course, in our segment, complicated ladies’ watches are more of an exception. However, Titoni has the Master Series for both gents and ladies. It is COSC-certified and the ladies’ watches come with real diamonds.”
- Miss Lovely (23976 S-503) by Titoni
- Miss Lovely (23977 S-509) by Titoni
But despite these positive indications, many questions about ladies’ models still remain, and the watchmaking industry does not yet have all the answers. To what extent will watchmakers really want to invest in developing complications for ladies, apart from the universally appealing moon phase?
Will the trend work in favour of calibres that are close to standard men’s movements, or will it veer towards smaller dimensions? (As we announced in our previous issue, several movement manufacturers are hoping to develop automatic ladies’ calibres, a market currently dominated by ETA.) And the perennial question: will quartz or mechanical movements come out on top? Ladies, it’s all up to you!
Source: Europa Star October - November 2014 Magazine Issue