“If you asked me to spend $10,000 on a bag, I’d rather use the money to buy a watch,” said watch collector Yu Chye Fong when The Peak interviewed her last year. The owner of timepieces ranging from a 1989 Patek Philippe Calatrava to a diamond-studded, aventurine-dial watch by Parmigiani, mused: “A number of my friends like designer bags, but I can’t see the same amount of details and effort that go into a watch going into the making of a bag.”
While she might seem like the exception rather than the norm today, especially when the majority of luxury watches cater to masculine tastes, this was not always the case. Camille (the brand declined to reveal her surname), designer of Vacheron Constantin’s new ladies’ watch collection Egerie, shared in an e-mail interview that the fairer sex was actually the first to favour wristwatches: “At the end of the 19th century, ladies started to wear wristwatches as men did not want to put the traditional pocket watch aside. It was only in the first half of the 20th century that men started to wear wristwatches as well.” In the early days, ladies’ watches were typically jewellery pieces fixed on bracelets or bangles. Today, horological offerings for women have greatly expanded.
In a Financial Times feature last March, John Guy, a luxury analyst at London’s Mainfirst Bank, noted that women accounted for almost a third of Swiss luxury watch sales. Responding to the demand for options beyond the dainty and blingy quartz timepieces that have long dominated the women’s market, watchmakers have in recent years begun to create ladies’ offerings that pack a greater horological punch.
Vacheron Constantin’s Egerie collection, which debuted in February with five automatic self-winding models with either a date or moon-phase display, is the brand’s first new ladies’ collection in 17 years. Last month, Chanel unveiled three new J12 models – including one entirely made from sapphire crystal – to mark the 20th anniversary of its signature ceramic watch, which was the luxury house’s first automatic watch when it was launched in 2000.
At the end of the day, here’s what women want: the array of choices male watch lovers have, but designed with them in mind. Says arts manager and watch collector Cham Gee Len: “I look for watches with timeless designs, and which are almost unisex in look and size. My biggest peeve with women’s diamond watches is that many were not originally designed that way. They are actually men’s watches that have been made smaller – and to which diamonds have been added to make them more feminine. I think having a specific purpose in mind when you first start designing something new works best.”
Vacheron Constantin Egerie
When conceptualising the Vacheron Constantin Egerie, the brand’s first ladies’ collection in 17 years, designer Camille wanted to create a watch that riffed on asymmetry (a signature of the manufacture) and offered “a feminine interpretation of Vacheron Constantin’s elegance”. She sought inspiration in the world of haute couture. That’s why the five watches the collection debuted with feature accents such as “leaf-type hands reminiscent of the needles used by seamstresses”, and a dial decorated with a radial guilloche motif resembling sharp fabric pleats at the centre and the edge. Our favourite subtle touch is the diagonal axis that runs through each of these self-winding watches. Between 12 and 3 o’clock, the crown and a cut-out – which houses either a date display or a mother-of-pearl moon-phase display – form an invisible line with the Vacheron Constantin logo at 8 o’clock. The 35mm time and date editions are available in steel or pink gold, while the 37mm moon-phase variants come in steel, pink gold or diamonds set in white gold.
Chanel J12 X-Ray and J12 Paradoxe
This year marks two decades of the J12, an automatic timepiece Chanel introduced in 2000. Featuring a case and bracelet made from high-tech ceramic, it sparked the trend for using ceramics in highend watches. Last month, the French luxury house, which has watchmaking facilities in Switzerland, unveiled three very special editions to celebrate the J12’s 20th anniversary. The (literally) clear blockbuster is the J12 X-Ray, a 38mm hand-wound stunner that takes the full sapphire watch – a growing trend – to new heights. Sapphire crystal is typically used for the glass of fine watches, and is a challenge to machine because of its brittleness. While many “simply” feature cases made of sapphire crystal, the J12 X-Ray has a sapphire crystal case, dial, movements parts and – an industry first – bracelet. Topping off all this transparency in truly luxurious fashion, the bezel is covered with baguette diamonds weighing a total of 5.46 carats. For those who can’t decide if they prefer black or white ceramic, the J12 Paradoxe does away with the need to decide. Two-thirds white and one-third black, the case of the 38mm automatic watch comprises two separate parts held in place by a metal frame. The bezel and dial are coloured using different techniques. Prefer a little more shine to your contrasts? The J12 Paradoxe Diamonds mixes black ceramic with baguette diamonds (40 on the case, 26 on the bezel) on a 38mm automatic timepiece, available in a limited edition of 20.