Ladies Dress Watches

The boyfriend watch is dead – long live the ladies’ dress watch. Here are our do’s, don’t’s and must-buys.

Bar some noble efforts in the 19th century and Art Deco period, the Swiss are not well known for their understanding of women when it comes to ‘proper’ watches – especially since ‘proper’ watches were revived from the doldrums in the Nineties to cater for a predominantly male collector base. Eschewing any attempt to make an effort when it came to design, the Swiss watch houses assumed women would be content with a man’s watch that had been shrunk, coloured pink and covered in diamonds. And consider yourself lucky if the movement was mechanical.

However, slowly but surely, things have started to change. Movements became mechanical, designs more thought-out, while at 2013’s haute horlogerie show Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) houses such as Vacheron Constantin didn’t show a single man’s watch – a brave move.

It could also be said that Vacheron Constantin’s collection alluded to where women’s watches could be headed next – a move away from a reliance on diamonds as a sole means of decoration (viz. enamel, guilloche, etc.). But at the same time, a move back to a very individual, shamelessly feminine manner of watchmaking. Men the world over have begun to breathe a sigh of relief, as they are waking up to find their own watches still present and correct on the dresser. The era of the ‘adopted’ boyfriend watch is coming to an end, as women who want a watch with soul – especially a dress, or cocktail watch – are being directly served at last.

“So determined was I to prove that I wasn’t a silly girl,” says editor of Eve’s Watch, Laura McCreddie, “I used to match stiletto heels and delicate frocks with that most appropriate of companions: a Bremont Solo; a watch more suited to a cockpit than cocktail hour.

“But I soon realised that I was ignoring a lot of brands making delicate dials under which beat a mechanical heart,” McCreddie concedes. “And I was also foolishly flouting that cardinal rule of watches: they must coordinate with your outfit. Along with realising everything has its place in your wardrobe, including your watch, there have also been some wonderful timepieces coming out of SIHH and BaselWorld, that are bringing me round to the idea that wearing a small, potentially quartz watch isn’t necessarily a reflection on my IQ.”

The latter half of 2014 has been a jamboree year for women of substance as well as style. Take Baume & Mercier’s subtle, circle-within-an-oval Promesse for a start – available with automatic as well as quartz, diamonds or no diamonds, mother or pearl or no mother of pearl… all acknowledging (at last!) that women feel confident enough these days to make their own decisions when it comes to a proper watch. IWC’s Portofino Midsize has garnered most of the headlines of late, and rightfully so, as the brand’s first women’s collection for decades even include a moonphase and GMT complications – elegantly incorporated, in a manner to which a few other men’s brands should pay attention. And even TAG Heuer has broken from its butch sportiness with ladies’ versions of its Aquaracer and Carrera – first conceived with the reckless, begoggled Panamericana road racers of the Fifties in mind.

But for a masterclass in time-worn feminine panache, look no further than Cartier’s Ballon Bleu (famously touted by the Duchess of Cambridge for the duration of her Australian tour) or an Hermès’ Heure H, with that killer double-wrap strap to pair perfectly with your Birkin. And, of course, you can never go wrong with a Rolex – its 34mm Oyster to be precise, which provides the first home for the grand maison’s new silicon ‘Syloxi’ balance spring – a massive vote of confidence for the women’s watch movement.

“Finally,” says McCreddie, “Swiss watch brands are realising that women aren’t one amorphous gender mass that goes gaga at the sight of something sparkly.”

“Of course diamonds still have their place, but women are individuals, with different tastes and definitions of what is beautiful. And it looks like finally we’re getting watches to reflect that.”