You would never know it by today’s bro-centric collectors’ culture, but the wristwatch was originally invented for women, and it was worn almost exclusively by women for its first 100 years of existence — with the notable exception of Alberto Santos-Dumont, who wore his trusty Cartier while flying his plane. After a century of being overtaken and overshadowed by an outstanding array of men’s watches, women’s time has come again. Women’s watches now come with purpose-built movements, intelligent design, and high end finish, making them every bit as collectible as men’s. Though we’re already in January now, I want to think back on the women’s watches we saw released last year, in 2019. Here are my top five:
This watch is a work of horological performance art, conceived by Max Busser, the most creative designer in watches this century. The design is both ultra-contemporary and high-tech, with its front-and-center flying tourbillon escapement perched on top of the dial next to a time dial tilted at 50º under a domed sapphire, and, at the same time, stands as a tribute to traditional watchmaking. The baguette diamond setting is executed in spectacular 3D style, hugging the curved dial plate and flange-like water tumbling over Niagara Falls. The baguette diamond version (priced at $315,000) is set with 294 diamonds, including 134 on the dial, 124 on the case, 12 on the buckle, 26 on the two crowns and one on top of the tourbillon cage, totaling 8.2 carats. The gold rotor is engraved as a sun motif — a life-giving force symbolic of women. At 20mm-thick, however, it is not for every woman.
This piece, packed with uncharacteristically effervescent personality for a Patek watch, was introduced exclusively to the Singapore market last October. All 300 pieces are, no doubt, spoken for, but the raspberry Red Luce is worth keeping an eye out for on the secondary market. This is the first raspberry red version of the model’s signature pattern-embossed dial, and the color gives it a more sporty, modern vibe than the usual Aquanaut — and, indeed, the usual Patek reference. If you’re looking for a more traditional wear (or a surer investment), the women’s chronograph is probably your best bet, but this piece could be a future auction-house dark horse, even with its quartz movement — in fact, the quartz movement makes it a bit of an anomaly. It is, after all, a steel sports watch by the world’s best maker. Think of it as a 5711 for women. With 46 diamonds on the bezel, it is priced in Swiss francs, at CHF 22,000, which is about the equivalent in U.S. dollars.
One for the girls; one for the boys. Montblanc introduced a new perpetual calendar movement, the MB 29.22, simultaneously in both men’s and women’s watches last year. For men, it debuted in the Heritage Perpetual Calendar Limited Edition 100, and for women, in the Bohème collection. It displays hours, minutes, day, date, month, moon phase, and leap year, as well as an additional dual-time function and 24-hour indicator. And what more could you possibly want? The perpetual calendar is the most practical of all complications, and it’s hard to believe there aren’t more of them for women, especially with all the ultra-thin calibers coming out now. This movement, the MB 29.22, is made only of wheeled gears, instead of levers, a construction that means you can adjust the watch via the crown in both directions, making it far simpler to set. The 18k rose gold case is set with 58 diamonds and is priced at $36,400.
There is nothing else like the Pont des Amoureux (“lover’s bridge” in French), and that, of course, is the pont, er, point. At midnight and noon, the tiny gold man and woman figures on the dial come together for a kiss in the moonlight on a bridge in Paris. It lasts three minutes — pretty long for a kiss, but alors, it is the French way, explains one Van Cleef staffer. After the kiss, the couple separates. The woman returns to the beginning of a jumping retrograde hour scale on one side of the dial and the man to his retrograde minutes on the other. Twelve hours later, they meet again in the middle. They will also kiss on demand at the push of a button. The automatic movement was developed exclusively for Van Cleef & Arpels by Jean-Marc Weiderrecht of the Swiss boutique movement firm Agenhor. The automatic movement has a Valfleurier Q020 base rather than the manual-wound Jaeger-LeCoultre base of the original, which was introduced in an earlier version of this model in 2010. Prices begin at $123,000 for the winter version of the Pont des Amoureux. There are three others, decorated according to the seasons, at price on demand.
Like most other laudable watches introduced last year, the J12 is a remake, but unlike the rest, it is not a tribute to a vintage classic, but to a modern one, since the original was launched only 20 years ago. In that short time, the J12 it has become an icon, on par with the Cartier Panthère and the Rolex Datejust. The redesign retains the basic codes — ceramic case and bracelet, notched bezel, large case, and Chanel logo. But now it has a larger dial opening and what Chanel describes as a “more refined” bezel, with 40 notches instead of 30. It also has a new font, and the width of the crown was reduced by a third. As someone who wears a J12, I can attest to the absolute necessity of the latter; that enormous crown needed adjusting. It also has a new movement, the COSC-rated caliber 12.1 automatic, with a 70-hour power reserve, developed by the new Rolex/Tudor-owned manufacturer Kenissi, in which Chanel has a 20% stake. (Previously the J12 automatic had an ETA 2892). It has a stop-seconds feature during time-setting, a date function, and rapid date-correction. Two great final touches: diamond indicators are an option, and a touch of Super-LumiNova makes the hands glow in the dark. $5,700.