Updated 08:54 pm EDT, September 1, 2023

Published 12:22 am EDT, March 24, 2023

Women and Watchmakers

By Thierry Richard

My mother brought me every day to her watch factory in the “Vallée de Joux”, where I discovered the magical heritage of Swiss watchmaking.

By Thierry Richard

Updated 08:54 pm EDT, September 1, 2023

Published 12:22 am EDT, March 24, 2023

Born in Switzerland, it’s no surprise to tell you that my first contact with the fantastic world of watchmaking happened when I was just a kid. My mother brought me every day to her watch factory in the “Vallée de Joux”, the home of prestigious manufactures such as Breguet, Vacheron Constantin, Audermars Piguet and many more, it was there that I discovered the magical heritage of the Swiss watchmaking, and I was truly amazed by craftmanship and skill.

Mademoiselle J12 La Pausa

The Expression of Rank and Wealth

My mom, like most women, has more than one watch in her closet to match her mood and/or outfits. This was already the case back in the early XVI century, when watches first appeared in the form of miniature table clocks. Expressions of the rank and wealth, watches were pieces of jewelry worn around the neck or attached at to a “Chatelaine”1 at the waist. Even if men were behind creating complications, women were at the forefront asking for innovation, forcing the watchmaker to push what they knew was possible. We should never forget that women were and still are a major contributor to the evolution of watchmaking. A story that most post people don’t know is that around 1783, an exceptional model was commissioned by Marie Antoinette to Abraham Louis Breguet. What should have been history’s first “Grande complication” watch, the timepiece was composed with a full perpetual calendar, a minute repeater, an automatic winding with power reserve indicator, a large independent second, a small second and a thermometer. Unfortunately for the queen she was executed before the masterpiece was finished.

Van cleef & Arpels Day and Night

Women Wrist Watches’ Evolution

Over the past 5 years, I have been searching secondhand markets for the beautiful watch that would symbolize my love for my mother and for watchmaking. I’ve scoured for a watch from the French Empire because I have always been fascinated by this period. The moment in time where the sleeveless dress gave all its importance to the bracelet. This new development created an extraordinary playground for the creativity of the Jeweler who had the idea to integrate it with a small clock, proof that women were the first to wear the wristwatch.

Despite my quest for this vintage watch, I have so far gone unsuccessful.

However, in my search, I look at more recent feminine models from the XX century such as the “Duoplan” from Jaeger-LeCoultre, recognizable by its winding placed under the case where the square movement is arranged on split-levels. This model is the definitive combination of elegance and fine watchmaking. Then something happened when I started working in the watch industry. Perhaps fueled by the Quartz crisis or the evolution of their status, women began wearing men’s wristwatches. The “Pasha” from Cartier, launched in 1985, was probably one of the first wristwatch to be worn by both sexes. Also, during that period Jaeger-LeCoultre enlarged its famous “Reverso” model and Cartier no longer produced its “Tank” in small format.

Cartier Libre

The New Era

After several years searching and on the brink of losing hope for the perfect watch for my mum, resurgence occurred. Watchmakers again started to focus on women’s wristwatches. Since the year 2010, brands have been putting a lot of effort to seduce more and more feminine consumers. In the recent years, the breadth of innovation in woman’s wristwatch surprised me.

First, flowers delighted the senses and translated elegantly onto watch dials in all price ranges. Bulgari transcended it’s designs interpreting nature in its new II Giardino Tropicale Tourbillon timepiece. Not only does the watch beautifully depict a tropical garden but the dial is complete with a colorful parrot gracing bountiful vegetation. This watch represents the watch manufacture’s first complication created specifically for women. Also embracing nature, Carl F. Bucherer adopted the bamboo plant as a symbol of originality and luxury in its new Alcaria Diva Bamboo watch. Blancpain also presented its new Chronograph Large Date watch with a shimmering mother-of-pearl dial.

Bulgari IL Giardino Tropicale Tourbillon

Secondly, brands like Channel reinterpreted their classics with a feminine touch. During the latest Watches & Wonders, the French brand launched the quirky Mademoiselle J12 La Pausa in black ceramic and 18K white gold, which sees an animated Mademoiselle Chanel figure taking her pride of place in the middle of the black lacquered dial, her hands used to indicate hours and minutes. Running on the in-house automatic Calibre 12.1, the 38mm watch offers 70 hours of power reserve and features a circle of 46 baguette-cut diamonds on the bezel, with one brilliant-cut diamond on the crown.

Often considered one of the most romantic complications, the moonphase display has been crafted by Patek Philipp since 2013. The timepiece features a 33mm white gold case with a double row of 132 brilliant-cut diamonds on the bezel, set with the Dentelle lacework technique.

A beautiful blue sunray dial forms the canvas for the white gold stars to glitter as if high up in the night sky, while Breguet numerals add to the elegance of the piece. Inside beats Patek Philippe’s smallest complicated movement, the manual Calibre 215 PS LU with a power reserve of up to 44 hours.

Jaeger-LeCoultre CALIBER 101

Finally, brands played with adding gems to create amazing jewelry watches to seduce women. Cartier offered a stunning high jewelry watch, the Cartier “Libre” is an innovative piece with an elastic gold strap set with precious gemstones, adorned with emeralds, sapphires, black spinels and diamonds. This bracelet-watch hybrid is inspired by actress Gloria Swanson’s spectacular rock-crystal and diamond bracelet created in the 1930s. Van Cleef & Arpels once again entranced everyone with the new Lady Arpels Day and Night watch that depicts the sun and moon surrounded by sparkling diamonds in an elegant yet simple setting.

Of course, this is not a complete list of what is new for women, but these models are for sure a hit among watch lovers. The vintage piece of art deco “Caliber 101” from Jaeger-LeCoultre worn by Diane Kruger if ever up for auction would probably be my first choice to express my love to my mother. The rarity of this masterpiece of just 98 components, weighs barely one gram has been the world’s smallest mechanical movement since 1929. As the love story between watchmakers and women continues and as more women are taking executive position of watch brand, the world of woman watchmaking continues to transform. Consequently, my quest for the perfect watch for my mother continues.

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