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Time’s up for gendered watches

Time’s up for gendered watches

Thursday, 13 May 2021
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Marie de Pimodan-Bugnon
Freelance journalist

“One must be absolutely modern.”

Arthur Rimbaud

It takes passion, a healthy dose of curiosity and a sense of wonderment to convey the innumerable facets of watchmaking…

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4 min read

For women or for men, a watch is still a watch. As consumers reject traditional gender divides, more brands are emphasising why their watches can be worn by both sexes.

In April this year, watchesandwonders.com invited Jaeger-LeCoultre’s chief executive to talk about the Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185, the most complicated Reverso ever. During the discussion, a question came up on live chat about new women’s models in the collection. Catherine Rénier’s answer: “The Reverso watches that we’re introducing this year, including the Quadriptyque, can be worn by men and women.” Was this a polite way of saying that classifying watches per gender will soon be a thing of the past? At a time when women are making sure their voices are heard, when female empowerment is challenging the social structure, watch brands are at last starting to talk about their products in a different way. “Genderless” is on (almost) everyone’s lips, the message being: wear whatever suits your personality.

A matter of size?

This is a relatively recent shift but the sentiment isn’t new. Women watch buyers have been expressing their frustration at having to “make do” with what the industry believes they want, meaning generally quartz-powered watches with a smattering of diamonds or scaled-down versions of men’s models minus the complications. Now times are changing along with trends, and the return of “reasonable” diameters that suit wrist sizes from the slimmest to the most robust are opening up new horizons. “At one point it was a case of ‘the bigger the better’,” says Gianfranco Ritschel, an industry observer. “We were seeing lots of oversize, assertively masculine designs but they’ve practically disappeared. The standard size now is under 42 millimetres.”

Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 © Jaeger-LeCoultre
Reverso Hybris Mechanica Calibre 185 © Jaeger-LeCoultre

So is gender a matter of size? The latest releases speak for themselves. A recent example is Chopard’s Alpine Eagle, based on the brand’s St. Moritz watch, a best-seller from the 1980s. Rather than divide the new collection into men’s and women’s styles, Chopard prefers to use case size as a reference, with 36mm, 41mm and (for the XL Chrono) 44mm versions. Something for every wrist. Audemars Piguet took a similar route when it launched its Code 11.59 watch in just one case size of 41 millimetres. The brand from Le Brassus confirms that the collection, which last year introduced new shades of burgundy, blue and purple, is designed for men and women, and says its curved architecture makes it “comfortable for all to wear.”

Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet
Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet

Vacheron Constantin’s Historiques American 1921, a watch from the heyday of Art Deco that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, is another illustration. The three models presented at Watches and Wonders Geneva are aimed at both sexes, with a 36.5mm version in white gold and two 40mm versions, one white gold and one platinum (in the Excellence Platine collection).

The no-gender generation

Cartier – which has added a chronograph to its newly revived Pasha collection (also a 1980s icon) – is another brand doing away with gender classifications. The multimedia campaign that accompanied the return of the Pasha in 2020, which was fronted by actors Rami Malek and Maisie Williams, and musicians Troye Sivan, Willow Smith and Jackson Wang, emphasised diversity and following your own way. “We wanted this campaign to share our values of generosity and openness,” said Cartier International marketing and communications director, Arnaud Carrez. It also puts the brand in touch with a younger audience who don’t let gender conventions dictate their choices.

Pasha de Cartier Collection
Pasha de Cartier Collection

These Gen-Zers refuse to be restricted by norms laid down by previous generations. They believe in fluidity. A clear shoutout to this new clientele, the Big Bang Millennial Pink that Hublot introduced in 2020 in collaboration with Lapo Elkann signalled a change in how people are talking about watches. And how they are wearing them, too. “Millennial Pink takes its place today as a pink which is not in the exclusive realm of women, nor that of men, but truly a symbol of a completely new generation,” Hublot declared. “This special hue marks a seismic shift which will change the status quo: established traditional values are being reconsidered through a lens of positivity. Pink – this pink – expresses a gentle, inclusive and confident approach to life. A fresh, young vision, full of substance, which redefines style.” All by itself, this Big Bang confirmed that a page is being turned, at last.

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