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Wrist Envy

Fashion News
Breguet’s Reine de Naples Jour/Nuit 8999.

By Laurie Brookins

Almost from the moment it became trendy to flash a Rolex beneath a shirt cuff, high-end watches have been traditionally rooted in a boy’s club mentality. But move over guys, the ladies are taking center stage.

Women’s timepieces are moving into the spotlight, thanks to recent debuts that should appeal to female collectors emerging as the new power consumer. The most significant change among the latest introductions? While high jewelry watches embellished with diamonds and gemstones remain popular, women are increasingly expressing an interest in more feature-driven pieces: the beauty of a tourbillon, the convenience of a dual time zone or a world timer for traveling.

Imbuing a women’s timepiece with these and other complications might seem like a simple idea and yet the industry has only recently begun paying attention. Such an irony is not lost on anyone with a cursory knowledge of watchmaking history. Abraham-Louis Breguet, roundly considered the father of modern horology, crafted two of his most famous pieces for women. In 1812 he delivered a wristwatch with an egg-shaped dial to Caroline Murat, queen of Naples and sister to Napoleon Bonaparte. Unfortunately, one of his most famous pieces was not finished until both its creator and recipient had passed away. In 1783 Breguet started work on a grand-complication pocket watch, a commissioned piece for Marie-Antoinette. A stunning example of watchmaking, the 60-millimeter Breguet No. 160 is crafted in gold with skeleton styling and 823 parts. It was ultimately finished by Breguet’s son in 1827, four years after his father’s death and 34 years after France’s queen met her fate at the guillotine.

Today valued at around $30 million, that one-of-a-kind piece makes the rounds at museum exhibitions, while Breguet continues to offer a Reine de Naples collection in tribute to Abraham-Louis’s first piece for Caroline Murat. Among the latest: the Jour/Nuit 8999, featuring a day/night indicator on the dial’s upper half—a balance-wheel represents the sun, while the moon is crafted of hand-engraved titanium. Hours and minutes are found on the lower half of the diamond-paved dial, which is surrounded by a case band in 18-karat white gold and a bezel set with 131 baguette-cut diamonds totaling 5.59 carats.

Indeed, when executed well, the best pieces offer a terrific balance of watchmaking artistry with just a touch of dazzle. Audemars Piguet’s Millenary collection was conceived precisely to address the changing attitudes in women’s watches, says Xavier Nolot, CEO of Audemars Piguet North America. “Throughout the history of watchmaking, women have played a huge role in the development of watches,” he says. “Movements were originally crafted to be the smallest they could be not for men’s watches or to challenge watchmakers but so they wouldn’t impact the aesthetics of jewelry design.”

Among Audemars Piguet’s 2016 releases, the Millenary Pearl combines an off-center onyx dial with openwork styling in a pearl and diamond-set case of 18-karat rose gold. “We decided to replace the jewelry on the watch with a beautifully crafted movement,” Nolot explains. “The idea that a woman can see the beating heart of the watch, that has become a piece of jewelry in itself.”

Another sign that women are seeking features rather than jewelry in timepieces: today’s accepted practice of women buying a men’s watch, if that’s the style that draws their attention. At F.P. Journe, case sizes in the 42-millimeter range, including the 2016 Octa Divine, are considered unisex pieces, says Pierre Halimi Lacharlotte, general manager of Miami-based Montres Journe America. “You find subtle details that can seem very feminine,” he notes. “Rounded corners or the beautiful curve on the tip of the hour or minute hand. A watch might feel very classic and yet its details are going to appeal to a woman’s eye.”

In 2015 F.P. Journe also debuted its first women’s collection, Élégante. Like many traditional women’s watches, it features a quartz mechanical movement (that took eight years to develop in-house) and yet it’s decidedly non-traditional: When dormant for 30 minutes, the battery stops, only restarting and resetting the time once the wearer picks it up. F.P. Journe’s feature extends the battery life from three or four years to about 10. “It was not designed as a marketing idea. Rather, Mr. Journe thought, ‘How do you solve the main problem of a quartz watch?’” Lacharlotte says, adding that he expects women will continue to drive conversations of high-end watches. “Our clients who are women, they ask so many questions,” he says. “Men think about whether a watch looks cool, but women want to know the why and the how in the craft of an F.P. Journe watch. It’s very exciting.” 


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