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Takeaways from 5 leading ladies in the world of luxury watches

From Leica ambassadors to creatives working at the forefront of pop culture, we ask five female watch collectors to sound off on the world of watches in 2021 — and what needs to be fine-tuned. 

Characterised for much of the 20th century — albeit, not unfairly — as a ‘boy’s club’, the luxury watch industry is now going through a tectonic culture shift. Once consigned to buying from the ‘shrink it and pink it’ catalogue of design, female watch collectors are now shirking convention (in record numbers) in favour of the same sporty steel stuff favoured by men that’s come to dominate the landscape of haute horlogerie. That, coupled with wider social movements which have had an indelible impact on pop culture (and that seemed to reach critical mass these past two years), has made more intrepid elements in the industry sit up and take notice. About time we say. 

Still, as anyone with even a passing comprehension of the luxury watch industry knows, progress can often come at a glacial pace. Here then, to help the industry-at-large along are timely wisdoms from five of the hobby’s leading ladies; who spoke to us about grails, inclusivity, and what watch brands need to do better in 2021. 

Lung Lung Thun

Image source: Bobby Kiran Yeo

Occupation: Financier, Singapore

Handle: @lunglungthun

Q: Assuming no limit when it comes to time or money, tell us what your ultimate watch would look like.

A: In the case that there’s only really one watch then I’d have to go with the Patek Phillippe reference 5004 — an extremely important split-second chronograph from the brand that integrates a perpetual calendar and is made in yellow gold.

Q: What can men in the watch community (whether they be collectors or industry people) do to make the hobby a more inclusive and inviting space?

A: The unimaginative answer would be something along the lines of “make more women’s watches”. Personally, I think a bigger effort should be made to invite female watch collectors to community events (e.g. get-togethers and workshops). It can be intimidating to reach out and get involved otherwise.

Q: Do you have a favourite watch within your collection? If not, talk us through the piece you’ve been wearing the most these past several months.

(Image source: @aydeetie; Instagram)

A: My all-time favourite would probably be the open-worked Royal Oak in frosted white gold made with double balance wheels (reference 15466 for short). It also happens to be the watch that’s been getting the most time on-wrist — recently, I flew back home to Singapore and I always bring this watch when I’m travelling.

Q: In your view, what are some of the trends watch brands should retire in order to attract a bigger, more diverse female audience?

A: KOL advertising. Speaking bluntly, a huge chunk of it doesn’t speak to the segment who can actually afford the watches that are being marketed.

Q: Call out one other woman in the watch community — this can be a watchmaker, brand executive, journalist et cetera — who you think deserves a bigger platform. Tell us why.

A: Jaclyn Li, fellow watch collector and co-host of The Waiting List podcast. She’s embodies everything I expect in an enthusiast: knowledge, humility, and a clear sense of direction from a very young age. She’s always been confident about her own tastes and has an extremely discerning eye for vintage.

Hosanna Swee

Occupation: Photographer, Singapore

Handle: @hforhozzie

Q: Assuming no limit when it comes to time or money, tell us what your ultimate watch would look like.

A: In an ideal world, I’d want something from F.P. Journe’s Vagabondage series, particularly the Vagabondage III. I’ve always been a fan of François-Paul’s unique design sensibilities, as they strike a balance between traditional methods of craft and a contemporary edge. His designs are synonymous with asymmetry and customised typography — the latter particularly demonstrates his attention to detail.

A: While most of the signature F.P. Journe watches consist of round designs, the Vagabondage series is distinctly shaped. Inside the tortue shape, the movement’s complexities are mostly exposed: evoking a visually arresting, mechanically satisfying sentiment. I’ve always gravitated toward classic designs that have a hint of the unconventional — so this really resonates with me.

Q: What can men in the watch community (whether they be collectors or industry people) do to make the hobby a more inclusive and inviting space?

A: Sometimes to discern what women want, all it takes is a shift in perspective — just like understanding one’s individual love language. It’s common to be intimidated by watchmaking because it’s such a theoretical, historically male-centric passion. Female watch collectors tend to be intuitive, so positioning watches in a narrative and stylised context would definitely lower the barrier to entry.

Q: Do you have a favourite watch within your collection? If not, talk us through the piece you’ve been wearing the most these past several months.

(Image source: @hforhozzie; Instagram)

A: My favourite would be a pièce unique by Ulysse Nardin given to me as an engagement present — mostly for sentimental reasons. Above all else, I believe time is the most precious gift you can give to someone. The dial in grand feu enamel symbolises the promise of a lifetime — always brilliant, never fading. The hour markers spell out my name (albeit discretely enough to escape an unsuspecting eye).

(Image source: @hforhozzie; Instagram)

A: Aside from that, the timepieces which have gotten the most wear over the past few weeks have been my Roger Dubuis Sympathie chronographs. These outstanding watches from the 90s champion the essence of early independent watchmaking. The cases feature interesting curves and sharp angles, deploy alternating brushed-and-polished finishing, generally resulting in a bold yet elegant look. It’s as though you’re wearing artwork on your wrist: complete with a gorgeous dial and elaborate movement.

Q: In your view, what are some of the trends watch brands should retire in order to attract a bigger, more diverse female audience?

A: Most of the timepieces catering to female collectors are still distinguished by their aesthetic aspect, as opposed to qualities of a mechanical nature (e.g. movement/complications). Fortunately, the landscape appears to be gradually shifting. I think brands need to start paying more attention to the performance and finishing of calibres found in ladies’ watches — to cater to the needs of ‘serious’ female collectors. Additionally, it’s apparent that a large number of female collectors have an inclination toward men’s timepieces: hence, smaller unisex options with a universal design language could be a great initiative.

Q: Call out one other woman in the watch community — this can be a watchmaker, brand executive, journalist et cetera — who you think deservers a bigger platform. Tell us why.

A: I’d pick Julie Kraulis, a much revered watch portraitist: perhaps it’s her pursuit of the road less-travelled, or the focused intricacy toward her craft that inspires me. In photography, capturing a meaningful image requires patience, but I can only imagine how much more focus is required for the sketched medium. Julia’s work is more than mere sketching: rather, it’s a backstory depicting using layers of overlapping narrative. It’s something you appreciate in layers — shifting your perspective on how you see a watch.

Zoe Abelson

Occupation: Watchbox Senior Client Advisor, Hong Kong

Social handle: @watchgirloffduty

Q: Assuming no limit when it comes to time or money, tell us what your ultimate watch would look like.

A: It’s honestly pretty difficult to pick one watch that would be my ‘ultimate’ piece. Your ‘grail’ is constantly changing: as taste and appreciation for the various types of brands and complications evolves. One thing that’s always been the case is that my ideal collection would be built around rare vintage Day-Dates — think dials of Stella, stone, and wood. Some of my favourites include those models made with onyx, ferrite, coral, lapis lazuli and green jasper.

Q: What can men in the watch community (whether they be collectors or industry people) do to make the hobby a more inclusive and inviting space?

A: Recently, we’re seeing more support and encouragement on social media — for both female collectors and women working in the industry. In this regard, platforms like Instagram and Clubhouse have been pivotal; as have programmes like OT: The Podcast. In future, I also hope to start seeing existing collectors’ clubs invite women to join.

Q: Do you have a favourite watch within your collection? If not, talk us through the piece you’ve been wearing the most these past several months.

A: I don’t have a ‘favourite’ per se, but one watch I’ve been wearing constantly is my Rolex Oyster Perpetual 31 in ‘Tiffany’ blue. The remainder of my collection consists of vintage stuff that’s higher value, so I find that this OP can be worn more carefreely. Plus, it’s just a super-fun watch — the riff on eggshell blue is definitely a contrast to the black and silver-dialled pieces I own.

Q: In your view, what are some of the trends watch brands should retire in order to attract a bigger, more diverse female audience?

A: We ought to stop splitting watches into ‘men’s’ and ‘ladies’ categories and offer further consideration to designs that work as unisex. Personally, I prefer wearing timepieces that are 36mm-40mm, and at the moment those are all labeled as ‘men’s watches’. That perception might influence women new in the hobby to only consider a narrow assortment of pieces. Brands should spend more time helping consumers figure out what size is right for them personally; and, by extension, focus on investing in mechanical movements tailormade for smaller sized pieces.

Q: Call out one other woman in the watch community — this can be a watchmaker, brand executive, journalist et cetera — who you think deservers a bigger platform. Tell us why.

A: At the moment, I’m very excited about Dimepiece: a website and Instagram account that’s dedicated to celebrating the watches worn by women in pop culture. Brynn Wallner (who runs the account) is bringing a much-needed dose of cool to the community, that will hopefully inspire more women to embrace watch collecting.

Ming Liu

Occupation: Journalist, London

Social handle: @mingliuwrites

Q: Assuming no limit when it comes to time or money, tell us what your ultimate watch would look like.

A: My ‘wishlist’ has gotten somewhat out of hand, but realistically, I could see myself wearing the Royal Oak in frosted yellow gold (with a mirrored dial) on the daily. It’s an iconic watch and an iconic design — I keep trying to nick my husband’s Jumbo — and I love how it harmonises with jeweller Carolina Bucci’s hammered gold finish. Fabulous, disco, and yet super-wearable.

Q: What can men in the watch community (whether they be collectors or industry people) do to make the hobby a more inclusive and inviting space?

A: I’d like to see more male executives/designers joining in on the recent conversations surrounding women’s watches. We’ve been endeavouring to have our voices heard for a while; and I think having men partake in that discourse as well will be crucial to its resonance. What really is the male response to female collectors? How would they design for female watch collectors today? Do they feel the need to design for women separately at all? I think the more that male industry leaders partake in this conversation, the more the industry is likely to change as a whole.

Q: Do you have a favourite watch within your collection? If not, talk us through the piece you’ve been wearing the most these past several months.

A: I do have my favourites — a Rolex Datejust, a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso — many of which are linked to my family in some way, but the watch I’ve been wearing the most mid-pandemic is my Bamford x G-Shock. It’s become my ultimate tool watch for lockdown: fit for purpose whether I’m on mum duty; #WFH; cooking; or just checking the time at 4am while trying to settle my toddler. It’s bulletproof and multifunctional (and as a plus, brings me right back to my teenage days of wearing G-Shock).

Q: In your view, what are some of the trends watch brands should retire in order to attract a bigger, more diverse female audience?

A: My biggest bugbear is that the majority of the advertising that’s levelled at women depicts the ‘male gaze’: it’s outmoded, tone-deaf, and quite frankly desperate. I want to see the kinds of real women who are wearing watches right now — not the imaginary creations of male fantasy for whom they’d ultimately buy timepieces.

Q: Call out one other woman in the watch community — this can be a watchmaker, brand executive, journalist et cetera — who you think deservers a bigger platform. Tell us why.

A: A big shout out to Watch Femme, a community founded by two watch world veterans actually — Laetitia Hirschy and Suzanne Wong. The community is quite new but expect great and interesting things!

Brynn Wallner

Occupation: Creative Director, New York

Social handle: @brynntrill

Q: Assuming no limit when it comes to time or money, tell us what your ultimate watch would look like.

A: My friend has a 33mm two-tone Nautilus that I’m absolutely obsessed with. It looks perfect on her — and I think it’d look perfect on me too.

Q: What can men in the watch community (whether they be collectors or industry people) do to make the hobby a more inclusive and inviting space?

A: It’s just a matter of asking people (in this case, men) to be more patient with anyone who’s new to the watch world. There’s so much to take in: from the different brands to reference numbers and the various types of movements. That all contributed to why I was so intimidated in the first place: because I didn’t grow up with a watch collecting dad, or come up with a lot of the preset knowledge that men like that are raised with, I thought I didn’t deserve a seat at the table. But the support I’ve gotten from men and women in the industry (excited to have a newcomer in the hobby with such bright eyes) helped me to get over that relatively quickly.

A: I will also say that there is no shame at coming into the watch world from a fashion-oriented or pop-culture perspective. At the end of the day, watches are just one aspect of an overall lifestyle. I’ve gotten guys in the comments section of my Dimepiece posts correcting me on things like reference numbers. Although I’m grateful for the honesty (and I’m dying to get to that Rain Man level of numerical memorization), the specific reference numbers are besides the point. I started this project to help the watch world become more accessible to beginners interested in it, and you have to start somewhere – even if that means screwing up the exact ref. number on a Rolex Submariner. It’s a process! Be patient with us newbies or we’ll get scared away!

Q: Do you have a favourite watch within your collection? If not, talk us through the piece you’ve been wearing the most these past several months.

A: I actually don’t own a luxury watch! This is a completely new passion for me. That said, I’m already looking forward to purchasing a small two-tone Cartier Tank Française for my 31st birthday.

Q: In your view, what are some of the trends watch brands should retire in order to attract a bigger, more diverse female audience?

A: I’m certain I won’t be alone here when I reference the piece Cara Barrett recently wrote for her Hodinkee column Second Opinions. Gender labels (in general) are so “2000 and late” — that certainly applies to the way watches are still being marketed.

I’d also suggest that the more luxurious heritage brands could loosen up when it comes to how they approach marketing. Not everything has to look so premium and so high-end: sometimes these watch campaigns are so slick that they feel borderline corny. The high-end stuff exists in this ‘safe space’ where everybody knows they’re luxury — we all know they’re expensive. In that regard, they can take more risks when it comes to the style of advertising: switching up the current aesthetic to make things seem more inclusive and accessible (all the while maintaining that baked-in level of aspiration). That’s a balance that fashion brands like Gucci have been striking extremely well.

Q: Call out one other woman in the watch community — this can be a watchmaker, brand executive, journalist et cetera — who you think deservers a bigger platform. Tell us why.

A: Ever since starting Dimepiece, I’ve made lots of internet friends in the watch community! One of them is Zoe Abelson (also featured in this column). She’s currently a senior client advisor at Watchbox, and I’m excited to see how her career develops and expands. I’m actually interviewing in the not-too-distant future, so you can expect to see more of her when that article drops in April! 

This story first appeared in Prestige Hong Kong.

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