Attitudes to women’s watches have changed fast in recent years, for both brands and customers. A decade ago I often found myself nervously asking directors whether they had any mechanical or automatic styles among their women’s models, and sometimes got quite scathing replies. Nobody actually said women weren’t interested in mechanical watches, even if they thought it. The usual reason given for sticking with quartz for women’s watches was that women were more likely than men to have a “wardrobe” of watches and regularly changed the one they chose to wear, so it was more convenient to have watches that kept going when they were off-duty. They also tended to be afterthoughts in design terms – the general approach from the predominantly male design fraternity was: take a man’s watch, shrink it and pink it and, if you’re lucky, add a diamond bezel.
No serious watch brand would get away with that today. The rise of women in watch design has been meteoric, initially on dials and cases but increasingly on movements too. Women have long been valued for their dexterity and patience as watchmakers but now some are calling the shots on how those watches are made technically. This year, for the first time, the Best Watchmaker Award at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève went to a woman – Carole Forestier-Kasapi, the head of technical development at Cartier. She is also the first such winner to work for a major brand rather than as an independent – Cartier’s deep pockets have helped her develop such stunning innovations as the Astroregulateur, which evolved from the Cartier manufacture’s first concept watch, and her skeleton version of the Santos, where the fretted bridges form the Roman numerals. Cartier have placed huge confidence in her to develop the brand’s now highly respected haute horlogerie side – she sees a firm place in this for women’s models, one quite distinct from men’s. In relation to complicated watches for women – Cartier’s latest involves an engraved and jewelled gold crocodile coiled round a tourbillon – she recently said, “a woman who can afford such a watch expects it to make her dream. What makes men dream is technique, but what makes ladies dream is magic”.