A watchmaking revolution is underway. The luxury watch market has seen a noticeable shift in recent years, with female buyers becoming a rising consumer segment within the traditionally male-dominated industry.
From makers and brand executives to new community-led platforms, women are playing a greater role in the watch world, driving interest on a global scale.
“A lot of the newfound appeal among newer female watch enthusiasts comes from the growth in representation of women wearing watches, whether that be celebrities or the collector community,” says Dana Li, founder of website Tell the Time, which describes itself as “all things watches for women.”
Leading the way
Li attributes the surge in interest to a greater number of “women celebrities who are wearing larger statement pieces” and thereby “serving as a style inspiration to women looking to buy a watch.” She points to actress Michelle Yeoh’s RM 07-01 and RM 07-02 by Richard Mille, pop icon Rihanna’s Jacob & Co. Northern Lights, and actress Hong Chau’s Panerai Luminor Due Luna.
A greater number of female voices are being amplified in the industry as well, Li points out, and this is encouraging women to develop their own preferences and connect with fellow collectors. “There are women who show that they are comfortable wearing watches that are not traditionally marketed toward women and stacking them with insane jewelry pieces for a heavy-hitting look,” she says. “There is almost this powerful connotation about being so unapologetic about flexing their personal styles and beautiful timepieces that gives other women the space to do the same.”
Another factor is the increased awareness of watches as a luxury item, “with many rightfully seeing them for more than just their utilitarian use,” says Isabella Proia, head of sales and international specialist at Phillips Watches in New York. “It can be jewelry, of course, but it’s really even more; it’s history, it’s engineering, it’s craftsmanship. People are looking to truly connect with the things they are buying, especially after the pandemic. We’re seeing that collectors are much more careful about what they spend their money on, and watches offer something for everyone.”
You’ll have women who love jewelry-like pieces, and others who love robust, functional chronographs.
A varied demographic
So who are these female buyers self-purchasing high-end watches like never before? “I’ve personally seen many women from many different backgrounds and ages buying watches,” says Li. “From my conversations with people in the industry, there appears to be a larger and growing presence of younger buyers in the market.”
Zoe Abelson has noticed a similar trend. As a luxury watch dealer and founder of vintage platform Graal Limited, she is “personally seeing a lot of women in their 20s starting to buy more ‘serious’ watches and begin their collecting journeys,” she says.
Proia’s clients “span age demographics and geographical borders,” with the pool of bidders at the most recent Phillips watch auction in New York representing over a third of the world’s countries, she reports. Ultimately, though, “the women who bid in our sales are hard-working and are looking to spend their money on a valuable asset they genuinely love.”
‘The freedom to choose’
As for which timepieces are getting the most engagement from female buyers, “there’s not a specific model or price range…since female collectors have such a wide variety of styles and preferences,” says Li. “You’ll have women who love jewelry-like pieces, and others who love robust, functional chronographs and diving watches.”
That said, vintage models have proven quite the hit. “Many vintage pieces are 33 to 37 millimeters, which is often very appealing to women,” says Proia. “From an early Patek Chronograph to a Rolex Daytona, there are a lot of great options…in this area of the market.”
Main image: Chopard Happy Sport on model. (Chopard)
This article is from the September-October 2023 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.