Whilst the majority of vintage watch collectors have been immersing themselves in watches that were designed for men over the years, some collectors with an eye for the unusual haven’t overlooked the pieces designed with women in mind.
Take a closer look at women’s watches of the last century and there’s much for the informed collector to get excited about. Exceptional cases, inlaid jewels, decorative flourishes and any number of other exciting characteristics reflect their manufacturers’ skills.
Of course, one particular aspect of women’s vintage wristwatches that takes some getting used to is that many are on the smaller side by today’s standards. But increasingly, connoisseur collectors looking for mechanical marvels are finding that these beautifully sized and streamlined watches still deliver the thrill.
In some cases the best watchmakers collaborated with the finest jewellers in producing women’s watches, and because of this we often see imaginative, daring case shapes and bracelets , inspired by jewellery design.
One watch that captures this kind of collaboration well is this wonderful circa 1943 jewellery piece by Jaeger Le Coultre for Hermès. It clearly shows the skills of Hermès jewellery making in its case and bracelet.
Inside is JLC’s calibre 101, first created in 1929, weighing around 1 gram and used in many watches for women during the middle years of the 20th century. The whole movement is just 1.4cm long and less than 0.5cm wide so it fits easily in this case as with many smaller jewellery pieces.
Just as ‘haute horology’ and the individuals behind it command considerable respect and reverence, so too do the creators of ‘haute joaillerie’, or fine jewellery. By putting diamonds and other jewels into thoughtful settings on a watch, the overall look of the watch and its level of formality is lifted substantially. That’s not to say that they can’t be worn on more casual occasions too. Diamonds and denim can be a great look.
As an example, on a woman’s wrist a classic, square vintage Cartier Quadrant couldn’t look more at home. The timeless deep red roman numerals on the dial, the architectural yet ornate gold case and 36 white diamonds on the dial add a generous touch of opulence.
That’s another thing with vintage watches: They come with bags of history and character that let your imagination go wild when you look down at your wrist.
And what better to look down at than a Patek? This one doesn’t rely on diamonds to express an air of luxury. Instead it presents a masterclass in post-war design elegance. This example is from the 1950s, notable to my eye for the flamboyant, carefree design of its gold ‘bean’ bracelet. In smaller sized watches, details matter more than ever and on this Patek you’ll find the first use of ‘open’ 6 and 9 numerals. They’re lovely to look at and fun to obsess over, and were a precursor of typography to come in brands like Rolex and Panerai.
Another beauty of owning a vintage watch, is that it shows you’re unique. In a world where everyone seems to clamour for certain models of watch, owning a little gem-set vintage Audemars Piguet brings with it the opportunity to stand out.
They say good design is timeless, and when it comes to a special vintage watch like the Rolex Oyster Perpetual, it’s hard to disagree. This is a watch design with the ‘savoir faire’ to meet any occasion you care to throw at it, from underwater duties to a cocktail evening. This example, a Pearlmaster, is definitely one for the latter; an instantly recognisable silhouette with stunning twist of chic in the diamond encrusted bezel and bracelet.
A piece of jewellery that doubles up as a watch? What’s not to like about a vintage ladies watch? By and large, they don’t make them like they used to and that makes it well worth picking one up.