‘The stereotyping that means one kind of watch is for men and another for women is breaking down,’ says Rebecca Ross, watch specialist at Christie’s. ‘The attitude now is that anyone can wear any watch; it’s about how you wear it.’
Classics sized between 35mm and 38mm are often emblematic of this perspective and can be worn by anyone. Continued interest in vintage pieces, and contemporary interpretations, has boosted this trend, with collectors growing used to smaller pieces — for instance, 36mm sizes rather than the 42mm-plus size that had become a dominant standard in modern watches. A concomitant shift in fashion can also be seen on catwalks and the high street.
Might, as Ross suggests, interest in more unisex watches even reflect the foregrounding of gender issues in culture at large, too? ‘What you see are influential celebrities such as Kanye West happy to wear, say, a “feminine” piece like the Cartier Crash, much as women have been happy to wear oversized men’s pieces for years,’ she says. ‘Maybe we’re less constrained by outmoded ideas of the kinds of watches we think we should wear.’
These five pieces from the Watches Online sale embody refreshed notions of who can wear what.
‘Cartier is better known as a jewellery brand but has always been a prestige watch house, too, and celebrity interest has helped focus collector attention,’ says Ross.
This striking manual-wind piece in 18K pink gold may be a modern interpretation, dating to 2003, but it retains the distinctive, Dalí-esque asymmetric case of the 1967 original. One notion of its inception is that it was said to have been inspired by a Baignoire badly damaged in a car accident and brought into Cartier’s Bond Street store in the hope of repair.
‘I don’t think it would be a hard sell for male collectors to wear this piece now,’ says Ross, ‘especially given that the idea has such an interesting story behind it — just as important as provenance in the appeal of any watch.’
Patek Philippe Ref. 3800A
Better known as the Nautilus, this model is ‘one of Patek’s most desirable pieces at the moment,’ says Ross. ‘It’s very flat, so it sits comfortably on the wrist, and its look moves easily from day to night.’ The example here, in steel, comes in the more mid-sized 37.5mm case — a smaller version launched five years after the original 42mm Nautilus from 1976.
What endures is the appeal to collectors of its design pedigree: the Nautilus was designed in all its iterations by Gérald Genta, one of the most important watch designers of the second half of the 20th century, and the man behind the likes of Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak, IWC’s Ingenieur, Cartier’s Pasha and Omega’s Constellation, among others.
‘Genta was incredibly creative when it came to new approaches to watch design,’ says Ross. Genta himself owned only two watches, and one of those was a Nautilus.
Rolex Ref. 1803
Rolex’s mid-sized pieces began to define the idea of the unisex watch in the early 1990s, when what was marketed as a watch for men became a classic for women, too. This Day Date — an automatic with a 36mm yellow-gold case — might be the perfect unisex model, while also being the choice of many US presidents since its launch in 1956, including Lyndon B. Johnson.
‘It’s an iconic design,’ says Ross, ‘and although it’s in gold its very subtle style saves it from being at all flashy. It’s that understatement that Rolex has managed to translate into designs that work for men and women.’
This model is particularly rare, and more valuable, for being ‘double-signed’ by Rolex and by the jewellery retailer Tiffany & Co. — a jeweller with a cultural resonance that few others have.
Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 1491
With its uncluttered, time-only dial and simple gold-baton indices, this 34mm manual-wind Calatrava model in yellow gold is, Ross says, clearly suited to both genders. With its sweeping seconds hand, it was first launched in 1943 and boasts distinctive design flourishes.
Seen from side-on, the lugs form a subtly decorative scroll form, nicknamed ‘Riccio’ (meaning ‘lock’) by collectors for its similarity to a lock of curly hair. Ross notes that this scroll form tends to lose its crisp edging with repeated polishing over time, but in this instance remains unusually clean and precise.
She calls the piece ‘a real conversation starter. And its lack of complications give it an uncluttered aesthetic that has great appeal to connoisseurs.’ Despite including a Geneva seal movement with curving bridges, Ross says, this watch ‘is not about showing off its technical accomplishments.’
The 33mm platinum case of this Blancpain Villeret contains a minute repeater. Just as appealing is the modern, monochromatic directness of the dial, and the details that define all Villeret models — applied Roman hour numerals, a double-stepped bezel and slender hands.
With a history dating back to 1735, Blancpain has built a reputation for its use of space. It is behind the world’s smallest minute repeater, the first wristwatch with a flying tourbillon, and the thinnest tourbillon movement.
‘What’s more,’ says Ross, ‘it’s great for a collector to branch out from more obvious choices. There are great makers worth exploring and Blancpain is definitely one of them.’