Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet: why these women watch collectors are wearing men’s timepieces and shrugging off traditional expectations
- For women looking for in-house movements, interesting complications and more varied designs, often that means buying watches meant for men
- The watch community is finding a new, female audience on social media, and it’s one that believes men and women can wear any sort or size of watch they choose
Lung Lung Thun is one of a rare breed of women watch collectors. She researches the history of individual watches, she discusses watches, she understands watches and she buys watches – often larger men’s watches with complicated mechanical movements.
Turning 32 in August, Thun, a financier who runs her own brokerage in Hong Kong, says watch brands have too often failed to provide women watch enthusiasts with substantial models tailored to their requirements – with technically advanced movements rather than simple quartz inner works.
“For a super-long time already, people have been complaining to brands saying, ‘It’s unfair that you create female watches like this, it’s just quartz, you don’t think about it,’” she says, adding that brands have made varying excuses over the years for sticking to the material. One was that the smaller sizes often wanted by women limited the size of the power reserves that could be squeezed into the watch’s case. “Now that guys want smaller watches they seem to have figured it out,” she says.
Brands have tended to regard women’s watches as jewellery that tells the time – an afterthought that too often married gold and gems with a cheap quartz movement. Enthusiasts like Thun now demand more than that: they want in-house movements, interesting complications and design that goes beyond the merely decorative. That’s why now they’re often buying so-called men’s watches instead.
Physically petite women bankers and lawyers wear unobtainable 43mm Rolex Sea-Dwellers or Daytonas, or alternatively a chunk of G-Shock. They take men on at their own game and beat them with the unspoken message: “I have a watch that was designed for you, and I look better wearing it than you ever will.”
She started seriously buying watches in 2012, soon after she graduated from university in Britain. Then, after she moved from Singapore to Hong Kong about three-and-a-half years ago, she began to moderate her purchases, trying to keep the number of watches she owns down to seven.
Her enthusiasm for wristwatches sees her spending time researching and reading, and because she is now one of the hosts on the watch podcast The Waiting List – which is downloaded between 30,000 and 40,000 times a month – she needs to stay abreast of current trends.
Nora Taylor, 34, deputy editor of the popular Hodinkee watch website that features both editorial and e-commerce, says the division between men’s and women’s watches is outdated and there is an increasing belief that both men and women can wear any sort or size of watch they choose to.
Taylor says that if an enthusiast likes a watch’s “elements” and size, and if it sits well on the wrist, it shouldn’t matter whether the wearer is male or female – regardless of whether the watch is a huge, attention-grabbing Hublot or a smaller and more delicate vintage piece. Size is no longer the determinant of who should wear which watch.
Some enthusiasts believe gender labels should be eliminated entirely from the watch world, and certain brands have done that, Taylor adds, while there are others who say so-called feminine elements can be part of a traditionally marketed men’s watch.
“A lot of brands release ladies’ watches, but some of them don’t,” Taylor says. “We just ran a piece in our magazine with a beautiful couple, the man wearing a woman’s watch and the woman wearing a man’s watch.”
She hopes that increasing numbers of women will feel open to shrugging off traditional expectations as time goes by.
If women on social media see a woman wearing, say, a Royal Oak, and it’s huge and it looks great on her, they may be inspired to try one on and even buy one, Taylor says.
Canadian student Jaclyn Li, 23, another host on The Waiting List podcast, has been a serious watch collector since 2019. She thinks men are generally more interested in watches and, particularly, watch collecting, because they are far more limited in their choices of valuable accessories.
While increasing numbers of women are choosing to wear men’s watches, or the women’s versions of large and bulky so-called tool watches, Li thinks the interest is more about the technical developments in watch movements rather than simply a fashion for size or chunkiness. “I do see more ladies getting interested in the horological advancements, or the horological histories of brands,” she says.
She personally has bought 45 to 50 watches, sold some, and now owns about 25. She now tries to enforce a “one in, one out” rule to keep her collection to a manageable number.
Li recently bought a 39.5mm chronograph from A. Lange & Sohne’s 1815 collection. “I’ve always been restrained by size – I never thought I would be able to go above 38,” she says. “But this watch – it gives me a new perspective. This was a very new experience for me and I kind of like it.”