Women in watches: five leading ladies in the watch industry

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 April, 2015, 2:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 April, 2015, 12:44pm

There's no question watches are big business. While major markets such as the mainland are levelling, exports of Swiss watches are still above average and the women's sector is on the rise. According to World Watch Report, the industry's leading market research group, sales of women's timepieces rose by more than 7 per cent last year.

Luxury watch brands are showing greater appreciation for the role women can play in the industry as consumers and decision-makers. 

More are dedicating a bigger percentage of output to women's timepieces and, in some cases, developing mechanical and complicated timepieces for their collections. 

Breguet's Queen of Naples Day and Night 8998, launched last year, is part of a long-term plan to develop new features in women's watches, in this case using the movement's balance wheel to display the sun, while a titanium disc moon rotates around it indicating day or night.

Chanel gave women the J12 Flying Tourbillon, the first time it has put the complication in a female version of its J12 collection, and Audemars Piguet is developing new collections to reduce the gap between its men's and women's watches, which account for about 30 per cent of sales.

Last year, it launched a global campaign pitching its Royal Oak at women under the direction of its chairwoman Jasmine Audemars, an anomaly in the industry who has headed her family-run company since 1992. 

She shares that rarefied status with Caroline Scheufele, Chopard's artistic director and co-president, a role she has shared with her brother Karl since the 1980s. 

It was her initiative to follow Chopard's Happy Diamonds line of watches with the Happy Sport collection, equipped with a mechanical movement and diamonds freewheeling across the dial in novel, colourful forms. 

The 1993 launch became an instant global hit and has sold some 700,000 pieces.

Scheufele struck the deal for Chopard to become the exclusive jewellery partner of the Cannes Film Festival, a relationship now in its 16th year that has elevated Chopard's prominence as a high jeweller favoured by A-list celebrities such as Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow. 

She is the force behind the company's recent sustainable production policy, which debuted with the Green Carpet collection at the festival last year and is slowly being incorporated into watches and eventually, its bridal jewellery.

Scheufele says that while the watch industry is still very much a man's world, there are more women with top responsibilities, a scenario "that reflects a general trend in business, with very few women at the top". 

More women are gaining an appreciation for traditional watchmaking and mechanical movements, Scheufele says. She says it is a trend that began in Asia but is now spreading to Western markets and is the reason collections such as Chopard's Happy Sport are so successful. 

This practical, intuitive approach to business that women can bring is why they should be more present in decision-making roles. 

"They are attentive to different issues than men, sometimes more creative also, and they can bring a different light to business issues," Scheufele says. 

Chai Schnyder, director on the company board at Ulysse Nardin, mirrors this sentiment and says more women in positions of power in the watch industry would naturally provide a greater balance in an industry that is looking to expand its reach to women.

Schnyder, who holds a master's degree in engineering, recently stepped down as chairwoman of Ulysse Nardin in a role she undertook after the death of her husband and the company's owner, Rolf Schnyder, three years ago. 

She says the question of gender is less important as long as the company delivers results. 

Nayla Hayek was also promoted to chairwoman of the Swatch Group after the death of her father Nicolas four years ago. Since then, the group has acquired US jeweller and watchmaker Harry Winston, with Hayek becoming its chief executive.

While these women are making important decisions on the future direction of their companies, others are directly influencing the very heart that makes their industry tick. 

Cartier appointed Carole Forestier-Kasapi as its head of movement creation eight years ago. Her resume also includes time at movement maker Renaud and Papi and at Ulysse Nardin, where she developed the complication that went into its legendary Freak.

Since her appointment, Forestier-Kasapi has revolutionised the creative cog of Cartier's timepieces, including its men's collections. 

She established a workshop that enables Cartier to develop movements within the company, with 29 produced to date. She also initiated the 1904PSMC and the 1904CHMC 

chronograph, two basic calibres that now appear in Cartier's manufacture collection, and she is spearheading two ID concept watches that employ carbon crystal and eliminate any need for maintenance or adjustment. 

This year, Cartier debuted the Rotonde de Cartier Astrocalendaire, which reinvents the perpetual calendar and fuels the growing consensus that Forestier-Kasapi is one of the brightest sparks the industry has seen for some time. 

The complicated watch features a number of new technologies, displayed as concentric 3D discs surrounding a central tourbillon with the day indicated on the first ring, the month on the second and the date on the third. Windows move along the discs highlighting relevant words and numbers, while a hand on the back of the watch indicates a leap year. 

Patek Philippe has also put creation in the hands of a woman. Sandrine Stern is head of creative and wife of its president, Thierry Stern, and since her appointment the watchmaker has launched a stream of complicated timepieces for women including a minute repeater, several moon phases and a world timer in its First Ladies collection.