Despite its modern status as a man’s best friend, the birth of the wristwatch could not be more feminine.
To understand this, we have to go back to the 16th century when jewellery was strictly a female affair and any self-respecting man wouldn’t be caught dead with anything on his wrist.
A gentleman did use a watch — a pocket watch — but to him, it was little more than a functional piece of equipment. It was there to notify him of the hour as and when he needed to know, and therefore was tucked away and only brought out when necessary.
With admiration for the watch’s elegance and craftsmanship, jewellers saw it as a shame to hide it away 90 percent of the time. And so they began experimenting with its design in jewellery. The results were embraced by a few women of high stature, and naturally, not long after the watch became a highly-sought after piece of female wrist wear.
The very first wristwatches didn’t have anything to do with telling the practicality of telling the time, though. They were symbols of style and status — innovations in design reserved for the highest classes of female elite.
The female relationship with the watch has somewhat been lost today. However, in more recent years the wristwatch has been making a return to its female roots, with more women picking up traditionally men’s wears — Rolex GMTs, vintage Omega Speedmasters, etc. — and popular model lines evolving to have a more unisex appeal.
In celebration of this shift in the market, let’s take a look at a few women’s watches that were heavily influential in the development of the wristwatch as we know it today.
Panerai Luminor 1950: the watch that changed fashion
It makes sense to start with no other watch than the one that, upon its release, kicked off a revolution in fashion and wrist wear.
Initially designed to be a diver’s watch for the Italian Navy, the Panerai Luminor was the first watch of its kind to be widely worn by both men and women. At a whopping 45mm in diameter, the Luminor is a bulky watch that dwarfed the typical men’s watch of the time of 37-38mm. That’s a significant difference and a bold statement to make, and for this very reason it was considered vogue and picked up by both sexes.
Rolex Daytona Beach 2002: a modern classic
A Rolex model that has long been an icon, the Daytona entered the women’s market in 2002. Under the name ‘Daytona Beach’, the watch is now available in four colours — pink, yellow, blue, and green — transforming its wrist presence from powerful into playful.
The dials on the green and blue versions are made of chrysoprase and the pink and yellow versions of mother-of-pearl. The Daytona also comes with lizard pattern straps that match the colour of the dial. A fun and robust watch that instantly became a modern classic.
Cartier’s Tank 1919: the first commercial wristwatch
A watch that was adorned by the likes of Princess Diana, Andy Warhol, and Cary Grant, among others, the Cartier Tank is not only one of the most coveted watches of history, it’s also considered by many to be the first commercial wristwatch ever made.
Before the Tank, a wristwatch was nothing more than a pocket watch on a strap. Cartier changed that by creating a new timepiece from scratch that wasn’t made to be hidden away in the pocket, but displayed on the wrist. As the name suggests, its shape was influenced by the geometry of tanks on the battlefield. But it was the addition of Art Deco styling that allowed Cartier to bring the watch’s face and band together in one unique, era-defining design.