This week I am going to make broad sweeping judgements concerning an aspect of watchmaking I am not particularly qualified to pontificate upon: women’s watches. So hold on tight, and judge me light.
Women are, I am told by common sense and industry insiders, a sizeable portion of the international watch market. At least in terms of volume I am sure this is so.
The traditional thinking is that men spend so much on luxury watches because it is the only piece of portable jewellery-cum-luxury they have. Unlike women, who I suppose have to budget their monthly jewellery outlay between earrings, rings, solitaires, necklaces, brooches, bracelets and so on, men invest everything on one item: watches.
Sure there are distractions like cufflinks and lapel pins and perhaps even an earring or two. But when you are seated at a conference table in the Andaz hotel in London or Wildflower Hall in Shimla, chances are that the other suits may notice your Royal Oak Offshore, El Primero or Credor Minute Repeater. Nothing else. Everyone else has funky cufflinks, and everyone else and their executive assistant has a Montblanc.
Regal splendour: The Queen’s Watch from Titan’s Regal splendour Nebula Palaces range draws inspiration from Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace
Which is why women’s watches are often reduced to an afterthought not just in showrooms but also at exhibitions and retailing events. The boys bring in the big bucks. So ladies, please shuffle along to the back where someone will come along to speak with you shortly.
Even when they do present a women’s piece it is often a depressing, miniature version of the men’s watch. Ticking away inside, usually, is a crappy quartz movement which they hope you will not notice because of the smattering of diamonds (ooh) and platinum (aah) on the outside.
Which is why there is always a palpable sense of embarrassment when women’s watches are unveiled during the last 10 minutes of an hour-long product presentation.
This is also why when you finally do come across a great women’s watch you can feel the clouds part, the mist clear and the trumpets sound from the heavens.
In 2010 my favourite women’s watch was the beautiful Oyster Perpetual Lady-Datejust with the chocolate brown dial and gold bezel studded with diamonds. When we compiled our list of the best watches presented at BaselWorld in 2010 this beauty was a total shoo-in. Even before, I must add, most of the men’s watches on our list.
I love everything about this watch. Is it a classic Rolex? Yes, from the signature shape to the signature bracelet. At 31mm it was perfectly proportioned and inside, the watch had a self-winding Rolex movement with Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) certification. In other words, this model is proper on the outside and proper on the inside (if you’re interested in hunting it down, ask Rolex for reference No. 178341. A quick Internet search indicates a price of around $12,000, or around Rs 6.12 lakh).
So far 2011 had presented few such treasures. Breguet presented a clever “His and Hers” concept at Basel this year in copious yellow gold with clean lines; I suspect it sold by the bucketloads in China and India. Dior’s Huit collection was an inventive take on what look like the twin pillars of recent women’s collections: chunky ceramic and bold primary colours.
But then in October the clouds parted once again. This moment of epiphany was due to a superb women’s watch from Titan. Presented in limited editions of 49 each in yellow gold, rose gold, and rose and white gold, the Queen’s Watch from the Nebula Palaces collection is the best women’s piece I have seen this year.
Last weekend I spoke to Titan chief operating officer Harish Bhat about their takeover of the iconic Swiss Favre-Leuba watch brand (more about that interesting conversation in a future column). Just before we parted ways, he talked me through the Nebula Palaces collection. The collection comprises one men’s and one women’s piece, both inspired by the architecture at the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur. The women’s piece, or the Queen’s Watch, is inspired by the lotus fountain at the palace. Watch brands tend to use the terms heritage, inspiration and interpretation with laughably little factual honesty.
But the Queen’s Watch was a clever, beautiful and unambiguous interpretation of the fountain. The overlapping petal designs and floral motifs are incorporated superbly. What I like most about the watch is how tactile and three-dimensional it is, with mother of pearl worked into overlapping layers. Also, there is something about the thin metal strap that still makes this tactile piece light and airy.
It is unabashedly ornamental, even baroque, and there is plenty of precious metal and stone here. Some might even say that it is old-fashioned or too much of a “sari watch”. But I think it is that rare “inspiration” piece that tells its story well. Priced at Rs 3.75 lakh, the Queen’s Watch is expensive, especially by Titan standards. But it is a testament to clever design, and hopefully will inspire more affordable collections.
What will 2012 bring us, I wonder.
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