The Gendered Nature of Luxury Watches | College Chronicles
I started appreciating luxury watches a little over a year ago.
To me, watches represent the inexplicable and beautiful human need to feel in control in a chaotic universe, as we center our lives around the time we created and keep trying to perfect.
The top luxury watch brands in the world are Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, IWC, Omega, Breitling and Rolex. We often wonder why someone would spend thousands of dollars on these brands when something like a more affordable Apple Watch can tell the time accurately. The value of a luxury watch lies in its mechanical movement, historical significance, fashion and design.
The invention of the mainspring enabled companies to begin producing portable and smaller-sized pocket watches. The mainspring is a spiral metal ribbon that turns the wheels of the clock as it unwinds.
Vacheron Constantin, founded in 1755, is the oldest manufacturer today and produced the most complicated two-sided wristwatch in the world in 2005. Mechanical watches have hundreds or even thousands of components, many of which are made by hand.
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Wristwatches were first worn by women. According to Guinness World Records, the first wristwatch was made for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary by Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe in 1868.
World War I made wristwatches fashionable for men. Until then, they were considered feminine and decorative. The watches had a utilitarian value for aviation and military attack, something that caught on in style with us as a way to show solidarity with soldiers.
Hamilton was the official supplier to the US Army during World War I. Over the past 100 years, Hamilton’s Khaki Pilot’s Watch has maintained its basic design with simple stainless steel and sapphire crystal.
In a 2013 interview, Hamilton CEO Sylvain Dolla said The New York Times, “That’s the beauty of it. Watches from 1917 and today are synonymous with precision and reliability. They are the common point by then.
Another impressive piece of history is Rolex’s 1927 advertising campaign which saw the Oyster model submerged in water as swimmer Mercedes Gleitze raced the 21 miles across the English Channel. The watch remained in perfect condition.
The current design of men’s and women’s watches still shows its first purposes. Women’s watches are generally smaller, decorative, and less precise watches than men’s watches, which are durable and utilitarian.
Both align with stereotypical conceptions of femininity and masculinity. The feminine is sensitive and modest while the masculine is strong and assertive.
But many women want what is referred to as a men’s watch for a multitude of reasons. The classic style is versatile and contrasts well with other women’s fashions. It stands out with distinction and flair, making a powerful, bold and knowledgeable statement.
Men’s watches are also more durable, have more complexity and functionality, and a higher caliber movement which gives them a higher collectible value overall.
The modern fashion industry markets luxury brands, including watches, as a mode of self-expression and self-fulfilment.
Otto Von Busch in his book, Psychopolitics of fashion, adds a layer of complexity to the idea of individualism in fashion, which he says is an illusion. He describes how we form an identity in relation to others and the “social emotions that drive our daily clothing practices and consumption.”
Busch explains peer comparison in fashion as a “social game”. He writes, “As I got better, I ‘became myself’ just a little bigger and better than others.
So, even if we express ourselves through fashion, it is also social, imitative and dependent on the gaze of others.
By taking into account the social aspect of fashion, we better understand the gendered nature of watches. When women wear men’s watches, they feel empowered and knowledgeable because others see them as such.
Buying luxury watches isn’t just about telling time, it’s buying that brand’s brand and history, genius engineering, self-expression and self-perception and, if you’re like me , finding control in the chaos.