(Bloomberg) — Both Patek Philippe and Breguet stake claim to the development of the first-ever wristwatch. Patek crafted its debut model in 1868; a decade later the Countess Koscowicz of Hungary would acquire the large, gold-paneled timepiece. This watch still exists. The Breguet piece, purportedly finished in 1810 for Napoleon’s sister, the Queen Consort of Naples, seems to have disappeared. With either as the starting point, several decades passed with the wristwatch serving as an accessory—jewel-encrusted, lavish, and spectacular—for women only. Thus, advancements in the category pertained solely to ladies’ watches.
As the wristwatch became a tool for timekeeping during World War I, men strapped them on—and an industry changed. For years, brands have reserved watch improvements, complications, and technical advancement for men’s timepieces. (Nowadays, of course, women wear watches “designed for men” and vice versa, but the industry still very much divides its strategies by gender.) Collections “for women” most often involve reducing millimeter size, covering a bezel in precious stones, or both. And yet, almost every year a brand or two releases a women’s collection that demonstrates an horological mastery that honors women collectors. While Patek Philippe and Breguet are still among this list, we’re also seeing innovative pieces from independent designers such as MB&F and Christophe Claret.
MB&F’s just-released Legacy Machine FlyingT doesn’t look like anything else in the women’s watch world. It comes 14 years into the brand’s history. “The MB&F journey is my psychotherapy, and it took me the better part of 10 years to feel appeased,” founder Maximilian Büsser says. “I had been creating solely for myself, until I realized one day I would be nothing without my loved ones. My whole family was, at that moment, my mother, my wife, and my daughter. I knew I had to muster the courage to create a piece dedicated to the women in my life.”
Most buyers of complicated wristwatches are men, which is one of the hurdles to innovation in the women’s category. With so few opportunities for men to accessorize, the watch industry went in that direction—emphasizing new features and the mechanics behind it all. There’s also the fact, Büsser points out, that the industry is defined by male designers and watchmakers.
Thankfully, 2019 has already seen a whole slew of women’s watches bucking this trend. Here are a few.
Bulgari 2019 Diva Finissima Minute Repeater
In 18-karat white gold, Bulgari’s 2019 Diva Finissima Minute Repeater brings the beloved chiming complication to women’s wrists. At its heart, the BVL 362-caliber hand-wound mechanical movement is recognized as the world’s thinnest for a minute repeater. It powers two hammers that deliver their signature chime. Limited to 10 pieces, the wristwatch pairs an aventurine dial with diamond indexes. An exposed case back offers a window into the movement. Price: $187,000.
Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Planétarium
The Lady Arpels Planétarium features a self-winding mechanical movement module developed exclusively for Van Cleef & Arpels, by Christiaan Van der Klaauw. It tracks the orbit of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and the moon in real time. Winner of the Ladies’ Complication Watch Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2018, the white gold timepiece carries 373 diamonds. It’s the aventurine dial that mesmerizes most, however. Price: $231,000.
MB&F Legacy Machine FlyingT
A tall sapphire crystal dome harbors a central flying 60-second tourbillon and an angled time-telling subdial with blue, serpentine hands. More important, there’s a 280-component movement, developed in-house, that brings the automatic winding Legacy Machine FlyingT to life. Materials vary from an 18-karat white gold case with diamonds to titanium and platinum on the rotor. Price: $115,000 for the black lacquer version (pictured above.)
Jaquet Droz Lady 8 Flower Ref. J032003271
Defined by a lotus automaton that blossoms above 12 o’clock, the Jaquet Droz Lady 8 Flower made its debut in 2015, with different editions of eight (including this one) released since. One of the most challenging complications, produced by very few brands, the automaton is triggered by a push-button at 2 o’clock. The watch itself is powered by an in-house Jaquet Droz 615 self-winding mechanical movement. Carved in relief, the mother-of-pearl dial contrasts the 18-karat red gold case beautifully. Price: Upon request.
Patek Philippe Ref. 7150/250R Ladies Chronograph
More than a traditional chronograph, Patek Philippe’s manual winding column-wheel chronograph sports a 270-component Caliber CH 29-535 PS movement developed in-house for this piece. While the rose gold case and guilloched pushers may be alluring, it’s the functionality of the center chronograph hand, plus a 30-minute counter and instantaneous 30-minute counter, that define the watch. It premiered in 2016, with this being the latest model. Price: $83,920.
Breguet Tradition Dame Retrograde Seconde 7038
With a retrograde seconds feature, Breguet’s Tradition Dame 7038 employs an in-house-developed Caliber 505SR movement with an inverted in-line lever escapement. It exhibits some of the movement’s most exciting components directly on the mainplate, pushing a time-tracking, Tahitian mother-of-pearl subdial to the 12 o’clock position. This 2016 release features many finishes Breguet has used only on its women’s watches—including a frosted white movement. Price: $38,900.
Several complications unite for the captivating Piaget Altiplano—its 3.1mm-thick diamond-set movement among them. This ultrathin, hand-wound skeleton Manufacture Piaget 838D movement features 219 brilliant-cut diamonds in total, but its slender, stretched composition truly allures. And the entire case is only 7.3mm, a notable technical feat in itself. Price: $90,500.
Christophe Claret Margot Velours
Released during SIHH this year, Christophe Claret’s Margot Velours dresses up his debut women’s watch—a winner of the Ladies’ Complication Watch Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2014—with a grain setting accomplished through a new technique. With a pusher at 2 o’clock, one can make the petals of the flower drop away, one by one, accompanied by the switching of a French text in response to “he loves me … he loves me not.” Further, a chime resonates with each push. All of this is thanks to an EMT17 automatic movement, incorporating 731 components. This white gold and slate blue watch is limited to 20. Price: 198,000 Swiss francs ($197,000).