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The Indies: Retailers Weigh in on the Growing Popularity of Gender-Free Watch Styles

Five years ago, the universe almost lost its mind when hip-hop star Pharrell Williams wore multiple strands of pearls while walking the runway at the Chanel fashion show in Paris. Today, male celebrities including Harry Styles, Gucci Mane, Shawn Mendes, and A$AP Rocky have made men-in-pearls a common occurrence—so much so, we spotted a number of men in pearls at this year’s Couture and JCK shows.

 

Pearl strands, diamond rings, and hoop earrings are well on their way to becoming gender-free accessories—and watches seem poised to evolve in a similar fashion. Already, renowned brands including Rolex and Oris are offering styles that incorporate elements traditionally considered “masculine” and “feminine.”

 

We asked three renown U.S. watch retailers—and one popular watch e-tailer—to weigh in on what’s become a hot and much-discussed topic within the watch industry:

 

Sara Beth Brown Prendeville, vice president of Brown & Co. Jewelers in Atlanta:

“This is an interesting and important topic. Should a watch brand decide to (for lack of a better term) ‘market’ to the gender-neutral consumer, I think an easy way to do so would be to add a gender-neutral option on their social platforms and website. Because let’s be honest. As a woman, I wear what is considered a ‘men’s watch’ on a daily basis. In fact, I’m currently wearing a 41mm timepiece. And I sell ‘men’s watches’ to women on a regular basis. And the vice-versa is true as well. I sell what may be considered a ‘ladies watch’ to men. It’s these particular sizes and styles that could easily be identified as ‘gender neutral.’

 

“However, I still do believe there’s a range of styles and sizes that mostly cater to specifically women or specifically to men. If you’d like an example, I’d say a 26mm or 28mm timepiece caters to a woman’s wrist and a 44-48mm timepiece caters to a man’s wrist, generally speaking. Then again, it is all relative at the end of the day!”

 

Oris watch

A mid-sized watch with crossover appeal—the 36mm Oris Aquis Date Upcycle, $2,300

 

John Carter, owner of Jack Lewis Jewelers in Bloomington, Ill.

“I feel like the retailer should take their lead on this from the manufacturer. There is so much thought that goes into the positioning of a brand and their individual collections on an international basis. Designing a watch that [ends up having global] appeal is no accident. The way these companies create their masterpieces can be as complicated as a symphony, and to take one part of that symphony out of context can change the entire arrangement. This can make the story of that brand in your showcases more confusing, and most of us [retailers] can agree that when there is confusion at the counter, it can cost us sales.

 

“However, I don’t think dropping gender labels will mean that less attention will be paid toward making watches with women in mind, because I think that consumers (especially women) are smarter than that. The truth is that we are all free to wear what speaks to us. For some men and women, that may come in a smaller millimeter case, and for others it can exceed 40mm. Watches and jewelry are about self-expression, and wearing what makes one feel good. So, while retail partners should follow the carefully crafted stories that have been laid out for us by the watchmaking masters, clients will always be drawn to what they love.”

 

Alexis Padis, president of Padis Jewelry in San Francisco and Napa, Calif.                                                                               

“Based on my experience, the majority of our clients shop case size first, then style. By pigeonholing a watch to a gender, we artificially limit the number of potential wearers. Since styles continue to fluctuate between large and small watches for both men and women, why not take the size ‘trendiness’ out of the size equation and just design unique styles to attract different consumers?

 

“Regarding brands not paying attention to women if they go the route of dropping gender labels, while this may have been the case in the past, removing gender labels, in my opinion, helps broaden options that both men and women can wear. Any watch brand that actively avoids styles to appeal to women are simply missing out on a large sales opportunity. Brands that recognize the female market as an important one grow their brand and market share accordingly!”

 

 

Grand Seiko watch

Grand Seiko watch with green dial, $4,900, available November 2021

 

Breitling watch

A men’s watch that also looks chic on women—Breitling’s Premier Chronograph 40 Green Dial timepiece, $8,400

 

Eugene Tutunikov, CEO of SwissWatchExpo.com

“I believe gender labels still help guide purchases for many of our customers. On average, women still tend to prefer smaller watches than men. While we are seeing more and more women wearing what are currently categorized as men’s watches, we rarely see the opposite.

 

Perhaps if watch companies showed women in ‘men’s’ sport watches and men in what are usually seen as smaller ‘women’s’ watches in their marketing campaigns, this could lead to dropping gender labels on e-commerce sites. But for now, I think it helps customers filter through their preferences. I am certainly a fan of women wearing men’s watches and often recommend that to friends when they are browsing our website.”

 

Top photo courtesy of Bob’s Watches

 

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