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I've recently conducted an experiment on a few friends. I asked men and women to briefly describe the difference between a women's and a men's watch.

Almost everyone answered that masculine is rather mechanical, more complicated, because men love everything that is mechanical. And the ladies’? You know: preferably decorated with diamonds. As you can see, stereotypes rule. At least in my neighbourhood. Maybe this is soon to change, as the first signals are already there.

It’s hard to believe that, historically, it was women who dictated watch fashion. Sometimes I wonder why we let ourselves be pushed into the role of a second-class client? If we follow the history of a wristwatch, we can see that the first wristwatch was not made for a man, but for Caroline Bonaparte-Murat, the sister of Napoleon Bonaparte (in 1812 it was crafted by Abraham-Louis Breguet). Caroline wanted a model with a minute repeater and… a thermometer.

Although Breguet’s complicated watchmaking masterpiece had a decorative bracelet braided from gold thread and hair, it is not the bracelet that was the most important. What mattered the most was the already mentioned repeater, thanks to which Madame Murat knew what time it was even in the dark. Today, models with minute repeaters are the crème de la crème of the watch world and the dream of many collectors, so, apparently, Caroline Murat knew what was good.

When wristwatches reappeared 200 years later, men saw them as designers’ madness. And then it turned out that women were much more open to novelties, because they immediately liked the new invention.

So why, after such a good start, did the women let themselves be persuaded that watches are a man’s thing and stopped being interested in what they wear on their wrists? Probably, partly due to the so-called quartz revolution of the 1970s. In the 20th century, a mass-produced, quartz watch cost little and at the same time indicated the time much more accurately than an expensive mechanical model. Then, marketing specialists came to the fore and effectively convinced both male and female (alas) clients that attractive packaging counts, not the mechanism (because who cared how a battery worked?).

Later, in the 80s, when Giorgio Armani created an image of a strong, successful woman, her strength was emphasized by a male suit (the so-called “power suit”), a symbol of the professional emancipation of women. The watch wasn’t such symbol. Why? Probably because a new phenomenon has already appeared – fashion watches, a seasonal product (often being a plastic disposable item). At the same time, after a break of over a dozen years, mechanical watches became fashionable in the male world, which the producers quickly caught up with. Female clients (even those who wore “power suits”) did not have such a choice: most often they were offered quartz watches whose main purpose was to look good. While men could pick and mix the more and more interesting watches, women had to settle for less sophisticated, quartz versions of… male models. Manufacturers didn’t even bother to hire designers to create something new. It was enough to downsize the male watch, fit in a simple quartz mechanism, add a few decorative elements and the female model was ready.

Fortunately, women finally reacted to this “watch discrimination”. The first women to rebel were the Italians, who in the late 90s started wearing male mechanical watches. There was a bit of provocation in it and a desire to show that they were fed up with cute models with a banal flower on the face, surrounded by one or two rows of crystals.

Thanks to the Italians, and also thanks to the Californians overseas, there was finally some global shift in the consciousness of women. European businesswomen started buying men’s watches and demonstratively wearing them to everything, not just to their business suit. The manufacturers realized that there was a breakthrough and started to offer “mechanics” for women. Today, we still cannot speak of abundance, but, fortunately, the awareness of producers is changing.

I remember visiting the Cartier factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds about 10 years ago and meeting Carole Forestier, Head of R&D (one of the few women who are master watchmakers and hold such a high position in Swiss manufactories). She talked about how difficult it was for her to break through in Switzerland because she was young, came from France and was a woman. And how many times she struggled to keep her cool when, on the other end of the line, someone insisted on talking to the boss and could not believe that the boss was her.

Today, there are far more women in watch manufactories, which also influences the change of approach to the design of women’s watches (more and more often interesting mechanical watches appear). It doesn’t mean that the quartz has done its job and is free to go. Most watches still have quartz movements, but there has been a change: female models are no longer just clones of male watches, but rather separate beings.

And although we still live in the male world, we, women, are gaining more and more power with our wallets and making conscious choices. Remember this when planning your shopping.

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