SIHH 2014: A New World of Women's Haute Horlogerie


Sophie Doran | February 19, 2014

Though women only account for 35 percent of the lucrative high-end watch market, several haute horlogerie brands are making moves to capture their attention

The Jewellery Editor’s most notable pieces from SIHH 2014

Though women only account for 35 percent of the lucrative high-end watch market, several haute horlogerie brands are making moves to capture their attention

The world of complicated mechanical watches has traditionally been masculine. Though gender stereotypes are a somewhat unsophisticated way to solely segment consumers, the proof is in the product. And in the world of haute horlogerie, the product has historically been developed for, and marketed to, men.

“For many, many years, the watch industry didn’t communicate with women, period,” revealed Francois-Henry Bennahmias, chief executive officer of Audemars Piguet, to Bloomberg. The executive aims to boost his brand’s percentage of sales to women to 35 percent from 25 percent in the next three years.

Whispers of change have been on the winds of the watch industry of late. Particularly after SIHH 2013, when Vacheron Constantin chose only to present ladies’ watches and a host of watchmakers started developing collections expressly for females.

But with products that take years to bring to market, developed by companies that have existed for centuries, this shift has not occurred at any great speed.

“ For many, many years, the watch industry didn’t communicate with women, period ”

“For watchmakers, [the woman] seemed to represent above all a ‘bright new dawn’, but one that has always been postponed,” explains Michel Jeannot, editor in chief of WtheJournal. “And indeed, if you visit all the booths at the SIHH – apart from the female director of the exhibition – you don’t see many women in command of brands.”

“Positions of responsibility are still mainly occupied by men. In fact, there is a lot of desire to create made-to-measure watches for women, but for the time being, women themselves are still mainly restricted to playing the role of attractive hostesses.”

One exception is Nayla Hayek, the chairwoman of Swatch Group AG, who helped lead last year’s $1 billion purchase of Harry Winston to expand in bejewelled watches for women (Bloomberg). Another is Jasmine Audemars, Chairwoman of the Board of Directors at Audemars Piguet. That said, François-Henry Bennahmias acts as CEO.

Cartier’s Ballon Blanc de Cartier

Though it may be some time before we see a sharp increase of women in the boardrooms, it looks like we will be seeing more and more women’s product in boutiques. “Countless CEO’s have been assuring me that women were one of their main focuses when creating their new products for 2014,” confirms Michel Jeannot.

“Apart from IWC – which has stuck with its slogan “Engineered for men” – and jewellery brands for whom women’s watches are a natural progression, the more technically focused watchmakers seem to have realized that the “contemporary, liberated and independent” woman now has true purchasing power. And that it would be a shame not to make the most of it.”

Brands such as Cartier, Richard Mille, A. Lange & Söhne, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Parmigiani Fleurier, Roger Dubuis and Vacheron Constantin all leveraged SIHH 2014 to showcase exceptional pieces for women. Gruebel Forsey’s first-ever offering for women was perhaps the most audacious, with 272 diamonds it will retail for approximately $835,000.

“ Currently the women’s segment only accounts for 35 percent of sales ”

The women’s segment now accounts for 35 percent of sales, as industry executives acknowledge that females have been overlooked by the $50 billion industry in recent decades, in the race to outfit the wealthiest men with wearable status symbols (Bloomberg).

But the global market for ladies’ watches has evolved according to Tracey Llewellyn of Watches of Switzerland. “Brands now recognise there’s a horologically savvy female clientele out there demanding watches that are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside – which means mechanical, and often complicated, too.”

Currently females represent 12% of the global Ultra High Net Worth population (Wealth X), with a combined net worth of $3,515 billion. These UHNW women have a slightly higher average net worth than their male counterparts and are – on average – slightly younger (54 to 58 years-old).

Greubel Forsey’s Tourbillon 24 Secondes Contemporain Serti

In the coming five years, this population is set to increase by an average of 4% each year, driven largely by growth in Africa (6.5% p.a.), Asia (5.9% p.a.), the Middle East (5.6% p.a.) and Latin America (4.6% p.a.). As these wealth centres change, so too will the expectations and desires of female consumers.

It is clear that there is some way to go when it comes to haute horlogerie brands best leveraging the opportunities presented by the female consumer. But at a time when Swiss watch exports reported the slowest sales growth since the global financial crisis, the need for new products, customers and strategies is equally evident.

We can only wait with baited to breath to see what the 2014 edition of Baselworld has in-store, and if this female-friendly approach to development is set to continue in the coming years.

To further investigate the luxury timepiece market on Luxury Society, we invite your to explore the related materials as follows:

- In Conversation With Maximilian Büsser, Founder, MB&F;
- 8 Must-Know Facts About the Swiss Timepiece Industry
- Luxury Watchmakers Focus on Sustainability