For many years, ladies’ watches were given short shrift with respect to complications and other considerations of haute horlogerie — heck, even aesthetics seem to be given little more than a passing thought when compared to the widely inventive designs inherent in men’s watchmaking. This is a shame, and will no doubt continue to improve as more and more women enter the horological sphere as executives at top-tier brands. (Lately, we’re beginning to see the tide turn at companies such as Audemars Piguet, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and, previously, at Piaget.)
However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of compelling watches aimed at a female clientele — especially in the vintage and neo-vintage realms. In the early- to mid-20th century, ‘cocktail watches’ emerged as a category; with their delicate profiles and discreet dials, they’re as much fine jewelry as they are timepieces, though many of them carry fascinatingly miniscule hand-wound movements such as the Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 101 — still the smallest mechanical movement in the world. At Analog:Shift, we have a wide variety of cocktail watches from brands both large and small, available in a wide array of price points.
Beyond cocktail watches, consider that many men’s dress watches from the 20th century were much smaller than today’s — often, these measured 33-36mm. This is an excellent size for a ladies’ watch, fitting well on a smaller wrist but with a dial large enough to be comfortably read by one’s mother. (Sorry, Mom! If it’s any consolation, this writer’s eyes are similarly aging.)
Likewise, with many brands making smaller tool watches after two decades producing oversized timepieces, we’re finally entering a renewed age of comfortable, well-sized wares that work equally well for men and women. (And we shouldn’t forget that it’s not uncommon in a big city to find plenty of women who enjoy an iconic, 40mm dive watch — and look great wearing one!) So without further ado, here are 10 excellent vintage and pre-owned ladies’ watches — including an unconventional choice or two — that should be on your radar.
Pierre Cardin Espace ($950)
Pierre Cardin Espace - IN THE SHOP
At 45mm in diameter, this particular piece from fashion designer Pierre Cardin is far from small — but that's not really the point! Cased in a combination plastic-steel housing and powered by a hand-wound movement from Jaeger, it dates to the 1970s — a time when watch design eschewed convention in favor of sheer grooviness.
Ochs und Junior Settimana 'Raw' ~ ($2,200)
Ochs und Junior Settimana 'Raw' - IN THE SHOP
Leave it to the geniuses at ochs und junior to take an off-the-shelf movement and work wonders with it. To wit, this incredible, 36mm titanium beauty called the Settimana Raw: Its nickel-coated brass dial — which features a cutout to display a simple day-of-the-week indicator — still retains traces of its CNC machining, making for a piece that’s as much industrial art as it is a functional timekeeper.
Chanel J12 ~ ($3,950)
Chanel J12 - IN THE SHOP
The J-12, conceived of by Chanel designer Jacques Hélleu and launched in 1999, is a contemporary take on the prototypical dive/sports watch, complete with a rotating timing bezel and housed in a ceramic case. This particular iteration, measuring 33mm, looks striking in white and comes fitted with a bulletproof quartz movement and a matching white ceramic bracelet.
Tudor Submariner Date ~ ($9,450)
Tudor Submariner Date - IN THE SHOP
This Tudor Sub may measure 40mm, but it’s the perfect everyday sports watch for whomever has the confidence to pull off its sleek lines, industrial look, and robust proportions. Dating from the 1980s, this example includes a folded-link Oyster bracelet — meaning it wears a bit lighter on the wrist, and includes that delightful “jangle” of certain vintage and neo-vintage watches.
Hermès Slim D'Hermès GMT ~ ($13,200)
Hermès Slim D'Hermès GMT - IN THE SHOP
There’s simply no way not to be taken in by the brilliant typeface, intriguing dial, and sumptuous rose gold case of this Slim D’Hermès GMT — not to mention the beautifully finished movement made in partnership with Voucher, handy GMT complication, and supple, blue leather alligator leather strap. It is, in short, one of the best watches of the 2010s.
Cartier Tank Cintrée Ladies ~ ($17,350)
Cartier Tank Cintrée Ladies - IN THE SHOP
It’s difficult to overstate the profound influence Cartier’s designs have had on the greater watch industry — so why not go directly to the source? This Cintrée from the 1970s is a dedicated ladies’ model: Measuring 18mm in width, it contains a hand-wound movement from Jaeger-LeCoultre and features the Tank’s classic ‘Roman’ dial.
Bulgari Serpenti Tubogas Tri-Tone ~ ($21,000)
Bulgari Serpenti Tubogas Tri-Tone - IN THE SHOP
Today, the distinct Serpenti is everywhere — but its original design looked more elemental, with a squarish head and a tubogas ('gas pipe') design in which two interlocking gold strips were woven together. This particular Serpenti weaves three different gold strips and adds a round watch head with a black dial — a subtle, novel take on the serpentine theme.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak ~ ($48,550)
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak - IN THE SHOP
The Royal Oak is a classic for a reason: Ever since its debut in 1972, its unique bezel design, integrated bracelet, textured dial, and thin, automatic movement have made it stand out from the crowd. This Reference 14790ST from the 1970s is perhaps the perfect Royal Oak, but at 36mm wide, it’ll wear excellently on a slimmer wrist.
F.P. Journe Élégante Titanium Diamond-Set ~ ($42,500)
F.P. Journe Élégante Titanium Diamond-Set - IN THE SHOP
Forget for a moment the titanium ‘tortue’ case; forget the diamond-studded bezel; forget the beautiful, classically-styled dial: This incredible Élégante features an innovative electro-mechanical movement that effectively goes to ‘sleep’ after 35 minutes, conserving energy for up to 10 years. But once you pick it up, its hands spin back to the correct time!
Patek Philippe Nautilus ~ ($99,500)
Patek Philippe Nautilus - IN THE SHOP
The second of Genta’s famed ‘luxury sports watches,’ the Nautilus is a legend in its own right. This gorgeous version from the 1980s is cased in luxurious yellow gold and features a mesmerizing, diamond-studded bezel, a blue dial, and diamond indices. Powered by an-house automatic movement from Patek, it’s the very opposite of “shrink it and pink it!”