Men’s Watches v. Ladies’ Watches. Do Watches Have Sex?

BA111OD Chapter 2 Diamonds on woman's wrist

Men’s watches vs. Ladies watches. Do watches have sex? On the face of it, the question is absurd. An inanimate object doesn’t have a gender identity. And if it does, who cares? East Texas aside, we live in a world where men are free to wear “girly” watches, women are free to wear “manly” watches and gender fluid folks are free to double wrist. And yet…

Men's watches vs. women's watches JLC

Most – but not all – watch-selling websites separate their inventory into “men’s watches” and “ladies watches.”

No surprise there. Commercial reality trumps political correctness. Sales stats tell us that men like particular types and sizes of watches. Women prefer others.

Rolex Submariner Ad

The traditional rule of thumb: men wear big bold timepieces with adventure themed complications (e.g., chronographs, rotating diving bezels). Women wear smaller timepieces with blingy bits (e.g., diamonds).

That’s said, the lines between the two types of timepieces are getting blurred, as are the “rules” about who wears what. Once again, African Americans are leading the way to a cultural shift.

Men's watches - rapper Offset's Rolex

Horological gender norms got the goodbye look when rappers embraced wrist bling like Supergirl embraces, well, everyone.

Movie stars, professional soccer players, plaza bosses and other limelight lovers followed suit, trading understated elegance for in-your-face excess. For some a “feminine” watch was a gateway drug to a more expressive style. For others, it was the one place they could – or would – cut loose.

But the trend is far from universally accepted or projected . . .

Men's watches - Dwayne Johnson's Breitling

The majority of macho male celebs (e.g., Sylvester Stallone, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Conor Benn) wear “masculine” watches (Patek Philippe Nautilus, Breitling Superocean Heritage II Chronograph and Rolex Submariner respectively).

Bulova vintage ad

Hang on. Back up. Are those blingy rapperific watches really feminine, or are they just men’s watches modified to say look at me I’m a rich mother f’cker!

I’ve never seen a single ad or IG image of a man – celebrity of otherwise – wearing the kind of small, thin, bracelet-style woman’s watch that brands create and sell to the double-XX chromosome set. Used to sell?

Jennifer Aniston and Rolex

Just as men’s watches bulked up since Sylvester Stallone’s Panerai shamed men who wore [what suddenly became] smaller timepieces, more and more women’s watches are now scaled down versions of men’s watches.

That’s how Rolex rolls. Patek Philippe too. Even the Bvlgari Serpenti Tubogas – the most chi-chi bracelet-y of name brand luxury women’s watches – has a good-sized snake head (35mm).

Jaeger-leCoultre Reverso

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there are unisex timepieces that make a mockery of the entire men’s watches vs. women’s watches debate. Watches like . . . every dress watch made before Stallone’s Italian diver embiggened the entire industry.

Is the Apple Watch unisex? The Cartier Tank qualifies as a he/she/it/they/them watch. And Jaeger-leCoultre’s iconic Reverso – which started as a manly man’s polo protecting product. Here’s how JLC pitches it:

Men's vs. women's watches - JLC XL Reverso

Timeless in its face surrounded by its three emblematic gadroons [ED: nothing to do with Roman soldiers], the Reverso has been enchanting both men and women with an eye for beauty since its creation. Often androgynous, it knows how to show off its femininity in jeweled models or affirm its masculinity by pronounced complexities and a marked Art Déco aesthetic.

See what I mean about horological gender stereotypes? Not only does JLC play the bedazzled for babes, toys for men card, the webpage’s “quick filter” offers a choice between “for her” and “for him.” The latter presents a large size Reverso (47mm X 28.3mm, above) to lure the male of the species. Presumably.

Electricianz Cable Z dog

Ultimately, society (via the free market) controls the gender-typing of watches. We seem to be headed to better place, where both sexes feel free to wear any type of watch that makes them happy without worrying what “message” it sends.

“Fierceness has no gender,” The Electrianz’ Gift Guide proudly proclaims (re: their 45mm watches). “Our products are unisex and fit perfectly both women and men.” Can I get a witness?

11 comments

  1. The recent notion that anything under 40mm is girl-sized has really taken hold, judging by Amazon comments. Similarly, women seem to have little issue with larger watches intended for males. There is a certain cruelty in dictating that women wear smaller watches, from a legibility stand point.

    The Lady Datejust at 28mm is tad too small for me, but if they bump them up to 31mm or more, I’d have no problem with one since that brand offers nothing for men in more traditional sizes. Of course I have no interest in jewels or mother of pearl dials, and otherwise unisex watches get too femme when the band width goes below 16mm. It’s almost impossible to assign gender based on watch shape, but the delicate t-bar lugs lean to the fairer side. Wide rectangular cases, and the digital watches on which they are often found, don’t seem to resonate much with women.

    Smartwatches are utterly asexual, at least the ones that sell in any numbers. They are deliberately blank slates.

      1. Thin, small, and understated used to be seen as desirable qualities in a man’s watch. If I was a foot shorter and hundred pounds lighter, I’d be shamelessly buying vintage Tudor lady’s watches and putting them on a NATO strap. Mickey Rourke in “The Pope of Greenwich Village” has style and masculinity to burn, and the watch he sports in that movie is pretty small. The smart watch is a more “traditional” and “masculine” than the Panerai, although being on the XL side of the sizing issue, I’ll take larger over smaller myself.

        1. Bode… I’m not suggesting that the apple smartwatch is effeminate because of its size. It’s not really that small. It’s delicate in it’s entirety. It’s just simply VERY feminine in its entire appearance / presence. It’s not the size of the tutu that makes it feminine… it’s JUST feminine. Same goes for the i-watch.

          But, hey… I wallow in “toxic masculinity,” sooo…..

          1. Everybody wallows in toxic masculinity ; )

            I see your point re: Apple’s design sensibilities.

  2. While in some ways I respect the ethic behind the understated, smaller sized watch, I’ve come to realize that it is much easier to adopt that attitude when one is wearing the 34mm or 36mm Rolex that was worn by one’s grandfather.

    1. My grandfather’s 38mm Explorer 2 looks tiny. Also, women can always use men’s stuff, but never vice versa; I think we’ve all had some female steal our clothes.

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