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AFTER you've shelled out good money on a watch, the last thing you want is having to explain what it is - and why it costs so much. The watch should speak for itself. Yet, this isn't always the case, as not all timepieces are made equal. Indeed, only a select few are blessed with the power of instant brand recognition.
These are the horological icons, the conversation-starters at any social setting, the stars that auction houses term "important watches". Occasionally, they may surpass even the esteem of the very companies that produce them and, in many cases, it is practically unnecessary to mention the make because the model more than suffices. Think industry heavyweights like the Daytona, the Reverso, the Santos, the Royal Oak, the Nautilus... you get the drift.
For 2018, watch companies find fresh and creative ways to interpret these time-honoured classics, endearing them even more deeply to the woman consumer.
Few connoisseurs will let a Patek Philippe go unnoticed, much less one as horologically important as the Ladies Chronograph Ref 7150/250R. This elegant ladies' complication - yes, Patek Philippe considers the chronograph a bona fide complication - takes over from the Ladies First Chronograph Ref 7071R, which was launched in 2009 and produced in very limited numbers.
With a round case that's paired with angular sculpted lugs, the watch sits perfectly on the wrist - thanks to its slender profile. Patek Philippe achieved this by using box-shaped crystals on the front and back, which give the appearance of slimmer proportions.
Inside, there is the completely in-house produced calibre CH 29-535 PS - a column-wheel chronograph with a traditional horizontal coupling clutch. If you activate the mechanism while looking through the caseback, you can see the wheels engaging and disengaging as it keeps track of time's steady passage.
Remember the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Ref 5524G-001 that polarised the entire watch industry in 2015? It has returned this year but with a brand-new target audience in mind: the ladies. In addition to a regular gent's size model Ref 5524R-001, Patek Philippe released a slightly downsized piece in matching colourways specially for the woman connoisseur.
Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Ref 7234R combines a rose gold case with unique tobacco brown dial that has a brown to black gradation from the centre to the edges. But what actually makes this watch news is that it is Patek Philippe's first self-winding Travel Time model for women.
The rose gold applied numerals are filled with a white luminous coating, as are the oversized baton-style hands. The exception is the skeletonised hour hand, which is used to indicate home time.
Ref 7234R operates on the Patek Philippe self-winding calibre 324 S C FUS and is delivered on a vintage brown calfskin strap reminiscent of the harnesses worn by pilots in the early days of aviation.
There aren't many watches as fabled and desired as the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Daytona. Indeed, given how this sporty chronograph has dominated the auction scene in the past couple of years, shattering price estimates by the millions, it might well be the most popular modern watch of all time.
There have been numerous iterations of the watch - and all are well-received by collectors. But the one that drove woman watch connoisseurs into a buying frenzy is the Daytona Ref 116595RBOW. This glamorous model, crafted in Everose gold, is set with 36 scintillating baguette-cut sapphires in all the colours of the rainbow.
Powered by the Rolex calibre 4130, this is the second rainbow-themed Daytona that Rolex has ever made. Its middle case is set with 56 brilliant-cut diamonds, plus a further 11 baguette-cut rainbow-coloured sapphires as hour markers.
The watch's dial, on the other hand, is kept simple with black lacquer - and that allows it to bring out the sub-dials made out of pink gold crystals.
It may not be a horological heavyweight but the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust 31 is more easily recognised than many other watches on the market. It's an icon in its own right. Till date, Rolex has made thousands of different variations, but within this year's trio of ultra-feminine designs comes something highly unique and deeply desired: a green malachite dial. Datejust 31 Ref 278288RBR is as much a jewellery piece as it is a timepiece.
Paired with a yellow gold case and a yellow gold President bracelet, the rich colour and natural striations of the semi-precious stone are set off by a single row of 46 brilliant-cut diamonds around the bezel. Additionally, the applique Roman VI and IX numerals have been made in yellow gold, studded with 24 diamonds. Its hands, too, are made of yellow gold while the movement within is the calibre 2236 with Syloxi hairspring.
Modern watchmaking would be very different without the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, a watch that broke through traditional boundaries and redefined what it means to be a luxury timepiece. In fact, so successful is this horological stalwart that Audemars Piguet is said to sell more Royal Oaks (and Offshores) than all its other models combined. The manufacturer has made countless variations, for both men and women, and with both mechanical and quartz movements.
This year's new pieces include a stunning yellow gold Royal Oak Selfwinding watch with a beautiful blue dial decorated in the classical Grande Tapisserie pattern - arguably the most definitive feature of the Royal Oak. Its bezel comes set with 40 brilliant-cut diamonds and the bracelet, which is just as identifiable as the watch proper, is also made of yellow gold. Audemars Piguet has equipped this watch with the workhorse in-house movement calibre 3120 which is visible through the exhibition case back.
Chopard's Happy Sport watch celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. This fun and bubbly creation by the jewellery watchmaker remains the only watch in the industry to feature glittering diamonds moving freely around its dial. A delight on the wrist, it pairs perfectly with other pieces in the Happy Diamonds jewellery range, while espousing horological values gleaned from Chopard's LUC manufacture in Fleurier.
A case in point is this year's key novelty, which is powered by an in-house self-winding movement, calibre 09.01-C, making it the first Happy Sport watch to be equipped with a Chopard calibre. Five moving diamonds animate the mother-of-pearl dial which comes in either white, light blue, or Millennial pink.
Not nearly as established as some of its contemporaries, the Bulgari Octo has, however, been gaining a fair amount of traction very consistently over the past three years. Several models within the Finissimo range has broken industry records and won prestigious awards, including the Grand Prix de Haute Horlogerie de Geneve.
In terms of design, thanks perhaps to Bulgari's Italian heritage, the Octo pleases the eye as much as it does the wrist. The refined profile feels ergonomic while the watch's multipart case sets it apart from the majority of classic gent's wristwatches out there, which are predominantly round.
One of the many new pieces released this year is the Octo Finissimo Automatic Sandblasted. Not technically a ladies' piece, this gorgeous ultra-thin shaped bracelet watch, in rose gold or rhodium-plated steel, is dressed in a matte finish covering every perceptible surface, including the dial. Yielding a soft glowing effect, this piece has become even more popular among women than men.
This is the year of the Seamaster for Omega. As the manufacture unveiled a completely new look for the men's dive models, plus two vintage reissues that pay homage to a unique chapter in its history, it also made something for women.
The Seamaster Aqua Terra Jewellery is the first of more to come from Omega. Crafted in Sedna gold, which is a proprietary material of the manufacture, it also has a diamond-paved bezel and 12 marquise-cut rubies acting as the hour markers. Here, the signature horizontal wave pattern found on all Seamasters are made using Sedna gold and a further 191 brilliant-cut diamonds. This 38mm watch is driven by the Omega master chronometer calibre 8807, which is ultra-precise and anti-magnetic.
A maison with many timeless icons, Cartier is also closely associated with the panther, having incorporated this majestic feline into countless watch and jewellery creations. So creative is the Cartier design team that even after all these years, it still finds novel ways to interpret this timeless motif.
Revelation d'Une Panthère is more than a watch; it is an art and jewellery piece that also tells the time. In three colour variations, this one-of-a-kind masterpiece is made with 9,000 gold microballs moving freely underneath the crystal but above the dial.
The crystal is especially unique, made in a sandwich construction with labyrinthine tunnels forming a panther's face where the microballs can move through. Yet the microballs move in a genteel, dreamlike manner rather than tumbling through the space, and Cartier achieves this by filling the tunnels with a viscous liquid.
Both the sapphire and the liquid have been patented by the maison. Beneath the dial is a hand-wound calibre 430 MC.
The Lange 1 by A Lange & Söhne is an indisputable must-have for all serious watch collectors. Thoroughly emblematic of the German manufacture, it combines perfect proportions on the outside with breath-taking movement finishing on the inside - a potent mix that never goes out of style.
Even though the standard Lange 1 measuring 38.5mm would already fit most wrists, even among the ladies, A Lange & Söhne went the extra mile to offer the Little Lange 1 which measures 36.8mm. Powering this dainty yet technical piece is the hand-wound calibre L121.1, originally launched with the Lange 1.
For 2018, new colour options have been introduced. Choose from purple and grey (both in white gold) or brown (pink gold) guilloche dials and the watches come with a matching alligator leather strap. Note though that the purple model is limited to 100 pieces and available only at A Lange & Söhne boutiques.
Between the J12 and the Boy.Friend, there is no question which timepiece is the more iconic one at Chanel. But judging by sheer watchmaking savoir-faire, the Boy.Friend definitely deserves greater mention, at least for 2018.
Housing Chanel's third in-house manufactured movement, the calibre 3, the Boy.Friend Skeleton has an androgynous style and proffers a completely different take on watchmaking, just as its predecessors have. Where watchmaking brands typically build the case around the movement, Chanel built the movement around the watch.
Calibre 3 follows the essential form of the Boy.Friend case, adopting design elements most familiar to the maison Chanel. The colour scheme is pure, with only black or beige gold elements and little else.
Love it or hate it, the Big Bang is an icon at the Hublot manufacture and has contributed its fair share of ground-breaking advances within the industry. At the very least, it's one of the earliest brands to combine a mix of high-brow and low-brow materials, as well as to introduce cutting-edge materials in luxury watchmaking: gold with rubber, titanium, ceramic, magnesium, carbon, sapphire and many more.
And this ultra-sporty timepiece has never remained the same. Hublot continually introduced new and innovative features such as the one-click quick-change system for its straps. Now a permanent offering for its ladies' models, it is not only extremely ingenious but also completely in tune with what clients today want.
Big Bang One Click Sapphire is the latest version, made in three colours: white, pink and sky blue. Its case is completely fashioned out of sapphire crystal, with 42 diamonds studded all around the bezel.
Practically the pillars of the women's watch industry, these horological superstars are the watch world's equivalent of "it" bags. They have just the right amount of mass-market appeal and are perfectly poised to stand the test of time - and bring joy to their owners.
But, unlike handbags, a good timepiece is going to raise your approval ratings among men as much as among women. So the next time you're on the prowl for a luxury treat, choose a watch.
- The writer specialises in watches. She has been a watch editor at August Man and managing editor at World of Watches magazine