Why Are Kanye, Tyler And Bad Bunny All Wearing Ladies’ Watches?
Tyler, the Creator performing at Lollapalooza, Grant Park, Chicago, 30 July 2021. Photograph by Mr Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images
At a glance, the Cartier Coulissant might not even pass for a watch. An alligator strap connected to a gold rectangle, a sliver of precious metal featuring a sliding window, it looks more like an Art Deco bracelet. Pull it back and a miniature simulacrum of that famous Cartier dial is revealed. It is a lovely, delicate and rare piece from the first half of the 20th century. Perhaps not the sort of thing you might expect would appeal to a famous male rapper, but things are a bit different now.
Tyler, the Creator bought it at auction in Geneva a couple of years ago, adding it to an impressive Cartier collection that features plenty of Tanks, that Crash and another unusual ladies’ style, the Obus. Loads of people have a Patek Philippe Nautilus; not that many have an antique rotation of 20th-century women’s watches. Or, as the man himself put it during an interview with the cult online newsletter Blackbird Spyplane, “That one’s fun. I don’t even know if it’s a ladies’ watch, but you lift it up to see the clock, ’cause it’s got, like, a little door. I’m into old Cartiers. I’ve travelled [to] far places to get a few.”
Over the past few decades, if you were a man and you were wealthy or famous, or perhaps both (lucky you), the scale of your consumer tastes often grew with your fortune. Big house, big car, big suits, big steaks. Look at me, look at me, LOOK at me. A power watch required a sturdy bezel, heavy lugs and a deep case and tools for (stereotypically) masculine pursuits: flying, diving, racing, trekking and maybe even actual armed combat.
Men were sold on the aspirational performance of horology – the potential. You might work in an office, but if you buy this watch and set off for South Georgia Island… You can be more than that.
A famous Rolex ad from the 1960s, which promotes the Submariner, features a photo of a man diving in a coral reef. Bold white type states: “If you were looking for lost empires here tomorrow you’d wear a Rolex.” It continues: “When a man’s life depends on his watch, chances are he wears a Rolex. It’s a big, tough, working watch.”
Mr Austin Butler at the “Elvis” Photocall during Cannes Film Festival, Cannes, France, 26 May 2022. Photograph by Mr Christophe Simon/Getty Images
Thanks to the online and real-world influence of figures such as Tyler, the Creator and a growing appetite for classic dress watches with history, men have begun to look at smaller, more refined styles with a renewed enthusiasm and a broader scope. Maybe bigger isn’t always better.
“The idea of gender today is less relevant than it ever has been in the history of mankind,” says Mr Alan Bedwell, a vintage watch expert, curator and founder of the luxury label Foundwell. “This is very much translating into the world of watches. Saying, ‘This is a women’s watch,’ is a terribly outdated mindset. Anyone can wear anything if they like the look of it and it feels good on the wrist. Ellen [DeGeneres] wearing a Patek 5711, or Tyler, the Creator wearing a Cartier Obus. Both look amazing. Just look at Miles Davis in his gold curb link bracelet with watch. I was lucky enough to find an early Boucheron version recently. If it’s good enough for the king of cool, it is good enough for me. This is not a new trend, but, in the past three years or so, there is less desire for the 36mm-plus requirements.”
Head back to the early days of wristwatches and even 36mm would have seemed gargantuan. Until the advent of the tool watch in the 1940s and well up until the 1960s, men’s watches were often 32mm and below. Some of the best and most interesting watches of the past 100 years – the Rolex King Midas, the Hamilton Ventura (both favourites of Elvis), the Jaeger-LeCoultre Duoplan and the Cartier Tank – are both small in build and built for men and women.
Mr Jaden Smith at Louis Vuitton x Opening Cocktail, Beverly Hills, California, 27 June 2019. Photograph by Ms Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images
“I feel that dress watches have been overlooked within the watch community because they’re not thought to be as versatile as, say, a steel sports watch,” says Ms Brynn Wallner, the writer and founder of Dimepiece, a platform for women in watches and those who wear them in a less traditional way. “But the ubiquity of something like the leather-strapped Cartier Tank is a testament to the fact that these types of watches can be worn for any occasion. Given the 1970s styling that’s so en vogue currently, these watches just make sense.
“Take Bad Bunny wearing his own vintage ladies’ Patek Philippe for a photoshoot with GQ. That watch brings a refreshing pop to an outfit that would otherwise remain typical if styled with a Submariner. I am also absolutely obsessed with the fact that someone like Tyler, the Creator wears his Cartier Crash on stage while performing. Just the thought of kids moshing to an artist wearing that level of haute horlogerie gives me chills. It’s such a cool balance of high and low.”
“I am absolutely obsessed Tyler, the Creator wearing his Cartier Crash on stage. Just the thought of kids moshing to an artist wearing that level of haute horlogerie gives me chills”
One of the most ardent voices against the gender divide in the often obtuse world of fine watchmaking is Ms Cara Barrett, a former editor at the watch website Hodinkee. In 2021, she wrote an article for it in which she denounced the tired categorisation of luxury watches. It went viral. She is also the founder of Parchie Pal, which makes miniature dive watches for children. She receives regular requests from adult men, asking for longer straps for their own, tiny Parchies.
“When you think of watchmaking as a craft,” says Barrett, “it is a very slow process. Development takes years, sometimes decades, to make the smallest mechanical improvement or decorative change. This is just the nature of the industry and it is mirrored in the way business is conducted. It’s a very traditional sector with lots of charm, but with that comes resistance to change.”
Despite the unhurried pace of Switzerland and beyond, Barrett is optimistic about the shifts in taste, design and marketing that she’s beginning to see in the watch world. “This [drive for smaller watches] is definitely a new trend and I am here for it,” she says. “I love to wear bigger watches on some occasions and smaller on others. Why can’t it be the same for men?”