Magazine article The Spectator

Woman's Hour

Magazine article The Spectator

Woman's Hour

Article excerpt

Of late I have had a number of men getting in touch with me to ask which watches to buy their wives. This is one of those perennial questions that has vexed mankind ever since, well -- the invention of time. You can just imagine Marc Antony fretting about what sort of sundial to buy Cleopatra for her birthday, or Raleigh casting confusedly around whatever it was that late 16th-century London had in answer to Cartier in search of a suitably glamorous time-telling gewgaw for Queen Elizabeth I.

The problem with buying watches for women is that the issue of timepieces is one of the great faultlines in the whole Mars/Venus relationship thing. Watches are the kind of items that men look to for a little bit of welcome complication; a minute repeater here, a tourbillon there and a perpetual calendar somewhere else. Men who like watches tend to like them to perform all sorts of bravura feats of horological ingenuity that really have very little to do with life in the 21st century.

Women, on the other hand, tend to like a watch that tells the time with a degree of reliability and accuracy and, if the watch is being worn with a long dress, there is a requirement that it does so with the assistance of a few carats of diamonds. This has meant that jewellers have traditionally made the sort of watches that women want to wear; I have yet to meet a woman, who would turn down a Cartier watch. Indeed, it strikes me that some of the most well-priced and interesting vintage Cartiers are the women's jewellery watches of the mid-20th century, which also satisfy movement snobs: the innards of these watches tend to be supplied by the likes of Jaeger LeCoultre.

More recently, this has tended to mean that women have been fed a horological diet of quartz watches which need little looking after and no winding up. This sounds rather patronising, and a relatively new school of thought teaches that modern women are becoming increasingly like men in their taste for mechanical watches. However, I think that this has more to do with men transferring their own snobbery to the timepieces worn by the women in their lives. It is not often that one meets a woman outside the watch trade who really cares passionately about what goes on under the dial of her timepiece.

Certainly my attempts to get Mrs Foulkes into a mechanical watch were unsuccessful.

My wife has very elegant, one might say dainty, wrists, and when I was looking for a watch for her we browsed at Cartier and I tried to steer her into one of the newer Santos models with a manually wound movement. …

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