From Dubai to Warsaw, Women Are Forming Their Own Watch Clubs

In late 2019, Irina Ciobanu, the marketing manager for Elie Saab Timepieces at the BlackBox luxury agency, was charged with generating female interest in the 28-piece collection that the Lebanese fashion designer was to introduce in 2021.

“There are a lot of women in the watch industry and collecting watches, but when I looked at watch clubs, it was men, men, men, men, men. And cigars,” Ms. Ciobanu said on a video interview from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where she is based. “I was surprised, but I also wasn’t surprised that no one had connected these ladies.”

So on March 8, 2020 — International Women’s Day — Ms. Ciobanu created the Ladies Watch Club on Instagram. Now, around 300 posts later, it has about 10,400 followers as well as a website, a weekly newsletter and physical meetings from time to time. The organization is not affiliated with her job, but is what she described as “a passion, a hobby and a dream.”

“I love to have these kinds of networking experiences where everyone has different watches and comes from different backgrounds,” said Ms. Ciobanu, 33, who was born in Moldova and started working in the watch industry in 2017.

Even as watch brands sharpen their focus on female buyers and the kinds of watches they want today, women from the Middle East to Eastern Europe are forming watch clubs to share their timepieces, network and just enjoy one another’s company.

Although they generally agree that the pandemic has been a real impediment.

“It was the worst time to start a club,” said Karina Kwiatkowska, who founded the Omega Ladies Club in Warsaw in March 2019. Ms. Kwiatkowska, 29, said she planned and then canceled several in-person events, “because 2020 was already Covid and according to regulation only 10 percent of any restaurant could be open. But then we pivoted to WhatsApp and that’s been great.”

As for Ms. Ciobanu, during lockdowns she found herself nightly on the audio-only social network Clubhouse, interacting with watch collectors and brands from all over the world. “One of the reasons I grew followers was because I was one of the few women showing almost every evening,” she said.

In between surges in Dubai, Ms. Ciobanu accepted invitations to meet with representatives of Vacheron Constantin and Roger Dubuis, both brands that she said were eager to build relationships, show their collections and plan events for when the world reopened. In November 2020, IWC invited her and a handful of club members to a private breakfast at a hotel, One&Only The Palm.

Over croissants, coffee and the Dubai skyline, “we tried on the newly launched in Dubai Portofino collection, connected in person and got to feel everything,” said Ilaria Chirico, 39, an architect who specializes in store design and a club member since September 2020. “I was pleasantly surprised that they brought men’s watches, too, because I tried all of them on.”

In mid-December last year, Ms. Ciobanu welcomed club members to a small party with TimeValée, a multibrand watch boutique owned by Richemont that has 24 locations in four countries. “It was a small celebration just for us,” she said. “That’s how we were able to get together in person while still obeying the Covid mandates. Everything has been private and small.”

As restrictions continue to ease, she is preparing a series of monthly meetups — with a female representative from a different brand at each one to talk about watches and company history — and finalizing plans for events at the Vacheron Constantin and Jaeger-LeCoultre boutiques in Dubai.

While the watchmaking industry has used various methods to entice female collectors, from creating sex-specific models to abolishing binary gender lines altogether, women in watch clubs say little attention has been paid to wooing the young, affluent female collector on a personal and relatable level.

It is something that could affect brands’ bottom lines. Reports from both Bain & Company and Deloitte found that customers born from the 1980s through the early 2010s, would become 70 percent of the global luxury market by 2025. And they are pushing brands to become sensitive to gender equality, according to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Powers of Luxury Goods study.

 “Women are undervalued when it comes to timepieces,” said Marwa Said, 33, adding that she has been interested in horology for half her life. So when she came across Ms. Ciobanu’s club online, she decided to emulate it by creating the Omani Ladies Watch Club on Instagram in September.

“Women here really love watches,” said Ms. Said, who lives in Muscat. “They wear men’s watches a lot and they see it as a piece of jewelry, myself included. I can’t keep the same watch on for more than a day.”

She now counts approximately 25 timepieces in her collection, including two Richard Milles and 12 Rolexes, two of which — a Rainbow Sapphire Daytona Chronograph and Lady Datejust — that made quite a splashy online debut on the club’s Instagram feed. All of her timepieces were gifts from her husband, Mohamed Faiq Al Lawati, a jeweler and watch designer.

Ms. Said often meets with her friends for what she called “dessert and wristies” for the club’s Instagram feed: informal photos of watches and the day’s accessories, which have included other bracelets, occasionally handbags or even the interior of their vehicles.

With 11,000 followers after only six months, Ms. Said said there had been an overwhelming amount of interest from a variety of people. Women want to join the club; Ms. Said receives multiple offers on the timepieces she posts each day, even though they are not for sale; and watch brands have been eager to collaborate.

Recently, Ms. Said explained that a watch and jewelry boutique in Oman had contacted her about a partnership. “I already have 10 people interested in a watch they haven’t even seen,” she said. “We’re talking about adding initials, the logo of the club and having special colors.”

Ms. Said is dedicated to increasing awareness of female watch collecting. “When you go to boutiques they give more attention to men,” she said. “I feel like people talk about men watch collectors but you never hear about women. In fact, here, women have more watches than men.”

“It used to be as long as it had diamonds on it, it was just a piece of jewelry,” Alexander Schmiedt, brand president of Vacheron Constantin Americas, said during a video interview. “Now there are ladies who love watches for their different design and style elements, who love exploring a brand.”

Vacheron Constantin hosted a cocktail and try-on event for Beth Tee, a former dance fitness instructor turned YouTube creator and watch collector, at the 4,500-square-foot New York flagship in early December. “Watch collecting is open to anyone; it’s 80 percent male for us right now, but giving this opportunity for ladies only makes a lot of sense,” Mr. Schmiedt said.

While Ms. Tee handled the guest list of 35, which included fellow female collectors as well as some of her 13,500 subscribers, Mr. Schmiedt suggested that it be an exclusively female event.

“The husbands tend to be invited to parties,” Ms. Tee said. “We’re the arm candy, the afterthought, and that tends to irk me.”

So, at the event, “we were our own clients,” she said. “We tried on whatever we wanted and had the space to ask the associates whatever questions we wanted without worry.”

Mr. Schmiedt acknowledged that the informal gathering had been “very different” from Vacheron’s usual approach to a male-focused event, which generally has a single theme and would be what he described as “structured and technical.”

Although there are women who do appreciate the technical aspects of watch design, that approach was exactly what prompted Ms. Kwiatkowska to start her Omega club in Warsaw.

“What is happening right now within the watch industry, it’s still very technical and guys want to know if you have the knowledge or the reference number but I don’t think that’s relevant for women,” Ms. Kwiatkowska said. “I think there are women who see beautiful timepieces without a greater interest and that’s creating a new chapter for the watch industry.”

For example, Ms. Kwiatkowska inherited her love of horology from her mother, who also is a collector — and while she has bought 11 watches, she said she wears only four, all of them Omegas. What she calls her signature watch is an Omega De Ville Ladymatic steel with a Tahitian mother-of-pearl face and diamond dial with an asymmetrical bracelet.

Her club has grown to nearly 9,000 Instagram followers and a WhatsApp group of 50, and Ms. Kwiatkowska considers it a safe space to discuss not only watches but also life, travels and clothing.

 “The most important thing is to create an inclusive environment,” she said, adding, “Many young girls send me DMs saying they are buying themselves their first watch and they have questions or want my opinion.” It is something the research company owner said she was happy to give.

As Ms. Ciobanu said about women and watches: “It’s not just a man’s world where we will not get involved. We will definitely get involved. We already are.”



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