The New Faces of Watch Collecting

Women watch collectors are having a moment. Showing off their stacked wrists on social media, taking up space in a historically male-dominated industry—and inspiring a new generation along the way.

(Image credit: Future)

Watches aren’t like other accessories. While wonderful, a handbag or a pair of shoes doesn’t have a beat. But a watch—being the mini machine it is, tick-ticking to its own little rhythm—does. They’re not quite alive, but almost. Top-tier timepieces may even outlive their owners: Luxury watch house Patek Philippe’s long-time ad slogan reads, “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”

Timepieces are fascinating, complex gadgets with a centuries-old history. But unless you’re the industry’s conventional consumer (see: a man with deep pockets), the watch world doesn’t always abide by an open-door policy. On the design front, women consumers are rarely given the same well-rounded consideration as their male counterparts. Men have their pick of “sports,” “dress,” and “dive;” while women are often left to choose from the “shrink it and pink it” section: dainty-ified male silhouettes offered in “girlish” color palettes.

But times are changing. Women watch connoisseurs are increasingly gaining visibility and making their passions, preferences, and buying power known. They’re finally being recognized, proving that the days of a watch being a boys-only toy are no more.

Which is why we spoke to some of the coolest collectors in the space. Here, they show off their wrists, share the grail finds of their dreams, and offer advice on how to get in the game.

Mojdeh Cutter

Mojdeh Cutter a women watch collector for It's About Time

(Image credit: Cody Cutter)

Currently wearing: Must de Cartier 21 from the ’90s

On the power of a timepiece: Watches are a way to connect with people. I think of them as icebreakers. You could ask a complete stranger about their watch, and within minutes, they might share intimate and personal details about their lives with you. Last year, at a restaurant in Paris, I noticed a man wearing an atypical Audemars Piguet watch. I complimented it and to my surprise, he revealed that it was a wedding gift. He had gotten married during the Covid lockdown—a detail that resonated with me, as I, too, was wearing a wedding-gift watch from a lockdown elopement. Unexpectedly, a basic exchange about a watch turned into a connection between complete strangers.

Where she finds inspiration: My mother. The watches she wore subconsciously shaped my taste, as I grew up absorbing these visual references every day. She has been wearing her two-tone Omega Constellation for as long as I can remember. She never takes it off; she even sleeps with it on.

On the practicality of a timepiece: Utilitarianism is at the core of watches. As a pretty punctual person, being able to tell the time repeatedly without having to pull my phone out is essential. 

Image of watches in watch collections

(Image credit: Cody Cutter)

Sonya Yu

Sonya Yu a woman watch collector for Marie Claire It's About TIme

(Image credit: Ingrid Nelson)

Currently wearing: 1986 Rolex Day Date with Lapis Lazuli Dial

When she fell in love with watches: The foundation was set very early on with my grandfather. I grew up with him in Beijing, while my parents were setting up a life in America. He instilled a love of analog in me. He made instruments; we listened to classical music on vinyl. Then, as I later witnessed my dad collect watches, I took in his passion. It wasn’t just this accrual of an object; it wasn’t just this thing—but a moment of celebration and connection to analog.

Image of watches in watch collections

(Image credit: Ingrid Nelson)

Why wearing a watch is so special: There’s something romantic to me about the simple yet complicated craft of keeping time. You open up the back [of a watch] and there’s this whole world. You develop a relationship with your watch: How are you providing space for this craftsmanship to live on and be personalized in your life? It’s not just the siren song of convenience taking over—a watch makes you aware of how you move your hand around, because that can throw off time. It’s that intention I love—the somatic experience that clicks in, makes me drop into my body, and be aware that this is an object someone spent a long time crafting.

Her dream watch: I keep a long, running list of watches I’m after: a Rolex Datejust Ref. 6305 with a grayish-black dial and a honeycomb Jubilee bracelet. A grail would be a Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 Perpetual Chrono in stainless steel. I have a Rolex Oyster Perpetual in green, but I would love a yellow one—a really specific one is a Rolex Submariner 5512 with a gilt dial and chronometer designation exclamation mark.

There’s something romantic to me about the simple yet complicated craft of keeping time.

Charity Mhende

Charity Mhende a women watch collector for Marie Claire's It's About TIme

(Image credit: Ryan Darius Merchant)

Currently wearing: Rolex Cellini 

Her appreciation for horology’s past: I love the history of watch brands. I didn’t know that Louis Cartier made a watch for his friend who was a pilot and needed a functional tool. Or that wristwatches started with Vacheron Constantin making them for women—they weren’t for men. And [watch houses’] marketing has evolved to attach to different demographics. Look at hip-hop. You hear rappers like Jay-Z talking about “A.P.s,” “on my bezel,” “big-face Rollies.” Jacob “The Jeweler” Arabo was mentioned in so many songs between 2000 and 2010. The nuances of how watch houses have interacted with different segments of the market—what that looks like and how that’s evolved—really piques my interest.

How the watch world is changing: The luxury market, in particular, hasn’t had to [diversify] because they didn’t need to. Their ultra-high-net-worth spender has looked the same for a very long time. But now you have people who make their money from social media, are tech workers or founders. They have a ton of money but are the first in their family to do it. They don’t necessarily look like old money. They’re millennial HENRYs (High Earners, Not Rich Yet)— but rich in spirit—and have the money to spend $5,000, $10,000, or $20,000 on a watch. The industry is waking up to the fact that their next consumer will probably be a woman, a person of color, or Gen Z. And what has worked before doesn’t necessarily work anymore. 

Where she sources: I shop online for most of my collection. My friend introduced me to Bob’s Watches and Chrono24. As a fashion girlie on the low, I also turn to second-hand retailers that have authenticity guides and certifications, like The RealReal and eBay.

Trang Tinh

Photo of women watch collector, Trang Tinh

(Image credit: Aaron Brogan)

Currently wearing: Mini Cartier Tank Allongée engraved with “Love you” on the back from my mom

On her first watch: Technically, I was six when I received my first timepiece: a rubber Disney princess watch, though I can’t remember which princess. My parents were headed to the hospital to welcome my sister and, on the way, dropped me off at a family friend’s house with my newly minted First Watch to keep me occupied. I like to romanticize it as a gift to celebrate my sister’s birth. 

Image of watches in watch collections

(Image credit: Aaron Brogan)

Where she finds watch-spo: I look mostly to the depths of my TikTok and Instagram feeds. But once I begin fixating on a new watch, I’ll ask my best friend for her opinion as a fashion arbiter and someone who knows me inside and out, as well as the seasoned collector—and my dear friend— J.J. Owens, because she has a wealth of expertise and top-notch taste.

The grail of her dreams: After slipping on a pair of vintage blue Levi’s and a white T-shirt each morning, I would strap on a Cartier Crash and wear it with abandon. For glamorous evenings in those dreams, a diamond Bulgari Serpenti Secret Watch with emerald eyes couldn’t hurt. 

I was six when I received my first timepiece: a rubber Disney princess watch.

Kathleen McGivney

Kathleen McGivney a woman watch collector for Marie Claire's It's About Time

(Image credit: Megan Rainwater)

Currently wearing: Accutron Spaceview 2020 x RedBar

When the obsession began: Like a lot of people who grew up in ’80s pop culture, I loved Swatches. As I got older and made advancements in my career, I became interested in watches again, getting some nicer pieces to mark milestones, like a TAG Heuer Alter Ego in the ’90s. It wasn’t until I started attending collector meetups in 2013 that I really got interested in—or rather obsessed with—collecting watches.

Her current collection: I own about 45 watches, excluding Swatches—I still collect Swatches and have dozens. Every piece has a story behind it. Whether I picked it up on a memorable trip or purchased it from a friend’s brand, they all have a backstory.

The one that got away: The Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire Constant Force. I knew that a friend of mine was bidding on it at the auction, so I held back. Fortunately, my friend won, so I still get to visit the watch from time to time, but I sometimes wish I had placed a bid.

J. J. Owens

JJ Owens a woman watch collector for Marie Claire's It's About Time

(Image credit: James Kong)

Currently wearing: Bulgari Serpenti in Gold 

On her love of timepieces: If I could only wear one accessory, it would be a watch. It’s so much more than a watch to me. It started as a passion with my dad. He was a collector and I dove headfirst into it to have a bond with him. I love my dad more than anything in the world. Looking down at my wrist every day, it’s like I have him with me. 

Her first watch: My father gifted me a 1969 Cartier Tank as my first watch. It has manual wind, which means it’s not battery-operated and doesn’t work on movement. You have to physically wind it every single day. I didn’t baby it the way that I would have if I had gotten it now, but I didn’t know any better. I just loved it, enjoyed it, and wore it every day. Now, I wear it very rarely, but I do take it out a few times a year. 

Advice for new collectors: Treat [watch collecting] like every other element of your life and follow what you like, what you’re drawn to. Your first visceral response is based on the look of the watch. Then you look at the movement, the metals, and such. If you like a 42mm watch that’s typically for a guy, who cares? Follow that. You have to like how it looks, because you won’t wear anything you don’t like. And you have to wear it. My father ingrained this in me: At the end of the day, watches are meant to be worn and enjoyed. They’re not meant to be kept in a safe.

Image of watches in watch collections

(Image credit: James Kong)

H. Jane Chon

H. Jane Chon a woman watch collector for Marie Claire's It's About Time

(Image credit: Jeffrey B. Moore)

Currently wearing: Patek Philippe Ref. 3940G

On her fascination with timepieces: I am technologically deficient. I’m a Luddite. But mechanical watches are one of the few “machines” I can understand and handle. A watch makes sense to me in a way that looking at my phone does not. When you see a mechanical watch taken apart, it makes sense. This piece is attached to this piece, attached to this piece. And you can actually see the pieces work—you can see a wheel tube grip and let go. 

Why she prefers vintage: I collect lots of things. The other things I collect will not take food off the table, but a watch might. When talking about significant cash outlays, I need to know that the watch is worth having in five or 10 years. The vast majority of watches I see today may be technologically superior, but they’re not going to last. The quality of older materials is, frankly, better. I have watches from the ’40s in my collection that work, look good, and will outlive me. 

What she considers when buying a watch: I always think about the quality of the movement first. The mechanics of the watch—which, in most cases, you don’t see unless you remove the back—what makes the watch tick, how well it was put together, how sturdy a movement is. I want to know that folks—or, in certain cases, maybe just one watchmaker—put a lot of effort into finishing the watch; that they were proud of their work. 

I have watches from the ’40s in my collection that work, look good, and will outlive me.”

Brynn Wallner

Photo of women watch collector Brynn Wallner

(Image credit: JARED SHERBERT)

Currently wearing: Cartier Tank Française

When the obsession began: I noticed that women were left out of the narrative of watch culture and history. They were barely mentioned—if mentioned at all. I thought: I know women wear watches, so why aren’t they at all central to the story? And why have I never cared to own a watch? Watch brands are messing up so significantly by not talking to me, a member of a demographic that could be really important to them. I want Louis Vuitton bags. I want Gucci shoes and clothing by The Row. A Rolex should have been on my wishlist, but it wasn’t. That struck me. 

Her most sentimental timepiece: One day, my dad casually said, “You know I have a Rolex, right? I got it as a gift from my parents in the ’80s when I graduated from law school. I never wear it anymore—it’s gathering dust in a box under the bed.” So he gave it to me. It’s a vintage two-tone Rolex Datejust 36mm with a blue dial and is so, so beautiful. It was handpicked by my grandmother, who’s no longer with us. It has her touch, then it was his, and now it’s mine. It’s this familial link all encapsulated in this little object. 

Image of watches in watch collections

(Image credit: Courtesy of Brynn Wallner)

On how to start your collection: Begin by putting something on your wrist, whatever you can afford. If you don’t have $3,000, $5,000, or $10,000 to spend, buy a little Seiko, Casio, or something from Breda. Wear it, get acclimated to that feeling, and then start manifesting.

Begin by putting something on your wrist, whatever you can afford. Get acclimated to that feeling.

Emma Childs
Fashion Features Editor

Emma is the fashion features editor at Marie Claire, where she writes deep-dive trend reports, zeitgeisty fashion featurettes on what style tastemakers are wearing, long-form profiles on emerging designers and the names to know, and human interest vignette-style round-ups. Previously, she was Marie Claire's style editor, where she wrote shopping e-commerce guides and seasonal trend reports, assisted with the market for fashion photo shoots, and assigned and edited fashion celebrity news.

Emma also wrote for The Zoe Report, Editorialist, Elite Daily, Bustle, and Mission Magazine. She studied Fashion Studies and New Media at Fordham University Lincoln Center and launched her own magazine, Childs Play Magazine, in 2015 as a creative pastime. When she's not waxing poetic about niche fashion topics, you'll find her stalking eBay for designer vintage, reading literary fiction on her Kindle, and baking banana bread in her tiny NYC kitchen.