Women We Love: Jessica Owens of New YorkBy Barbara Palumbo
Despite the sudden media attention, the Clubhouse- inspired chatter and the label of there being a “new movement” on the horizon, the truth remains that women have been interested in and have also (gasp!) collected watches for ages. The first known wristwatches were created for women, not for men, with a handful of those women being royals.
In 1810, Caroline Murat, then Queen of Naples and sister to Napoleon I, commissioned Abraham-Louis Breguet to create for her a watch to be worn on a bracelet, adding to her already vast collection of 34 clocks and watches from Breguet. A few decades later in 1868, a wristwatch was created for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary by Polish watchmaking pioneer Antoni Patek (of Patek Philippe fame). It wasn’t until the late 19th century that men began wearing wristwatches, and at that time, only for reasons related to being in the military. Yet somewhere in the last 140 years, the tide shifted and the focus on women in the watch collecting world started to wane. But that does not mean women enthusiasts went away; it simply means their recognition did.
The goal with this and succeeding articles is to meet some of today’s women watch collectors and enthusiasts from around the globe. How the narrative gets changed is crucial to how the watch industry will move forward successfully, particularly as it pertains to marketing to women buyers. And as American actress Elizabeth Marvel so famously stated, “If you can see it, you can be it.”
A New York Minute
Jessica Owens, like many watch collectors, does not keep a high profile. Unlike many watch collectors, however, Jessica — or “J.J.” which is the name she tends to go by — is 24 years of age and started collecting watches, astonishingly, at the age of 14. It is a passion, she tells us, that was originally introduced to her by her father.
“My father always had an interest in watches,” J.J. says. “He frequently shares memories of the watches his father and grandfather wore, and he still has those watches to this day, making clear how special they are. I will inherit my grandpa’s and great-grandpa’s timepieces some day, and those will forever be my most cherished watches as they hold so much history, sentimental and otherwise.” When asked if she knew when her father fell in love with watches, J.J. explains that his first passion was automobiles, so for him, it all started with a Hollywood movie. “My dad’s first true timepiece memory was when he watched the film Le Mans and saw Steve McQueen wear a Heuer Monaco. Since then, he has had a love of watches.”
J.J. — a proud member of the Horological Society of New York — is a big-city dweller with a degree in entrepreneurship and finance and a love of all things numbers related. “I could never see a day in which I do not live in a city,” she explains. “I don’t think my level of enthusiasm would fare well elsewhere.” Regarding her obsession with economics, J.J. feels that there could be a direct correlation between her interest in watches and her fondness of math. “I have and will always be a numbers girl. I am one of the few who loves math. Maybe that’s why I gravitate toward watches as much as I do, because when we think about it, they are a measurement of time.”
Old VS New
When it comes to her own collection (about which she jokingly pleads the Fifth when asked how many watches she owns), J.J. tends to lean more toward collecting vintage timepieces as opposed to newer releases. “I hundred percent prefer vintage watches, but every once in a while I get bitten by the modern watch bug and feel tempted to venture over to the dark side. I would say the ratio amongst my watches is about 80/20, vintage to modern, as I tend to gravitate toward Rolex watches from the ’60s and ’70s. Every time I consider purchasing another watch, I look to the vintage category first. For me, as a collector, I have such a connection to the provenance and the past life of a watch. Envisioning the person who had the timepiece before I did and the life the watch lived just makes me all the more excited. I look at my vintage watches and think, I am not the owner, but rather I am the custodian for this brief amount of time. It is my job to learn about and care for these pieces out of respect to the watch, as well as to the former — and future — custodians of it.”
In terms of price points of the watches in her collection, J.J. makes it very clear that to be a watch collector, one does not need to break the bank. “I was very fortunate at the beginning. When I started collecting, you could still find a watch for an amazing deal on eBay or at an obscure auction. I have some watches that I found for around USD 200, and I wear those just as much as some of my more expensive timepieces. I think there is a fallacy in the watch world that you need to spend a lot to be welcomed. What you spend does not matter. The way I see it, the passion and desire to learn about timepieces far supersede a price tag.”
When asked if she had always been made to feel welcome within the watch community or if there is a hierarchy in watch collecting, J.J. explains that she has been fortunate. The collectors she has met and call her friends are always open to talking watches — regardless of what one wears on their wrists. “I think to new collectors or outsiders, there is an assumed barrier to entry into this world. There’s the feeling they may not be welcomed unless they have a Patek Philippe 5711, a steel Rolex Daytona or a blue dial Royal Oak. In actuality, that is not the case. There is nothing more boring than walking into a collector’s event where everyone has the same five watches because that’s what they were told would appreciate in value or that everyone would recognise.”
The Women’s Movement
J.J. has, of late, been more and more vocal about women in the watch community, via posts on her Instagram page as well as through her appearances in Clubhouse group chats. And while she recognises that the movement to embrace women in the watch world isn’t new, she believes that this time, the way the movement is being highlighted is making all the difference.
“I think the current movement has been approached in a very interesting way,” she says. “Meaning, it is much more welcoming to people newly interested in watches, which makes it seem more approachable in a way. At the end of the day, if this movement creates a more equitable space for women who have been in the industry as well as a more open space to women who want to collect, that is all that matters. When I first started collecting, I would have been deeply encouraged by this.”
Vintage watch specialist and founder of Wind Vintage, Eric Wind, tends to agree, especially as it relates to vintage watches. “Social media, I would say, is helping to inspire women to buy vintage watches. Plus, it’s clear women are self-reliant and fully capable of making their own decisions about how to spend their money.” When Wind started his company in 2017, only very few of his vintage watch clients were women, but that has changed for the better of late, with women reaching out to him regularly to inquire about vintage timepieces.
How and where a woman begins her watch collecting journey, however, can get a bit overwhelming, especially for someone who considers themselves to be a complete novice. But J.J. offers up some advice for those looking to head down the horological path. “First, go try watches on! Visit a boutique and just try on a varied selection of timepieces. Give all the different metals and sizes a try; you might be surprised as to what you like. Secondly, don’t be afraid to reach out to a female enthusiast on Instagram to ask them for their advice. I don’t mind helping a woman who may be interested, because even though I had my dad, I wish I had had a woman’s input as it is always helpful when you don’t know where to begin. Lastly, as women tend to wear more accessories than just a watch, think about the kind of watch that will complement your wardrobe and lifestyle. I love it when I see a watch on a wrist and think ‘wow that fits their personality so well’. Finding a watch that complements what you already have will only make the piece a more integral part of your life.”
The Day-To-Day and The Days To Come
The watch J.J. finds herself wearing the most these days is one she feels complements her personality while also being an easy one to wear regularly. “Right now, my go-to is my vintage gold Audemars Piguet Royal Oak with quartz movement. Due to it being quartz, it is pretty effortless wear, and the watch is 26mm in diameter, so it’s not too outrageous for an everyday timepiece.”
A couple of brands she feels are severely underrated now are Sinn (on the casual/tool/dive watch end of the spectrum) and DeWitt, particularly one specific version of the latter. “I came across the DeWitt Classic Moon Abstraction the other day, and its pure beauty mixed with the exhibition back is a dream. I rarely see a 41mm watch look so elegant but this proved me wrong. I was immediately mesmerised by this piece. I have been exploring more independents lately and I have to say, it is definitely a new favourite.”
Of course, like many collectors and enthusiasts, J.J. also thinks about what she’d like to obtain for her collection at some point in the future. “I think the watch I covet the most right now, with regard to timepieces that are modern, would have to be the Audemars Piguet collaboration with jewellery designer Carolina Bucci. I have always been a fan of her work, but the frosted gold Royal Oak she created in collaboration with the brand is exquisite and takes the cake. It is the perfect piece to add a bit of zest to any outfit, whether that be a T-shirt and jeans or a black-tie ensemble.”
As for her “grail” watch, J.J. has her answer ready and gives it without hesitation. “I don’t see a time when my grail watch will not be the Rolex 6062 in gold. The first complication I was truly infatuated with was a moon phase on a 5039J that my uncle wore, so I will always have a sentimental connection to that. I think the ’50s era of Rolex is incredibly fascinating in terms of the range of watches they created, particularly from the 6542 to the 6062. In my opinion, it was the golden era of Rolex.”
This is the first of a regular column where we catch up with women watch collectors for fresh insights on horology.