Instagram, for many years, has been a game changer like nothing many of us had ever seen in our lifetimes. Let us think about it for a minute: What other social media outlet (that is free to download and use) has spawned multi-millionaires in the form of influencers-turned- celebrities? Many of whom, by the way, have since become clothing designers, professional models or entrepreneurs in a variety of genres across the luxury lifestyle and fashion industries. And although “influencer” can sometimes have a negative connotation (a 2019 BBC article explains in detail how the term “influencer” became a dirty word) there are those amongst us in the watch community, including enthusiasts and collectors, who simply, without even trying … influence. Many whom we might consider to be watch industry “influencers” never started their page on Instagram wanting that title. They simply had the idea to share their passion and their watch journey with the rest of the world, hoping they could teach as much as they could learn.
Déborah Maldonado — aka @iwcgirl — is one of those people.
A “Girl” and her watch
At 35 years of age, Déborah Maldonado (or Déby as she is often called) is not a girl by any stretch. On the contrary, she is quite an interesting woman who has, for years now, made her mark on the watch world, so much so that brand heads easily recognize her IG handle and her name. They connect with her because Déby is not easy to forget. She knows watches. Like, knows them. And with an Instagram following of nearly 40,000, Maldonado has made a social media impact on the horological community that few women have to this day. But we will talk more about that later. For now, let us take it back to when she was just a girl in her native Brazil, knowing, from a very young age, that time was on her side.
“When I was a child, I was very curious, and I noticed that every day when my grandfather would sit down for breakfast, he would be wearing a watch,” says Maldonado. “I come from a simple family, and my grandfather didn’t wear a luxury watch brand. But I remember that his watch was steel, with an all-steel bracelet. As a child, it caught my attention. I would ask him, ‘Grandpa, what time is it?’ because I wanted to learn how to tell the time, but not just by reading time on a digital watch. And my grandfather told me that the day I learned to tell the time on a watch with hands, I would get a watch. So I did, and on my fifth birthday, I received a watch as a present. And this watch … it was not a digital watch.”
Maldonado’s story is not unlike many in the watch industry in that she was fascinated by the pieces she saw other family members wear, whether those watches were familiar brands or not. “I could not imagine that this passion and interest as a child would change my life years later. I am now 35 years old. And as expected, my interest in watches over time has changed.”
Growing up and growing eager
Maldonado — who currently lives in São Paulo, the central location of Brazil’s financial center as well as one of the world’s most populous cities with an estimated population of 12.33 million — began her career in the watch industry right around the age of 26. “In 2012, I started to work for IWC in Brazil. I was a salesperson in a boutique there, and two years later, I created the @iwcgirl Instagram page.”
What began as a hobby soon became something more. She noticed how quickly her following had started to grow because of the enthusiasts — both men and women — who were fans of the brand for which she worked. While she clearly has a place in her heart for IWC watches and proudly owns several to this day, her interest in other brands also started to take shape. “I don’t just own IWC watches,” she states, mentioning a Rolex Cellini series in platinum that she has in her collection as well as a Cartier Ronde Solo XL.
When it comes to naming the most special watch in her collection, Maldonado does not hesitate a split second. “The most special watch in my collection would have to be my vintage IWC Caliber 89 in 18K gold. It is mostly special to me because it was my first ever IWC, but also, I love that it is a manual winding watch. And, of course, the fact that there is so much history the watch carries with it — over 150 years’ worth.”
Women, watches and the future
On the percentage of her 40,000 IG followers who are women, Maldonado replies with what would seem to be a fairly small number. “I’d say probably 12 percent, but I have noticed that I am getting more questions from women followers and enthusiasts. The interest amongst women about watches has grown.”
She believes that demographics play a role in determining who follows her page as well as those who are actually buying watches. “In South America, the number of women interested in timepieces is less when compared to the rest of the world, but I do see potential.” When it comes to where that potential comes from and how the watch industry can broaden their reach amongst the “other” gender, Maldonado thinks it boils down to the choices offered.
“We women have options in so many other areas of luxury. We have options in jewelry, and we are offered different colors and materials in handbags and in shoes. There is such a variety in so many of the other accessories we purchase, and for watches, I feel it should also be like this. I am not saying I want a watch with seven different colors on the dial necessarily, but colorful bracelets would be great, maybe fewer watches with diamonds. (Not that I don’t like diamonds, but it is nice to have a watch that you can use with tranquility without that pressure of being robbed, in Brazil, for example!) I believe that when you change your watch band, it is not just to match your look of the day, but it is also about your mood, your personality. When I want to feel more delicate, I wear a light pink strap on my IWC Pilot. When I want to have a more ‘military’ style, I wear the green textile strap. My friends think a woman wearing a Pilot’s Watch is great. A different bracelet or strap can change everything because it’s a departure from the obvious, you know? Whenever I wear my pink bracelet on my IWC, my friends love it. If I am wearing a black or brown bracelet, nobody says anything, because it’s so much more common.”
When considering watches to buy for her personal collection, which naturally includes several IWC watches such as the Pilot automatic 36mm, a Portofino 37mm, a Portugieser Chrono 150 Years and the Chrono Spitfire, Maldonado goes with her gut. “I buy watches for me, to own them forever if I can. I do not see myself commercializing or selling the watches in my collection. Each watch I buy has a story and a moment, and that to me is important; that to me is special. I would only sell a watch from my collection to buy another watch. But this passion of ours has a value, and sometimes we have to organize ourselves to buy what we want.”
And which watch might just be the one she craves the most? Which, of all the watches in existence, would be her grail?
“My grail watch would have to be an IWC Perpetual Calendar, of course! Specifically, the Da Vinci Chrono Perpetual Calendar in 18K gold, as it fits so beautifully on the wrist, and the perpetual calendar is my favorite complication. Plus, I am in love with Kurt Klaus, and this watch, for me, reflects all the admiration and respect I have for a person who did so much for IWC for such a long period of time.”