Finding a Women’s Watch to Wear to the Office
Watches are a status symbol and a form of personal expression—
you can tell an employer a lot about yourself by the watch you wear.
Soon after I started my first corporate job, I was struck by how much of a charade it all was. Stiff collars and pantyhose. Hierarchies and performance review rhetoric. Something called “corporate casual.” How real was this situation anyway? It seemed like an alternate universe.
But then I realized it was very real, I was lucky enough to have been cast for a part in the situation, and it was my life so I might as well play my part to the fullest.
In the professional world, you can’t control what people think of you, but you can control the class and cultural signifiers you adorn yourself with. Watches are a status symbol and a form of personal expression—you can tell an employer a lot about yourself by the watch you wear.
By functioning as a sign of professionalism and status and even as a point of conversation, your watch can boost the impression you give and might even help you land a job.
It all comes down to personal style, your budget, and the image you want to project. A crazy, cool Swatch might do if you’re at an ad firm but be out of place in a law office, where you’d be better off with a vintage Omega or a Rolex.
For corporate culture, I decided to focus on conservative women’s watches. What kind of timepiece would you wear if you wanted to project competence, practicality, and good design sense?
Shot in the dark
I went to my local mall to see what’s easily available to the casual female watch-seeker on a budget.
In the display cases were watches by Armitron, Liz Claiborne, and Relic. Many were bedazzled to the nines and, disturbingly, decorated with Disney characters. Slightly more tasteful were some higher-end but still sparkly Bulovas.
The men’s watches were for the most part so grotesquely bulky that I half-expected them to bear the name “Escalade” on their dials. The display cases were like a sexist parody of watches men and women should wear. It didn’t seem fair. While a giant watch, on a man, might be an asset in a boardroom, the crystal-studded women’s watches were likely to make you seem ridiculous.
Photo by Julia Scheib. This Timex Easy Reader was $54.95 at J.C. Penney--before a price cut of 20% because it was on sale-- but you can buy it from Timex.com for less than $40.
Photo credit: 1957 Ventura: http://theunbuttonedlife.tumblr.com/post/108678496233/womw-1957-hamilton-ventura-worn-by-elvis
his is the original 1957 Ventura, the model worn by Elvis Presley in Blue Velvet. 1957 Venturas are pretty pricey because they are desirable to collectors and famously hard to repair, so it might be smart to find a deal on one of the quartz reissues if you like this model.
Illustration by Julia Scheib.
Then I found my practical, budget-friendly women’s watch: a Timex on sale for less than $50. Not upscale, not trying to be upscale. The Volvo of watches.
On to the experts: shopping for pre-owned and vintage watches
In the world of watch collectors, women’s watches are not often valued or sought after as much as men’s watches. Precious jewels and metals are what give a women’s watch value, rather than cult status, design, or complicated movements.
One watchmaker told me that he always has extra movements from women’s watches on hand, because the metal is more valuable than the timepiece as a whole, and the watch gets melted down.
That’s why it’s smart to buy a used women’s watch—hardly anyone is collecting them, so they lose value after being worn.
I spoke with Drew Zimmerman, a watchmaker residing in York, PA, who teaches classes at the NAWCC’s School of Horology with his wife, Emily. He recommended finding a good deal on a quality secondhand ladies’ watch on eBay.
“Women’s watches are cheaper,” Zimmerman said. “When you buy pre-owned, with ladies’ watches, you normally can get a really good watch for a quarter of the price.”
He recommends Baume and Mercier, Omega, Tissot, and Movado.
Getting a used watch seems risky. Behind an impassive face, the workings are a mystery to anyone but the horologically inclined. How can you predict that a watch will run once you’ve bought it and stuck a new battery in it?
It’s always better to buy a running watch than a non-running watch, and it’s better to buy in-person than online.
When inspecting a used watch, “look at the case condition to see how hard it was worn,” said Zimmerman. “If there are scratches, dings, and chips, there’s a better chance that the mechanism isn’t in good shape.”
If buying online, try to go with a seller who has a good reputation or who has been recommended to you.
For the quality and no-nonsense style I was after, Zimmerman recommended getting a men’s watch from the 1940s or 1950s. It turns out that before men’s watches ballooned to the 40, 50, and 60 mm dial diameters they often are these days, they were about the size of today’s women’s watches.
Zimmerman suggested looking at Hamilton, Waltham, Elgin and Gruen watches.
“Hamilton movements were very high quality, and they were so undervalued,” he said. Hamiltons are going for much higher prices these days, relatively, than they were 60 or 70 years ago.
Vintage styles are trendy, so in an odd way, current. They’re constantly being brought back by manufacturers. The 1957 Hamilton Ventura, the world’s first electric watch, was brought back in 2009 for what would have been Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday—Presley wore the watch in Blue Hawaii.
The original versions of this very stylish, space age-y, triangular men’s watch are, in my opinion, much prettier than some of the sporty “XXL” 2009 designs, which conform to the company’s new hyper-masculine aesthetic of utilitarian and performance-oriented military and aviation watches.
Another attractive Hamilton model on the cheaper side is the Cedric. It has an elegant rectangular dial and a simple, straightforward design with those blocky midcentury numerals. You can find this on eBay for very cheap, but unless you want to have the watch serviced, it’s best to buy one described as “serviced” or “running.” These can run as high as $400, but you can find deals.
If you dive into the world of used and vintage watches, you’ll find endless variations, like two-tone dials, various leather bands and metal bracelets, and differently shaped dials and styles of numerals. Decide on your price point first. Even if it’s $40 or $50, you’ll find a style you like.
Photo Credit: Elvis80 Auto: http://www.hamiltonwatch.com/collection/american-classic/ventura/elvis80/h24585331-ventura-elvis80-auto
This beast of a watch, the Elvis80 Auto, is one of the sportier models from the 2015 Ventura collection. It has a 42.5 x 44.6mm dial and retails for $1495. There are also slimmer versions of the reissued Ventura, but this one shows how styles have changed.
Photo credit: http://www.hamiltonchronicles.com/2013/02/1950-cedric-overhaul.html
This handsome 1949 men's model can be found on eBay for a range of prices and in varying states. When shopping for a vintage watch, look for one that runs if you don't want to have to take it in.