Professional Watches for Women

Which are the best watches for professional women? Is it still worth investing in a quality watch, even though everyone uses their cell phone or computer to check time? Reader L wrote in to ask about watches:

I searched your site and found the post on digital watches, but I would love your (and your readers’) opinions on non-digital wrist watches. It would be useful to hear suggestions at various price points.

This is a great question. I’ve written before about how I think watches are still status symbols. Not only do men’s magazines all still advise men to go out and spend money on a watch, but I’ve often been at a lunch with high-achieving women, looked around, and noticed that 8 of the 10 women there were wearing Cartier watches.  In New York — at least among the legal and banking set — Cartier is kind of the first and last word, at least in my experience. My 30th birthday gift to myself was a Cartier Tank Francaise watch, though, so perhaps my perception is a bit biased! (It was a huuuuge splurge for this Midwestern girl.)

What to Look For: If you’re spending money on something, I think you absolutely have to love it. So first and foremost, look for something you really love. Other considerations: look for a watch that will wear well with your daily activities — if you’re a chef and washing your hands every two seconds, for example, you want a fairly waterproof watch.  Consider how the watch keeps time, also — for example, if you may not wear the watch daily, you may want to avoid a “perpetual motion” watch that stays wound through your body’s motions.  The word on the street is you can wear gold jewelry with a stainless steel watch — but if that will make you feel awkward (like I always do!) then consider getting a watch with both gold and silver elements.  Finally, diamonds and other jewels: I think this is more of a “know your region” kind of thing.  Here in New York, I would think that a watch with diamonds on it was only for going out — but I have another friend in Miami who wears her bejeweled watch everywhere, including to court.

How to Buy It. I started noticing Cartier watches (and really wanting one) sometime in my late 20s. So I started thinking of it as, “every time I see one and want one, I’m mentally putting $5 into my “watch fund jar,” which helped mitigate the purchase a bit when I plunked down the money. The other thing to know is that you can often haggle, especially at good watch stores. I bought my Cartier at Tourneau, and got somewhere between 15%-20% off the list price.  (I don’t remember exactly how much it was now, but I remember that it was a very quick purchase because I had done so much legwork before I decided to actually purchase the watch, so I think it helped that the salesperson knew she had a fast and easy commission.)  These days, you frequently see Cartier and other watches on flash sale sites like Rue La La — a quick web search even shows Cartier watches for sale on Overstock! (Whenever you buy a watch from a secondary retailer, though, be very careful, and know what little things to look for. For example, on a real Cartier watch, the one of the bars on the V in the “VII” is actually the word “Cartier.”) I know one good friend who confided in me that her parents bought her graduation watch — a Michele — at Costco.

Looking at some previous reader discussions (including this great comment from a reader who has a ton of great advice and confesses that “watches are my thing,”) readers have also mentioned these brands: Omega, Baume & Mercier, Tag Hauer, and Movado.  FabSugar also recently did a roundup of 10 watches to wear forever.

Do I really have to buy a $3000-$5000 watch to fit in?   Nope.  Not at all.  Before I got my Cartier, I wore a variety of watches — most often, though, I wore my digital Timex.  Learn from my mistakes, ladies — a digital sports watch almost never looks good with a suit.  Beyond that, though, I don’t think people notice what watch you’re wearing.  (To clarify:  Watch people will notice if it’s a Rolex or a Cartier or whatever they have, but I don’t think they’ll mentally “ding” you for having a less expensive watch or even notice the absence of a “good” watch.)  So for my money, at least, I would stick with inexpensive watches unless and until you were ready to make a “big” purchase.  (But if you fall in love with a $500 watch, go for it!)

Readers, do you wear a watch — and if so, what kind is it?  How much did you spend on it?  Do you notice which watches men and women at your office are wearing (or if they’re wearing one)?  

Comments

  1. Cornellian :

    I wear a simple movado that was about 500 dollars, and it has served me well. It was a bit of a concession to adulthood, as I hate jewely (on myself). I think there are great watches to be had at the $500 ish price point.

    • Anonymous :

      I also have a Movado- the strap is about 1/4 in thick and it has a plain black face. It was an engagement present from my in-laws and symbolized that they recognized me as part of the family, as they both wear Movado watches and have them to their kids as college gradation presents. It was quite thoughtful of them, not only for the symbolism but also because I did not have a proper watch that would work with a sur.

      I must say that I’ve never paid attention to anyone’s watch, so would have a hard time considering paying for a more expensive one.

    • I love my Movado and wear it almost every day. http://shop.nordstrom.com/S/movado-bela-stainless-steel-bangle-watch/2965398?origin=PredictiveSearch&fashionColor=&resultback=4630
      I also have a more casual Burberry watch that I received for our first anniversary: similar to this but with a red leather band. I don’t think I’d get another Burberry watch. My husband’s band has broken several times, once 2 weeks after replacement, and we learned the hard way that Burberry does not guarantee the bands.

      • Elizabeth :

        Also a Movado here. It has a pinkish mother of pearl face, and a very thin jewelry-like bracelet band in stainless steel (Kara). The face is surrounded by diamonds, but I do wear it every day for work/to court. I think whether the “bling” is appropriate also depends on your personality (we’re not corporate drones), but who am I to say…

        I actually started my search exclusively looking at Rolex/Cartier/Omega, but as a small woman with very bony wrists, they all looked so huge!

  2. Silver tank watch, by Fossil, and it was a gift. The idea of spending $3-5,000 on a watch blows my mind.

    • I’ve been wearing a slim silver Fossil with a rectangular black dial since my 18th birthday, when I bought it as a “grown up” gift to myself (it was a splurge at the time). It has served me well, though I do have a gold-tone bangle watch and just ordered a white ceramic watch. I wear the gold maybe one or two days a year, so the Fossil really is pulling more than its fair share of the weight.

  3. momentsofabsurdity :

    This brings to mind my sad watch story. When I was 16, my dad got me and my mother matching Gucci bangle watches – I think they were about $1K each, so not a Cartier, but still a HUGE splurge and major gift. My mother still wears hers every day.

    Mine, I decided when I went to college, was too valuable to bring across the country and I didn’t trust myself to keep it safe and not break it. So I put in my medicine cabinet (stupid, stupid) and headed off to university. The next time I thought of it (the following summer) I checked the medicine cabinet and it was gone. I asked everyone in my family, and none of them have it, so our only conclusion is that it must have been stolen by someone who had access to my bathroom.

    I’m still sad. It was so pretty!

    • K...in transition :

      since your mom has hers, are you able to see if Gucci still makes it or can find it or if it’s on ebay? it’s obviously not the same but it would allow the tradition and thought to continue

    • Can;t you narrow down who it was? I would be awful curious to find out who it could’ve been, esp if it’s a family friend!

      • momentsofabsurdity :

        It’s hard to tell who it could have been since my bathroom is a hall bathroom, rather than connected to my room, and it was shared with my sisters and (when they visited) their friends, and was accessible to almost anyone. It’s also possible it was the cleaning ladies (who were really sweet and I’d hate to believe that) or a repairman or almost anyone. I talked about it with my family members but it’s hard to get a sense of exactly who has come through your home over the course of a couple of years, and really I should have given it to my parents for safekeeping in their locking jewelry box or something, so it’s partially my own fault.

        During that same time frame, my mom’s Burberry trench also “mysteriously disappeared” from the downstairs closet and my dad’s unused money clip also disappeared (we only put all this together later on when we were trying to figure out what happened to the watch). Fooey on them though – my dad’s money clip wasn’t real gold! So probably someone who had regular access to the house was pilfering things here and there.

  4. I have a tank watch from Emporio Armani. It has silver hardware and a black leather band. I love it. I got it at Nordstrom some years ago.

    I, too, can’t understand spending thousands of dollars on a watch, but I am lost without one.

  5. K...in transition :

    Does anyone know of a website that pairs house or pet sitting with people who are willing to do such? I just got an amazing offer to volunteer as a part of an off-Broadway show full of big names but I’ll need somewhere to stay for the days of 7/27-8/5 and hotels and even hostels are too expensive for this still-unemployed gal. I also posted on the couch surfers website but so far, nada. I’m so afraid I’m going to have to choose between subway sleeping and not being able to take this awesome opportunity :(

    • Anon Analyst :

      I have heard of housecarers dot com, but have never used the site myself. Good luck!

    • Kontraktor :

      Can you try to find some friends of friends or something to stay with? Ask any of the people you’d be volunteering with if you could stay with them?

      • K...in transition :

        am trying but not having any luck… the people I’m volunteering to help are actors and seem to either be people with families and thus no room or they’re crashing on someone else’s couches, so they can’t. going to keep looking but if I don’t find something in the next day or two, I’ll have to turn it down :(

        • Cornellian :

          try universities’ websites. When I’ve housesat it’s been for travelling professors. Also, FWIW it’s worth, I’m on couchsurfing and have received literally more than 200 requests for that week alone. It’s really overwhelming being a host in NYC on that site, adn I would maybe look elsewhere.

        • K, i have a few friends in NYC still, i’ll check around to see if anyone has a couch open. You should post again on the coffee break thread here, I’m sure there are a lot of us here who don’t mind looking around to see if we can find a friend for you to stay with!

    • HotChildintheCity :

      Try airbnb dot com or vrbo dot com. People post everything from spare rooms or couches to their entire houses/apartments for rent. Although not free, the prices are much cheaper than most hotel – I found accommodations for a month trip across Europe using airbnb and had only positive experiences – the places I rented were even much cheaper than hostel rates (and they were much nicer!).

    • Let me rephrase your question in a way that you were too polite to put it.

      ATTENTION NYC READERS: K… in transition needs a place to stay from 7/27-8/5. Who wants to host her?

    • I don’t know who is going to let a perfect stranger into their home to house or pet sit, especially when it’s clear they’re just looking for a place to stay.

      This is what I did when I moved here… go on Craigslist and find people that are looking for short term roommates. That’s probably the cheapest thing you’re going to find, and there are a ton of people looking to rent out their extra bedrooms or couches for a week or so to make some extra money.

    • This may be too late for you to see but have you tried the couch surfers site? It’s not quite what you’re looking for but I know it’s fairly popular with the backpacking crowd.

  6. Anonymous :

    Skagen. Complimented and never seems like too much or too little. Purchased at Lord & Taylor with a coupon. There are other places (i.e., kids’ education) where thousands of dollars would be much better spent.

    • Hah, we posted at the same time, see below.

    • I am a banana. :

      Another one on the Skagen wagon. I get compliments on mine all the time. Skagen is great about repairs, too – I broke the clasp by slamming my wrist down on a table once and they put a whole new strap on it for like $20, shipping included.

      For those of you on a budget, there is a Groupon deal for Skagen watches today in the SF Goods section.

    • My mom recently bought me a Skagen watch. I like it a lot, although I’ve had some trouble with the clasp. Before that I wore a gold Citizen watch (which is also nice but I don’t otherwise wear gold). I don’t pay a lot of attention to watches on other people, so I probably would not be inclined to spend $3-5k on one.

    • Anonymous :

      I Love Skagen. I don’t know whether to be happy or sad (both, prolly) that Fossil bought them. Better deals to be had in future, perhaps? Or will Skagen now be “Skagen”? It doesn’t really matter, likely, just as fashion houses change designers and owners, it’s the vibe of the thing that counts. That, and telling time. I doubt those’ll change. Love Skagen.

    • I love love LOVE my Skagen watch. I think they look so much more high quality than what they actually cost.

    • I’m another Skagen lover. I have several of them. I like watches with adjustable straps, but don’t always want leather, so I love their mesh straps with the adjustable clasp (though I have a couple of Skagens with leather straps as well). Even the blingiest of my Skagen watches, with lots of metal and rhinestones, is thin and light, which I also love — I don’t want a heavy watch. And they’re reasonably priced, between $100 and $200.

      • Christina :

        Love Skagen – probably the only watch I found that isn’t insanely expensive and has that slim profile I need to not get irritated by a watch. I used to wear chunky watches because it was comfortable and I like the weight, but as I transitioned into a working schedule with computers 24/7 instead of just being a college student with little typing, it was harder to keep the chunky watch and not develop wrist problems. I love mine – got it on Overstock.

  7. I spent $70 on a nice stainless-steel watch, quite classy and professional-looking, after many years of cheap $20 Timexes.

    And then discovered that my allergy to nickel had gotten worse, and now I can’t wear any of my watches. And searching for nickel-free watches on Amazon gets me yet more stainless-steel watches (and most stainless steel contains nickel).

    So, does anyone else with a nickel allergy have a recommendation for a nice nickel-free watch which is appropriate for a professional environment, and doesn’t cost more than $150?

    • K...in transition :

      that’s why I don’t/can’t wear them either… I stick with the clock on my cell phone

    • The only ones I’ve had luck with are Fossil; I don’t react to their watches at all, for whatever reason.

      • Ditto. I’m terribly allergic to nickel and other non-precious metals (can’t even wear 14K gold), but for whatever reason, Fossil watches never, ever irritate my skin.

    • Anon NY Bar :

      Same prob.. I’ve been told that *higher end* watches (ie, Gucci, Armani, Rado etc) that use surgical steel contain little to no nickel, depending on the grade. I haven’t seen surgical steel available for less than $150..

    • Most low-nickle stainless steel alloys are magnetic. If you’re shopping at retail, take a small magnet with you. If the magnet will stick to the back of a watch body, you might have a watch that won’t bother you even if it’s not marketed as low nickle.

      • I wear a Skagen, and it’s the second I’ve owned of the brand. Love it. I’m also allergic to nickel and it’s one of the few hypoallergenic brands I’ve found that makes fashionable, affordable ($100ish) watches. In 3+ years wearing the brand I’ve never had a reaction it.

    • You might try painting the back of the watch you have with clear nail polish; that works for many people with metal allergies.

    • Anonymous :

      Put a pretty piece of ribbon on as a band, like a NATO strap but more feminine.

  8. In the under $100 range, but I love my skagen watch.

  9. Wish list- Rado. One of the most fabulous women I know (and a good friend), has a Rado, and it’s the classiest thing I’ve ever seen, outside of Cartier. Have wanted one ever since.

    For now, I have an Anne Klein on my wrist, and I occassionally steal the fiance’s menswear watches to go with particular outfits.

  10. It’s only in the $200 range so not comparable to Cartier, but I love my Citizen, a birthday present from my SO. It’s classy and looks great at work but I can still wear it with casual clothes too.

    http://www.citizenwatch.com/COA/English/detail.asp?Country=COA&Language=English&ModelNumber=EW1250-54A&page=2

  11. Spending this kind of money blows my mind, too. I get in the abstract that a watch is something you wear every day, and to some, it’s a status symbol of sorts, and, thus, worth spending money on. Several coworkers have Rolexes that are awfully pretty. But, I seriously doubt I could stomach paying this much for a watch.

    I wear a Citizen Eco Drive (probably less that $200) that I received as a gift at least 5 years ago, after a couple Fossils in a row. I am terrible at replacing watch batteries, which is why I first was drawn to the Eco Drive. It has held up really well.

    • anonymous anonymous :

      Yeah. I’m not against making money or flaunting money, or whatever, but it seems difficult to justify in this day and age (computers tell time, phones tell time, and there’s a clock in every conference room). At least imported cars are fun – watches are not. It’s safe to say that Kat spent at least $3,000 dollars on her watch. Occupy Wall Street, anyone?

    • Business, Not Law :

      I wear a Citizen Eco Drive too and I love it. Received as a gift 5-6 years ago and has held up incredibly well. It’s not flashy but it goes with everything and though I’ve thought of looking for something in a slightly higher price point (not Cartier $$ though), it’s hard to justify given that I’ve been really happy with this watch.

    • Maine Associate :

      I also have a Citizen Eco Drive watch. I love not having to change the battery and I think it looks just fine with my suits. I don’t wear a watch when I am not working, so I’d rather spend my money on handbags.

    • The Eco Drive is SO nice. I’ve only had mine for two years and I’m just now appreciating the fact that I DON’T have to get the battery changed. I wear my watch every single day (I use it to tell time), so having to get it “fixed” every two years is a serious inconvenience.

      • Another fan of the Citizen Eco Drive. I actually love how the watch looks, too, but not having to change the battery, ever, is pretty much the best thing in the world. I’ve had the watch for 5 years now, and have no inclination to replace it, but if I did I would get another Citizen EcoDrive one.

  12. Maple League Admin formerly Anon Canadian :

    I spent years wearing cheap (under $20) watches or only timex with indiglo, bracelet style watches. This year my DH decided that it was time for me to up grade and get something a little more sophisticated. So for Christmas he got me a Citizen Eco Drive Silhouette Crystal Bangle. It was about $250, and I would’ve never considered spending that much on a watch for myself before but I love it. It’s very me in style and it’s very obviously a better quality watch then what I used to wear, it makes me feel very grown up, lol.

  13. anon for this :

    Omega Constellation, gold and stainless with diamond markers. I wear it every day.

    This was my birthday gift this year (many years there are none, so the extravagance was a surprise). SO picked it out himself knowing how much I wanted a watch, and actually did a great job. I love it, and the gold and stainless is great as my rings are gold and platinum. Definitely a ‘grownup’ watch, but not so fancy that I feel funny wearing it for weekend errands. (FWIW, I love the Tank also.)

    And yes, there are probably better uses for the money, but it’s so pretty, and one day one of my children will get it, so…

    • I have (and love) this watch. We picked it out in honor of the birth of our child. I don’t regret spending the money either for something that I love and will wear for decades to come.
      My prior watch was a Raymond Weil. I had good luck with it holding up as well.

    • Another omega girl here. It was my husband’s gift to me on my 30th birthday and has the tiniest diamonds where the numerals would be. It is two toned and goes with everything I wear. The time diamonds make it a bit dressy but not flashy.

      Love it. I wear it everywhere.

      I recently splurged on a franck mueller as I got an unexpectedly large bonus that year. It is unique and fabulous but not everyone may fancy his designs.

    • Omega Constellation is my “When I´ve Made It”-watch.

      Right now I wear a $250-ish Tissot in a similar style in “gold” and a white face. It looks reasonably classy for my current circumstances, and I´ve got a few compliments for it. When I was younger I wore dirt cheap watches because I banged them up on stuff all the time. What I wear on my arm is very much a reflection of where I am in life, and judging from the other stories here I think I´m not alone. Can´t wait to join the ranks of ladies who wear the Constellation!

    • Angiolytic :

      I have the 24mm Omega Constellation in gold and silver, mother of pearl face, diamond hour markers … and I adore it (http://www.thewatchsource.co.uk/images/watches/12320246055004_main.jpg)! There are a number of less expensive, colourful “fun” watches in my closet, but my Omega is my go-to. Totally agree with anon on the mixed metals being perfect for pairing easily with other jewelry.

      Never would I have dropped the cash for this watch at this point in my career (mid-twenties, two years out of undergrad, interning as part of my grad school program), but my SO has a penchant for nice watches and he chose it as a timeless piece as a birthday gift. In his opinion, a luxury watch is an accessory a professional should wear (he loves his Rolex and Tag watches, wears them whenever he’s not in the operating room), and he wanted me to have something of similar quality to enjoy! One day I’d like to purchase him an Omega (maybe when he finishes residency?) – any opinions on the couples luxury watch sets?

  14. For me, Cartier is just too “showy”, like driving a ferrari. Even if I had all the money in the world, I’d much rather drive a vintage cadillac or beetle than a ferrari. Same goes with Cartier watches, it just screams to me (especially on biglaw types), TRYING SOOOO HARD TO KEEP UP WITH THE JONES.

  15. soulfusion :

    I love watches and feel naked without one but I just cannot justify spending more than a couple hundred dollars on one, especially since I like to have a few different ones to rotate as accessories. Currently I have a round face gold Kenneth Cole and a square face, oversized silver Invicta I wear for work and a more casual silver men’s Kenneth Cole I have worn for years and years that needs a battery replaced. I have a Baby G I wear for working out and outdoor activities. There was a discussion a few days ago about watches that still has me really tempted to buy a turtoise shell Michael Kors watch . . . . my iphone just can’t replace the convenience and look of a watch. I don’t think you need one to look professional but if you like wearing a watch, you definitely do not *need* to spend thousands of dollars on one. Oh, and my judge wore her bright red Baby G on the bench all the time and she was always impeccably dressed and I didn’t view the watch as detracting from her professionalism, but that’s just me.

  16. I’m not too much of a watch person, so I don’t see myself spending too much $$ on a watch. Right now I either wear a Yurman bangle or my chunky rose gold Kenneth Cole watch (purchased for $50 on Rue La La) to work. When I initially bought the rose gold watch I wasn’t sure I could “pull it off” and was afraid it would be out of style soon, so I didn’t want to spend too much money on it–but I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on it and really like it!

  17. I love my Skagen (about $100), although I just broke a link in the band, which is a pain.

  18. Texas Attorney :

    My husband is a watch guy. So after we got married, me made fun of my Timex. Said a “real” attorney would wear a nice watch. So we bought me an Omega. We bought it about a week before my son was born so I assosiate it with that great event. I wear it every day. It is one of the more “sporty” looking ones. All I have every had to do is put a battery in it from time to time. I like it. It has been a good investment.

  19. research lawyer in SV :

    I’m putting my two cents in for a Citizen eco-drive. I now have two of them, one with a simple gold face and a brown leather band and a dressier SS tank style with a smattering of bling.

    They are solar powered and I love that they always work with nary a battery change. Just find someplace better to keep it than your dark jewelry box (I have a small jewelry stand next to the window in my bathroom) if you don’t wear it regularly.

    • I second this. Love that it’s pretty and low-maintenance.

    • Thirded. Love the Eco Drive. Today’s thread actually inspired me to see if any new Eco Drives strike my fancy. Something completely different than my current plain round stainless steel with gray face. I think I might pull the trigger and get a second one one that’s completely different – either a gold band, or a square face, or maybe some diamonds!

  20. SoCal Gator :

    I love my watch — got it last year for Christmas from Nordstrom. The Burberry Ladies’ Diamond Bracelet Watch, $495. Gorgeous, practical, goes with everything.

    http://shop.nordstrom.com/s/burberry-timepieces-ladies-diamond-bracelet-watch/2999532?origin=category&fashionColor=&resultback=4344

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