Back in the day, unisex watches did not really exist – there was a relatively clear demarcation between what constituted a man’s watch and what constituted a ladies watch. However in recent years, that line has become increasingly blurred, with more and more women taking to wearing models originally designed for a male audience. Seeing something like a Rolex Daytona or an Omega Speedmaster gracing a slender female wrist is now so commonplace as to almost be old hat.
It is clearly not something that has gone unnoticed by luxury watch brands, a number of which have taken to releasing versions of some of their big names aimed at appealing to both genders simultaneously. Beyond the obvious size issue – trying to find that happy medium between too small for men and too big for women – color and material choice also make a big impact. The unisex watch is now being touted as the next big trend to hit horology, so below we have identified three of our favorites in the current landscape. You can use the comment section at the bottom to tell us which existing piece you would like to see given the crossover treatment.
Panerai Luminor Due 38mm
In the pantheon of overt masculinity, it doesn’t get much more testosterone-charged than Panerai. The brand, which is inextricably linked to the frogmen commandos of the Italian Navy during WWII, was only plucked out of relative obscurity in the early 90s, by Rocky himself, Sly Stallone – and it doesn’t get any manlier than that.
Since then they have become renowned for their ultra distinctive watch designs, and (crucially) their range of enormous, oversized creations. For many, myself included, the Panerai styling has always been hugely appealing. However, they have quickly dropped off the wish list once tried on in the metal, with the 47mm and even the 44mm models looking positively ridiculous on the pipe cleaners I call my arms. Recently those dimensions have been pared down significantly across the portfolio in order to cater to a wider, less gym-dedicated following. However in 2018, four new versions of the Luminor Due emerged, weighing in at a previously unthinkable 38mm.
Now this is much more like it. Everything we have long admired about the Luminor is still present and correct, from the classic cushion shaped-case to the iconic rock solid crown guards, all wrapped up in, to my eyes at least, the most well proportioned version of the watch to date.
Although Panerai don’t come right out and say these models are their play at the unisex market – instead using the tagline: “suitable for every wrist and situation” – their choice of getups certainly take them down hitherto unexplored paths. Two each in steel and rose gold, or ‘goldtech’ in Panerai-ese, all could legitimately be worn by either men or women. Maybe the PAM00756, with its pink gold case, white dial and pale blue leather strap is at the more feminine end of the spectrum, but the rest of the lineup looks like a perfect compromise.
Despite their heritage and looks, these are very much dress watches rather than full-on divers. Protective crown guard or not, the Panerai Due is waterproof to just 30 meters. That doesn’t really bother me to be honest. Not just because I can’t imagine ever wanting to take a $6,000 watch on a dive, but because at long last, there is a Panerai that looks good on my less than impressive wrist. Now, if they could just make a left-handed version…
Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight
‘Designed for slim wrists and vintage enthusiasts alike’ says the Tudor marketing department about the newest addition to the Black Bay family, taking a leaf out of the Panerai playbook on keeping things vague. Another model that was released just last year, it is an even more period correct recreation of Tudor’s earliest dive watches than the 41mm version which kicked the whole thing off in 2012. Where that piece was certainly an homage to models such as the Oyster Prince Submariner ref. 7924 from the 50s, the new 39mm versions have upped the retro quotient still further.
In addition to getting the dimensions spot on, the coloring is even faithful to that Big Crown originator. The hour markers, handset, and chapter ring are all finished in gold, as are the numerals and markings on the black anodized aluminum bezel. And the red triangle at the 12 o’clock, topped with its luminescent pip, is a welcome inclusion. Something not widely used these days, due to it being superfluous on a dive watch (red wavelengths get absorbed at very shallow depths underwater, rendering the triangle pretty much useless) but as far as getting the vintage details nailed down, top marks for Tudor.
They have created a look that is aged to perfection, even without resorting to the faux patina of some of their contemporaries. The only really noticeable difference between old and new is the use of the brand’s trademark, and opinion splitting, Snowflake hands – the original were Rolex’s Mercedes style.
The Black Bay Fifty-Eight is available on a range of bracelets; a black fabric strap with gold stripe, on brown leather strap, or to complete the nostalgic trip, a polished and satin finished steel bracelet with exposed rivets. All told, it has resulted in a hugely admired throwback, appealing to those who miss the tool-like essence of both Tudor and their bigger brother.
At one time seen as a consolation prize for those who couldn’t quite stretch to a full-blooded Rolex, Tudor has turned itself into a serious option in recent years, helped on by the manufacturer starting production of its own movements. The Cal. MT5402 inside the BB58, chronometer-certified and with 70-hour reserve, is one such engine. Rugged and workmanlike, it is also significantly more space efficient than the caliber in the 41mm model (MT5602) meaning this latest watch is a far slimmer and more comfortable all day wear. And, unlike the Panerai Due above, it is a true diver, with 200 meters of water resistance.
The watch that took last year’s Baselworld by storm has continued to grow in popularity, with no end in sight. A wonderful nod to classics of the past, the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight is the ideal unisex wear, and priced at roughly $3,500, a relative bargain into the deal.
Rolex Datejust 36
One of the biggest indicators of just how much times have changed, the 36mm version of Rolex’s all time great is now just as likely to grace a woman’s wrist as a man’s. In fact, as a collection, the entire Rolex Datejust range is fairly well geared towards a female audience. Available in five sizes, the 28mm (officially called the Lady-Datejust), the 31mm, and the 34mm (just called the Date) are all listed on the Women’s Watches pages on the Rolex website. That leaves just the 41mm at the top end, with the 36mm, the largest model you could buy for roughly 60 years, described as a “mid-size” option.
With a design for which the word ‘timeless’ could have been coined, the Rolex Datejust is still recognizably of the same breed as the model which debuted in 1945; the world’s first automatic, waterproof wristwatch with a date function. But while the profile has had little need to change all that much, inside everything has been kept right on the leading edge.
The Datejust has long acted as Rolex’s test bed for emerging technologies, often being the model granted the latest and greatest in terms of new materials or components. Coupled with that, and really the key to the watch’s success as perhaps the archetypal unisex model, is the simply inexhaustible range of different combinations of metal, dial color, bezel type, and hour markers that have been produced.
They have numbered literally in the thousands over the generations, and have even included quartz versions hailing from the dark days of the 70s. The modern collection also offers a bewildering variety, and the Datejust is still perhaps the bestselling model Rolex produces (although the fact the brand doesn’t restrict their supply to quite the same degree as many of their sports models probably doesn’t hurt). All told, this blueprint for the modern wristwatch is perhaps the best all-rounder in the business. Classic, enduring and faultless, the Datejust is the perfect watch for everyone.