The world of watchmaking is a predominantly male-led domain but change is being made. “Sexism has undoubtedly decreased significantly in the last 15 years,” Dr Rebecca Struthers, co-founder of luxury timepiece brand Struthers London, said. “We’re certainly in the post-Weinstein era and there is no way people would get away with saying and doing some of the things I experienced early on in my career. That said, we still have a long way to go. There haven’t been many independent female watchmakers, so to be the first bonafide British ‘watch doctor’, of any gender, feels like a huge achievement."
Read to on to meet five of the most powerful women smashing the watchmaking glass ceiling.
When the watchmaker and School of Horology’s first female lecturer, Dr Rebecca Struthers entered the watch industry in 2003 aged 17, she found herself in a hostile and “very male” world. “I was often dismissed as the workshop bimbo killing time before finding a rich man to marry,” she says. “I was young, working-class, hot-headed, outspoken, tattooed and confident in my sexuality which is pretty much everything many of the industry old school had stood against.” 15 years on, Dr Struthers and her husband Craig make watches for their company Struthers London. She’s also the public face of the Antiquarian Horological Society Wristwatch Group and in 2016 she won Woman of the Year at the Eve’s Watch Awards – Eve’s Watch is the only website dedicated to women’s watches.
‘Queen of Skulls’ Fiona Krüger, designer and founder of her eponymous brand, is best known for her skull-shaped timepieces. She has since created a collection on the theme of mortality and this summer surprised her fans by launching her new non-skull but oval-shaped Chaos Mechanical Entropy watch. Chaos has Krüger’s own elongated movement, designed by Jean-Mark Wiederrecht at Agenhor, who knew he needed to execute a new host of technical processes to produce it.
Chabi Nouri was appointed CEO of Piaget in March 2017, taking over from Philippe Leopold-Metzger to become the first female head of a major haute horlogerie and the first female chief executive at Richemont. The move was an historic occasion for the group, signalling a new era for the company which Nouri has worked for since joining as product manager for Cartier in 1998. In a statement, Piaget said: “[Nouri’s] mission at Piaget is to modernise and rejuvenate the new positioning and ambition of the brand, while capitalising on its history and unique heritage; as well as leveraging its development strategy across the world and launch a new managerial dynamic.”
Sandrine Stern began working for Patek Philippe in 1995 and has risen to become the brand's head of watch creation. “What women want are timepieces with both substance and style,” she reveals. “When I speak with ladies, their first priority is how it looks, and they prefer complications that are useful, like a date indication.” Stern has helped to spearhead this gendered watchmaking revolution, overseeing the development of women’s complicated watches and representing a definite shift over the last two years.
Jaeger-LeCoultre followed suit, naming Catherine Rénier its new CEO earlier this year. Zahra Kassim-Lakha, director, UK Market and Global Strategy at Jaeger-LeCoultre, says, “Our chairman, Johann Rupert, has long been a big advocate of having a diverse board and of bringing the greatest minds around the table to make the watch industry lead and shine again.” Rupert had announced as far back as 2016, “I want to see less grey men, less grey French men,” at the top of the group and last year he appointed several women to the board.