Finding the right watch is a bit like finding a husband. Pick a great one and you'll keep it forever; pick the wrong one and you'll be dying to get rid of it after a year or two. Ana Maria Pimentel, accessories director at Neiman Marcus, took it a step further: She started her marriage with a watch. "Instead of an engagement ring, I got engaged with a 1954 Rolex Oyster," she says.
The relationship women have with their watches is sacred: Claire Distenfeld, the 27-year-old owner of the concept boutique Fivestory, on Manhattan's Upper East Side, remembers mourning the loss of a Franck Muller Cintrée Curvex watch that she'd received as a graduation present. "I had to take a four-year hiatus after losing it," she says. "I thought I couldn't be trusted." Distenfeld is now a Rolex girl; her current relationship is with a men's Oyster.
Gender-bending watches are nothing new, but they continue to hit the mark for a casual-chic modern-garconne effect. "A huge face looks masculine and sporty," says Caroline Issa, executive fashion director of Tank magazine. Madonna has been known to run around town in a men's Longines watch. And, as it turns out, choosing a men's watch is the accessory equivalent of "wearing the pants." Adds Pimentel, "We're definitely seeing a trend of women wearing oversize, sportier watches. Colored ceramic versions are especially big for summer."
For women who want a classic and timeless look, the ne plus ultra is the Cartier Tank, the square-faced fashion insider's favorite that dates from 1917 and that first ladies from Jacqueline Kennedy to Michelle Obama have worn. Those looking to add a little more edge might go for the stud-enhanced Hermés Medor. (Shala Monroque loves her pink one.) It's the perfect watch for the trend-conscious. And if you want the ultimate in opulence, there's the Bulgari Serpenti, an elegant 70-year-old bracelet style that was a favorite of Elizabeth Taylor's and continues to lure fans like sartorial maverick Anna Dello Russo. By wearing hers with chunky gold cuffs on one or both arms, Dello Russo has paved the way for women to wear a traditional evening watch for daytime.
On the flip side, the actress Elizabeth Olsen was recently spotted at night wearing an oversize black Chanel J12 with a tuxedo jacket and black leather trousers. The new rule for wearing a watch? If you invest wisely and style it right, any watch can look right at any time.
What you wear with your timepiece is just as important as when you wear it. At the moment, Issa is on a small-and-classic kick, wearing vintage watches she layers with big Eddie Borgo cuffs and gold Yves Saint Laurent leopard bracelets. "I switch my watch out depending on my look," she explains. "It's nice to pair a thinner, more ladylike watch with lots of bracelets and do something chunkier with a suit." As for Monroque, she prefers a Marc Newson Ikepod when not wearing her Hermés Medor. "It's funny because it has a gray rubber band, but it still manages to go with almost anything," says Monroque. "Sometimes I'll wear it alone, or I'll pile on some PVC bracelets with it."
Distenfeld wears hers alone, with bracelets on her other wrist. "It's like a big bangle, so it's not comfy to wear it with a lot of other stuff," she says. "I load the bracelets on the other hand—evil eyes that I collect as I travel, an Aurélie Bidermann lip cuff we made for Fivestory, and a Jennifer Fisher chain-link bangle." Offers Pimentel,"I love the idea of mixing things that are precious with things that aren't, like an 18-karat-gold watch with friendship bracelets or something from Giles & Brother."
Other new trends in the watch world? According to Distenfeld, though "most people gravitate toward silver, stainless steel, and white gold," a rose-gold Rolex is the Rolls-Royce of watches. "I've become obsessed," she admits. "A watch like mine in rose gold costs as much as a car, so I can't justify it, but I really think it's the most beautiful." Pimentel seconds the popularity of rose gold, adding that vintage watches and those with rubber bands are also in high demand.
Whether you're going for the full rose gold or a more casual rubber-band style, a watch can set the tone for your look and can be transformed from day to day depending on how you style it. But if you're still not ready to fully commit to one model, "there's always the possibility of a second watch," says Pimentel.