At Christie’s next watch auction in the region, scheduled for March 19, nearly one quarter of the 184 featured watches are women’s designs. Included are jewelry-focused pieces like a watch embellished with more than 26 carats of diamonds, called the Ladyhawke, made by Boucheron, with a Girard-Perregaux timepiece. Its value is estimated at $250,000 to $450,000.
The desire for a wardrobe of watches, instead of just one timepiece, also is credited with helping to drive sales. “Our clients are looking for different watches: They want a watch for the day, they want a dressy watch for the evening, they want a watch for sports activities,” said Luc Rochereau, regional brand director for the Middle East, India and North Africa at IWC Schaffhausen.
“She’s a very modern woman,” he said. “She’s working, she’s a mom at home and she has her personal life. She has different moments and different outfits.”
Unique versions of timepieces, usually with a higher price than the more widely distributed models, also resonate in the region. “Women in the Middle East are really looking for novelties,” said Nicolas Beau, Chanel’s international watch director. “They are very into newness and innovation. The Middle Eastern female customer loves exclusive watches and limited editions.”
Some brands have been taking advantage of the region’s promise with specific products or marketing partnerships.
Last year, for example, Hublot introduced two limited-edition women’s watches that are available only in Dubai. One, the Classic Fusion Lady Dubai, is adorned with sapphires, amethysts and green tsavorites. Priced at $36,000, it was introduced March 8, International Women’s Day.
Last October, Baume et Mercier was a sponsor of Fashion Forward Dubai, a series of fashion shows, to help showcase models like the Petite Promesse, a small style that is offered with options like a bright orange leather wrap bracelet.
On IWC’s regional Instagram page, @iwcwatchesarabia, there are glamorous images of actresses including Cate Blanchett and Sonam Kapoor wearing the brand’s watches. Sales in the region of the brand’s Portofino 37 watch, a style popular with women, have doubled expectation each year since its introduction in 2014, according to Mr. Rochereau.
IWC unveiled another line of watches aimed at women, the Da Vinci collection, at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva last month. A version of the style (which was introduced with options like a pink alligator strap, a narrow bezel and a circle of diamonds) is planned for sale exclusively in the Middle East this year.
Global retailers also continue to consider the region among the most profitable. Net-a-Porter, the fashion e-tailer, which added luxury watches in recent months, says a third of its highest-priced watches and jewelry are sold to clients from the Middle East.
The site began selling timepieces by IWC, its first luxury watch brand, in November; the sleek East West watch by Tiffany & Company was added in December. Sophie Quy, the site’s buyer for fine jewelry and watches, said more luxury watches, and brands, would be added in coming months.
With its female clients in mind, many watch brands have been expanding their offerings for women, especially in small dimensions.
Cartier recently announced the reintroduction of its Panthère watch, a timepiece on an articulated metal bracelet originally created in the 1980s. The iteration will be available in two petite sizes — with faces measuring 22 millimeters (just under an inch) or 27 millimeters in diameter — in April.
“We knew that we wanted to present a watch for women,” said Pierre Rainero, the brand’s director of image, style and heritage. “We had a feeling it would be of interest for a new generation.” (Kim Kardashian West’s online references to the yellow-gold Panthère bracelet that her husband, Kanye West, gave her in 2012 and photographs of celebrities wearing pieces from the collection would seem to support that opinion.)
The watch range includes, along with minimalist options in steel and yellow gold, an animal-print version in 18-karat white gold, black enamel and more than 7 carats of diamonds that will retail in the United Arab Emirates for 494,000 dirhams (the equivalent of $134,465).
At the Baselworld watch fair in March, a piece Chanel will be spotlighting is a new, limited-edition version of the Première watch, with a link band inspired by the brand’s 2.55 handbag and threaded with thin strips of crimson red leather.
At the same event last year, the company highlighted an especially small watch, the J12XS, with a face about the size of an American penny.
The delicacy of both pieces is in sharp contrast to, say, the brand’s large ceramic watches that were popular with women a decade ago. “There was a trend for bigger watches and, as always, there are waves with trends, so it goes from bigger watches to smaller watches,” Mr. Beau said.
But industry observers say the appeal of smaller watches has been helped by the ubiquitous smartphone and mini-tablet.
“For ages and ages, there were women who would say, ‘I don’t want a small-faced watch because I can’t tell the time,’” said Mr. Chesterfield of Wealth-X. “They don’t need their watch to do that anymore. They can have that delicacy, that femininity, without using it as a timepiece.”