Bling for both: The best unisex watches and jewellery

Larsson & Jennings Lugano

Watches and jewellery that can be worn by both men and women are attracting interest from makers and buyers alike.

By Michael Pickering

After a period in which “over-sized” was all the rage in the world of watchmaking, normality has returned to case sizes and, with it, a trend toward watches that are neither discernibly male nor female.

While some horological experts fervently hold that 39mm is the optimum case diameter for a wristwatch – for a man or a woman – recent developments tell a different story.

It all began in late 2014 when IWC, a heritage house famous for its “engineered for men” tagline and ultra-masculine pilot’s watches, introduced a mid-size line in its Portofino collection, comprising three models with 37mm case diameters. Since then, more watchmakers have introduced timepieces with a sub-40mm case size. 

"Anywhere between 36mm and 40mm can be worn comfortably by men and women." Felix Scholz Time + Tide

Even Rolex jumped on the trend when it introduced five sizes – from 26mm to 39mm – of its famous Oyster Perpetual collection at the 2015 Baselworld, the world watch and jewellery show.

Increasingly, both men and women own more than one watch, and many see the sense in having a less imposing piece that can be worn for an evening outing to match his suit or complement her dress. 

“Anywhere between 36mm and 40mm can be comfortably worn by men and women,” says Felix Scholz, co-founder of respected Australian watch blog Time+Tide.

“For a piece to be called unisex, style should err towards the classics, with not too much colour or complication at play.”

Some have wondered if the watchmaking trend toward unisex pieces and more modest case sizes is aimed at the lucrative and growing Asian market, where smaller wrist sizes demand slimmer proportions. 

“Like all things, fashion in watches is cyclical,” says Scholz.

“Many brands are paying more attention to what women want, and Asia is a significant market. But fashion is swinging back to more conservatively sized watches. I think bigger watches are here to stay, but alongside smaller pieces.”

Larsson & Jennings Lugano

Larsson & Jennings LuganoSwiss-made, but inspired by the design cultures of Stockholm and London, this elegant, minimalist brand founded in 2012 is unashamedly unisex, as reflected in its campaign imagery where men and women wear its timepieces.

Simple, classic design is married to hand-finished metals and strap leather from Anglo-Swedish tanneries for a suitably premium feel.

Pieces range from a svelte 33mm up to 40mm, available in mesh, leather and fabric straps. The Lugano is 33mm in diameter, housing a Swiss-made Ronda 1062 Quartz movement and crystal sapphire glass. A$470

Rado True Thinline Skeleton 

Rado True Thinline SkeletonUnique ability with high-tech ceramic materials, minimalist design and slim profiles make many pieces in the Rado collections ideal unisex pieces. The True Thinline collection is perhaps the best realisation of the concept, and this limited edition Skeleton timepiece in high-tech black ceramic is particularly special.

At 7mm thick, its slim silhouette houses an ultra-thin Swiss movement visible through sapphire glass front and back, under stylised semi-circle cut-outs.

The movement is adorned with 21 crimson jewels. Lightweight but also incredibly strong due to the ceramic treatment, it’s limited to just 99 pieces worldwide – a perfect piece for partners to share. A$6,600

Tudor Black Bay 36

Tudor Black Bay 36As a heritage Swiss brand with a proud history of masculine-looking dive watches, the Heritage Black Bay 36mm model provides clear evidence of the trend to smaller case sizes acceptable to both sexes. Introduced as a dressier, more formal option in the Black Bay family, which takes its design cues from classic 1950s dive watches in the Tudor back-catalogue, the Black Bay 36 is available on a steel bracelet, a lightly distressed beige-coloured leather strap with steel folding clasp, or urban camouflage fabric.

The angular “snowflake” hands distinguish it as a Tudor, while the smooth steel bezel, polished dial and satin finish ensure it’s an object of beauty for both sexes. A$3000

IWC Portofino Midsize

IWC PortofinoOffering simple, classic dial design, Portofino has been one of IWC’s most successful collections since it was introduced in the late 1970s. The decision a couple of years back to offer a smaller size for slimmer wrists preserved the simplicity but added some opulence – the 37mm mid-size case is offered in four red gold and six stainless steel versions, each available with or without a diamond-set bezel.

The version pictured on page 65 is an 18-carat red gold case and ardoise dial set with 12 diamonds on a dark brown Santoni alligator leather strap. The self-winding mechanical movement provides a 42-hour power reserve. A$18,700

Calvin Klein Minimal 40mm

Calvin Klein Minimal 40mmAs the world-famous brand name would suggest, Calvin Klein watches most definitely exist in the fashion space – versatile, easy-to-wear pieces that will mix and match with most wardrobes. This 40mm watch from the Minimal collection is also available in 35mm and 24mm, making it a go-to piece for a variety of wrist sizes.

As the collection’s moniker suggests, minimalist design is another marker of a watch with unisex appeal, the silver-tone dial featuring a fine waffle pattern and the CK logo. The piece is water resistant to 30m and has an attractive stainless steel mesh bracelet. A$260

Tiffany & Co, East West 2-Hand 42 x 25mm watch in stainless steel

Tiffany & Co, East West 2-hand 42x25mmThe famous New York company may be better known for its beautiful jewellery, but its long heritage of watchmaking is being given renewed prominence. At the forefront of that campaign are timepieces with a coherent, consistent design that appeals to both sexes – the CT60 and the East West collection.

Its shape inspired by the Tiffany & Co travel clock from the 1940s, this stainless steel 42 x 25mm piece on a black alligator strap works for both men and women. Swiss-made with a quartz movement, the white dial features gold poudré numerals and is water resistant to 30m. A$5950

Bling for both

As a trend, the unisex concept may not be as prevalent in jewellry as in watches, but it is an emerging trend.

While there have always been men who wear rings and necklaces, overt wearing of jewellery by males was never mainstream until pop culture figures like Johnny Depp started sporting bangles and cuffs on the red carpet in the 1990s.

“When David Beckham started to wear jewellery 10 years ago, that was really a big kick for men’s jewellery,” popular jewellery maker Thomas Sabo told Men’s Style magazine earlier this year.

Nowadays, men can be spotted in the CBDs of Australian cities sporting slim suits, pocket squares, tie bars ... and a range of bands, cuffs and rings on the wrist and fingers – the rebel edge to the otherwise conservative image.

Capitalising on this evolution has been jewellery either specifically made for men or which can be worn by both men and women.

While there has been a growing industry for his and hers jewellery pieces pitched primarily at couples to mark occasions such as an engagement, wedding or anniversary, the development of genuinely unisex jewellery is more sporadic.

Unisex jewellery is often created through one-off artistic collaborations or as special collections, such as Incubus lead singer Brandon Boyd’s collection with jewellery designer Ali Grace – simply designed wooden beads, silver rings, crystals and the like.

Jewellery is perhaps even more of a personal preference than wristwear, but, as with watches, iterations of unisex jewellery attract both sexes by eschewing ornate decoration. Silver is the preferred metal – more neutral than gold – while collections such as Thomas Sabo’s unisex Karma Beads are not overly feminine.

While necklaces and earrings are generally sex-specific, rings and wrist jewellery are richer pickings for brands producing pieces designed to be worn by either sex.

Gregory Jewellers

This Australian jeweller is a trusted source for watches and jewellery, selling many heritage timepiece brands but also developing its own jewellery collections, including unisex pieces such as these stunning rings. The first collection features smooth cabochon stones in gold and tiger’s eye (made to order) or in silver and black onyx (A$160), while the second collection comprises a carved gemstone of either silver and black onyx or silver and smoky quartz (A$270 each). Restrained beauty.

Tiffany & Co. Bracelets

It may be famous for wedding and engagement bands, but the premium New York jeweller has also joined the unisex wave with a range of beautiful bracelets. Three versions cover the spectrum, from more feminine – the 18k gold version (A$8600) – to black coated steel (A$1600) and sterling silver and black ceramic (A$2500), which men and women can both feel comfortable wearing.

Thomas Sabo Karma Beads

Campaign imagery shows couples wearing and sharing the pieces from this unisex collection from the hugely successful German jewellery brand. 

“Positive energy, joie de vivre, happiness and an individual’s personal karma style” are the inspirations behind the collection.

The range encompasses 12 Karma pendants and more than 130 different Karma Beads, allowing him or her to configure their own unique jewellery combinations. Hand-polished semi-precious stones and freshwater-cultivated pearls feature on some beads, along with artistic ornaments or sparkling stones on filigree decorative beads with 18k yellow gold or rose gold plating.

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