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Collector Profile: J.J. Owens
Talking Cartier, community, and of course, Ryan Gosling
By: Charlie Dunne
The first wristwatch was delivered to the Queen of Naples, Caroline Murat, in 1812. And while it is far too late to express our eternal gratitude to la Reine de Naples, there is no shortage of women in watches to share this passion with today.
It was around the end of February that I was invited onto a panel discussion to share from the perspective of a watch collector via a new friend, J.J. Owens. The panel consisted of Roni Madhvani, Phillip Toledano, and myself. As the discussion commenced, I found myself more and more interested in J.J.’s passion for watches and personal experiences from collecting.
While chatting with J.J., I found that many of her interests were very much in line with my own (we both obsess over Cartier and Patek Philippe), whereas some things, such as rocking a 40mm+ watch, I just couldn’t relate to.
In our conversation, we covered a lot of ground: her favorite New York retailers, bouncing ideas back and forth on how watch collectors can foster a more welcoming atmosphere, and our shared admiration for Ryan Gosling (and his Rolex Bubbleback) in Crazy, Stupid, Love.
“I feel like him being in the spotlight and choosing to wear a smaller-sized watch shows a lot of confidence. There are plenty of women wearing 42mm [watches], there should be an acceptance of men wearing 34mm or smaller,” J.J. said.
For J.J., watches are just a small part of the bigger picture. Her introduction to watches stems from her relationship with her father. At 13, he gave her a manual wind Cartier Tank. J.J. is very cognizant of how fortunate she is to have such a strong relationship with her father and continued to emphasize this while we discussed our relationships with our fathers. She would go on to tell me how this Cartier accompanied her throughout her teenage years and would remain on her wrist even during tennis practice.
“In hindsight, this would be a cardinal sin for watch collectors, but to be fair this is the way watches were meant to be worn!”
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C.D.: Do you mind telling me about your first watch?
J.J.: My father was very adamant that my first watch was not going to be a new watch, but rather a vintage watch. So I really learned the intricacy behind a mechanical watch and how delicate the movement was. This way if I made the mistake of being too rough or overwinding the movement, I wouldn’t have a watch anymore.
I got the [Cartier] Tank and it never left my wrist. I wore it for tennis, skiing... I wore it everywhere you could imagine. I loved that watch and loved the responsibility of winding it every morning. It made me that much closer to the piece.
I don’t think I realized how historically significant that watch was until around 3-4 years into wearing it. When you first get a watch, if you’re not necessarily that into watches, you don’t realize what people are wearing. The watch-spotting comes later. It’s funny, one of my best girlfriends tells me ‘ever since you’ve pointed this out to me, I am always looking at people’s watches now!’
I still have that watch, and I save it for special occasions. I brought it into Cartier once, and the salesperson mentioned that the sapphire crown was in such good condition. That’s because I wear my watch on my right wrist and most people will bang the crown against something.
You mentioned that your father played an integral role in your love for watches. Can you share the backstory behind this?
I don’t ever remember a time where either of my parents did not wear a watch. My mother gifted my father a watch for their wedding and she received one on their honeymoon, so watches have been around me since I was born.
My dad has had a vast passion for racing and vintage cars since he was a child and as cliché as it sounds they do go hand in hand after a while. I saw how deep of a passion my dad had for both cars and timepieces, and developed my passive interest into a real one in an attempt to grow our relationship. I had always gone to events and races with him, but never really had a true interest until about 13 or 14. The short answer is: my interest in horology stems from my desire to deepen my relationship with him.
My dad will always be the first love of my life and at this point I think I am his best friend. And I don’t think our relationship would have matured into what it is today, which is something I treasure more than all my watches combined, had it not been for our shared passion for watches.
Do you ever share or borrow watches with your parents?
I like the term “borrow.” I do tend to wear some of my mother’s Cartier pieces for a day or a dinner, but my dad’s watches are pretty much on lock. My mom and I share everything, whereas I don’t think I will be borrowing a Porsche or a Patek from my Dad anytime soon.
When travelling, my mother and I tend to share watches, I will say she was pleasantly surprised by how much she liked wearing a Royal Oak to a dinner one summer.
I recall you mentioning that he was a bit perturbed over a boyfriend's watch. How did this situation come about?
I don’t think any dad is pleased when their daughter starts seriously dating, let alone when they start dating boys with steel Royal Oaks, a watch we historically agreed was collectively not for us.
After dating two boys back to back who wore them, I decided to get an automatic two-tone Royal Oak with a diamond bezel without running it past him. We had a rule in which we both got carte blanche over watches each other acquired, but I surpassed that caveat since I knew he would not approve. To this day, it is still one of my favorite pieces (I have had it almost four years) and to this day, he still will not say he likes it!
And you recently purchased another Royal Oak as well? What was his reaction?
One of a certain dismay that I believe only a father can possess, he desperately tried to show me other pieces from Jaeger, VC, and Patek.
One is automatic and one is quartz?
Yes, my two-tone is automatic and my little gold guy is quartz.
Are you a big fan of two-tone?
Yes. I’m waiting for it to come back. It goes with everything! You will never have to worry with mixed metals or other accessories. It also says something fun about you.
Do you have any watches that are particularly sentimental or special to you?
My Nautilus that was offered to me for my college graduation. It was a complete shock as trying to be fiscally prudent I asked for a deposit into my mutual fund but I was surprised with this at the beginning of my last semester. I was poised to graduate first in my class, to which my parents said that you need the #1 watch and who am I to dispute that level of genius and insane generosity.
Are you drawn more towards the design, the mechanics, or history?
I think everyone is initially drawn to design as your eye likes what it likes. I certainly am drawn to the design of a piece, but then it's all about the history. If the design is solid, I don’t have many qualms about the movement, my Nautilus or gold Royal Oak are two prime examples of that. Or if the provenance and story speak to me, that far supersedes movement.
Which do you prefer: manual wind, automatic, or quartz?
J.J.O.: I honestly have no preference, for sake of ease sometimes it is very nice to just wear a quartz watch, but I love a manual wind as you have such a connection to the movement. Not to be too much of a watch nerd, but there’s something about winding the watch every time you wear it that breeds a certain excitement that I don’t believe can be harbored from a quartz piece. And believe me, I love quartz, but it doesn’t make me as excited.
I noticed you wearing a super cool art deco Cartier. What’s the story on that one?
My mother has quite the collection of vintage Cartier pieces featuring sapphires and this watch was just the perfect addition to her collection. Currently, there is such a craze for Cartier, but I will credit my mom as she was far ahead of the trend, as per usual. I have always been drawn to art deco pieces whether that be in fashion, watches, jewelry, or home and I think this watch is the embodiment of that period while still having the ability to be worn in modern day.
Are you a time-only or complicated woman?
Well isn’t that a loaded question! I don’t have a preference as half the time I don’t use the complication. Though I wear a watch every day, I also have my phone with me at all times and if I need to know the day I tend to glance at my phone as opposed to my watch but in terms of aesthetics, I think it is a much cleaner look without any extras. Imagine the Crash with a date my god it would be awful! The lines would be destroyed.
The first complication I fell in love with was a relative’s [Patek] 5039J. I was enthralled by the concept of a moon phase (not to mention a chronograph/moon phase combo) as I have always loved space, being a bit of a math nerd. On the flip side of that, do I need a moon phase? No.
How did you begin wearing your watch on your right wrist?
My father is left-handed. As a little girl, I only really paid attention to his wrist and seeing that he wore it on his right wrist, I did the same assuming everyone wore their watch on the right. The habit formed and now I won’t switch it because even that symbolizes the connection in collecting with my dad.
Has there been any watch, brand, or style that you’ve only recently come to appreciate?
I am getting more and more into Grand Seiko. I went to an event hosted by Watchonista this past summer at the store in Soho and I had never tried on a Grand Seiko prior to that and was immediately impressed, especially with the SBGA407. To anyone who hasn’t tried on a Grand Seiko, I urge you to give one a chance.
What watch would people be surprised that you like?
I have this very bizarre desire to at one point acquire a Richard Mille (a Formula 1 driver edition). This goes against everything in me as 99% of the time you will find me in jeans and sneakers, but every time I have been at a table with someone with a RM-11, it looks really fun. There’s also a part of me that would just find it internally hysterical that I would roll up wearing one and the reaction would be quite comical.
I do respect Richard Mille for what they have accomplished in the past twenty years as their movements are undeniable and as a Formula 1 fan you can’t help but be a tad interested in the design.
What’s the science behind stacking bracelets and watches for those who don’t know?
I was into jewelry long before I was into watches and I loved the idea of stacking thanks to Leandra Medine of Man Repeller. When I was younger, I wore multiple Love bracelets mixed with friendship bracelets and pieces I picked up in markets. A few guidelines I stuck to were: never be afraid to mix metals, mix price points, and choose different sizes of bracelets. My best friend mixes these colorful circular stone bracelets with an Art Deco Tiffany watch and it looks incredible and more importantly, it's unique to her. To me it's like making an ice cream sundae, more is more and just have fun.
So if a watch enthusiast’s significant other stacks bracelets, do you think that might be an opportunity to get a watch on their wrist as well?
1,000%! There is already the comfort of wearing something on one’s wrist so why not add a watch to the stack? Many of my girlfriends who coined themselves as jewelry collectors have recently gotten into watches because it seems like the logical next step and especially with the influence of social media, women wearing watches is becoming far more common.
Are there any lessons or milestone moments from your experience in collecting?
It was not a lesson I learned, but it was something seen within the fringes of the community and that was buying a watch as an investment. I hate that notion. Buy what you love and if you are smart when purchasing and take care of the watch, the value should relatively hold. I think buying a watch to flip or treating a watch like a stock has muddied the waters and inflated the value for true collectors and it's disappointing.
In terms of milestones, I was eighteen sitting in a very rigorous vector calc class in Chicago and I purchased a ladies Yachtmaster during the lecture. The only thing I am more of nerd about than watches is math and economics and despite my interest in the material, I bought this watch and remember thinking to myself as I believe it was my second Rolex, maybe my fifth or sixth watch, getting a second Rolex solidified the infancy of my collection. And quite honestly, that watch is very special to me because I always loved dive watches and that was made for a woman (but maintained the same features as the men’s version) with a platinum bezel as well as the Mercedes hands and the red second hand, which is my favorite color…everything about that watch made sense.
What’s your dream watch?
My dream watch will always be a Rolex 6062 in gold. I was fortunate enough to try it on at Phillips and I could not have been more enamored with it and I think the 50s for Rolex were an incredible time and thinking about that watch complication-wise and what they were able to do is something I could go on for hours about.
How do you classify a man’s watch vs. a woman’s watch?
I think Suzanne [Wong]’s line is the best: “A woman’s watch is a watch a woman is wearing”. Just as a man’s watch is a watch a man is wearing. It’s just as short and sweet as that!
From 18-20, I strictly wore an Omega Seamaster. I didn’t want to be wearing my Tank all the time, as I needed a watch that was durable. I wore this watch to my high school commencement. I practically lived in that watch. Also, I am such a James Bond fan, and growing up Daniel Craig always wore one.
Ironically, right after that was a Submariner. Again, I love that watch and what it represents. I would get so many looks wearing both of those watches because my wrist is very small. But these are some of the best watches made and there shouldn't be barriers.
Whenever I help a friend pick out their first watch, I always am cognizant that the watch has to fit you. Meaning fit your personality. If you’re very sporty and spend time outdoors, maybe a super formal, delicate watch isn’t the best choice. If you’re a quiet accountant, perhaps a moonphase Vacheron might work a little better than a Urwerk. All of these lifestyle and personality factors are so much more important than [wrist] size or gender.
Do you think brands should highlight father-daughter (or mother-son) relationships within their advertisements?
I don’t think it would hurt to attempt it. It would speak to so many fathers! I know Patek has the mother-daughter ads, which are phenomenal and a great start. Sometimes with fathers, you have to give them a bit of a push. Having a campaign for these could create that spark where a father says to himself “Wow, this interest could be a shared passion between my daughter and me”. Why not tackle this subject of getting more girls into watches at a young age?
Also, the mother-son relationship would be a really interesting ad. Imagine if Jada-Pinkett Smith and Jayden Smith were featured in a Cartier ad!
If you had to explain to someone who doesn't understand why you're obsessed with watches, how would you go about it?
Unfortunately, I have many friends who would fault me for biting them with the watch bug and wish they did not come to the understanding, but in short, I would say for real collectors, it is not about the price or clout it comes with a certain piece. The watch is a vehicle in which a collective passion for craftsmanship, history, and hard work is admired and shared whether that be within yourself, your immediate circle, or the community at large.
What has your experience been like attending watch meetups? Would you be willing to offer any personal suggestions for regular attendees that could help make people feel more welcomed and embraced?
The best advice I could offer anyone is to never underestimate how far being nice to someone goes. It can be as simple as a friendly greeting. Always try to remember your first day of middle school or high school in the lunchroom and standing there thinking “who am I going to sit with?” If you ever see someone standing alone, go say hello. You already know that you both have something in common by being at a watch event.
Just think about how great it would be if a seasoned collector that you recognize came up to greet you. I guarantee these small gestures will encourage so many people to come back.
Being that you’re into vintage, what time period were your favorite watches made in?
Rolex during the 1950s. From the 6542 to the 6062, if you look at the range and capability of what they were able to do, it’s just phenomenal.
Also, Patek Philippe’s complicated watches during the 1940s. These were the iPhones of the 20th Century. I’ve always been fascinated by a moonphase or triple date. It’s just an amazing achievement.
I can see you’re into double-signed dials. What is it that you love about retailer dials?
Really it’s about thinking back to that time and what it would have been like to walk into Hausmann or Cartier. I have such an interest in regard to where that watch was and the lifestyle of Rome, Paris or New York during the 60s-70s.
It’s quite wild to think about Cartier and Rolex working together. Their timepieces were incredible in their own right, yet they still saw how special Rolex was and knew the importance of having their product in their boutique.
There’s so much romanticism. These relationships were so special and there was so much history there. I love them for all of these little reasons.
If you were to go back in time and purchase a watch from any retailer at any time, where would you go?
I would say Gübelin or Hausman. The history behind Beyer! I think that was one of the single best Talking Watches. It was so historically dense. You could see his passion span the decades and what his family instilled in him. Spending a day at the museum is just not enough!
You’re into cooking, right? Apparently, there is often overlap in these interests.
So many chefs have such phenomenal watches! I was at Daniel over the summer and Chef Daniel Boulud came to our table. Despite how wonderful and amazing his cooking was, I said “The meal was incredible. I LOVE your watch collection!”
He was quite surprised. I think coming from someone of my age and from a female he was taken aback. It was so wonderful because we ended up talking watches for a good 4-5 minutes in the middle of his dinner rush! I love how genuinely interested in watches chefs are.
Over the past few months, I’ve found myself with more opportunities to engage with women watch collectors and hear their stories. As a result, I’ve been able to gain an appreciation for unique perspectives from a variety of individuals. One thing that’s apparent is that there is a void in highlighting these women through collector profiles and interviews. After all, this obsession of ours would not be possible without their involvement, from the Queen of Naples to today.
One experience J.J. recounted was from a few years back, when she was the only woman in an event full of watch collectors. She mentioned feeling “out of place.”
I can assure you this couldn’t be further from the truth: J.J. is the type of enthusiast whose interests run the gamut when it comes to talking watches. Beyond that, she has a serious appreciation and understanding for design and history.
Above all else, J.J. emphasized that “the watch has to fit you.” It’s a point that has stuck with me, and applies whether you’re J.J. or Ryan Gosling.
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