Why Michele watches bother me so much Why Michele watches bother me so much

Why Michele watches bother me so much

Emily Holmes

My one friend is really crushing it. She has one of those jobs in finance with a title you need a dictionary to understand.  In her first year, she was putting in a minimum of 60 hours a week, showered in the company gym, and ate almost exclusively at her desk. After the first 6 months, she was chipping in to help her parents cover their rent. By month 8 she started poking around for her big purchase, a watch to celebrate her surviving her first brutal year.

She decided that there weren’t any status watches for women. Yes, I pointed her in the direction of the Omega Constellation, anything Cartier, and the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso. Instead, she bought a Michele and started making payments on a used Mercedes-Benz. I was deeply disappointed. I tried appealing to her financial sense by pointing out that a vehicle is a rapidly depreciating asset whereas a good watch holds its value. Yet she was unswayed and insisted her Michele was fine. It was not fine. But she’s far from alone in liking the Michele brand watches – but I refuse to believe anyone actually loves them.

A bit of background

michele closeup

For anyone not familiar with the brand, Michele watches are a staple of the US women’s affordable luxury market. They offer a Tank clone, a Panthère homage, and a watch that looks a great deal like the Ronde de Cartier. In case the Cartier connection wasn’t clear enough, Michele watches even have a distinctively coloured red crown instead of Cartier blue. Pricing starts at US$395 and rapidly jumps up to the US$1k point before spiralling up from there with a half dozen models over the US$5k price point.

The movements are all quartz, and the watches are described as Swiss-made on the website, in the least legally binding way. They also turn up on “Swiss Made” searches of department store websites. Yet the watches only bear the words “Swiss movement” on the dial. The handful of watches they make under that US$1,000 price point do not make that claim. The country of origin for the movement is not listed, leading me to suspect they are charging US$395 for a Chinese-made watch. 

crown comparison Michele and cartier
L-R: a Michele Deco Madison compared to a Cartier Tank Française.

Also, weirdly, Michele does not picture the inside of the watch on its website. After squinting at a bunch of out-of-focus, pictures of the back of the case on resale sites – I have determined that most of them only say “Swiss Movement”. The cheaper ones say nothing. I did find a handful that said “Swiss Made” or simply “Swiss” but who knows what that means since the market is loaded with fakes. My best guess is that the company is stretching the legal definition of “Swiss Made” almost to the breaking point which is why it appears on their website, once, but not on their watches. 

The movements are mostly Rondas, with a few ISA and ETA movements for their chronographs. They have almost no storytelling on their website and the styling is painfully basic. They are all crusted with mediocre diamonds, which add nothing to the value of the watch. The cases all have thick, chunky styling. It’s like they looked at classic bezel designs, sketched them out in crayon, and then built the watch off that. The red crown looks like a gross zit and the red logo on the dial doesn’t improve matters. Even the lugs seem too thick. For a wildly popular women’s watch, it’s stunning how little refinement or grace they display – which is really what I find so offensive about them. They’re ugly in a boring way and the movement is nothing special. 

Maybe it’s just me?

sketch of Michele watch

And yet, they remain inexplicably popular. Even with their heavy-handed styling and price tag (US$1,000 isn’t extraordinary for a watch, but isn’t pocket change), the watches continue to top the best-seller list at upscale US department stores. They also last and their owners seem annoyingly happy with them. They frequently write reviews about getting them as gifts and it being what they really wanted.

Is this a case of women organically loving this watch? Or have watches historically been marketed so poorly to women that they’re willing to accept an inferior product because it feels like that’s all there is? While women will spend hours debating the merits of handbags and cosmetics, there’s no similar culture around watches. Slowly, things seem to be changing and improving. But until then, I’m going to try to accept that maybe other people don’t care quite as much as I do. And that’s okay.

Closing thoughts

michele round

While there are any number of far more interesting watches you can get your loved ones for Valentine’s Day, or any day really, at the end of the day, what matters is that the recipient likes the watch. So this is the watch your mum wants? Don’t explain to her why it sucks, or what watch she should want instead. Just suck it up and buy it, and be grateful that it will last her at least a decade… Giving you plenty of time to explain to her why it’s an awful watch.