Watch Connoisseur J.J. Owens Represents the Next Generation of Female Collectors

JJ Owens

Jessica “J.J.” Owens has been collecting watches for more than a decade. Which might not be remarkable were she not just 25 years old. Her first piece, a 1969 gold Cartier Tank, was a 13th birthday gift from her father, an avid collector, and she laughs as she remembers being surprised that the watch needed to be wound daily, so accustomed was she to the world of electronics. Pursuing fine watches together quickly became a treasured father-daughter bonding experience.

In the years since that birthday, Owens has become a welcoming voice of authority in the burgeoning world of female watch collectors. A member of the esteemed Horological Society of New York, she has more than 10,000 Instagram followers tracking her gorgeous array of pieces on @jessicajjo, while her day job is managing social media and creating brand partnerships for Watchonista, an online newsletter that covers the watch industry.  

Owens says she was born with an entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, she first funded her watch collecting by starting a social media consulting business as a teenager, and she prides herself on her analytical approach to buying watches. She follows female-focused watch websites like Dimepiece and Watchfemme and remains strict on price — following auction results, comparing prices and conditions and asking for advice from other collectors through Instagram.  

Introspective recently sat down with her to discuss the world of women and watches. 

Rolex, Cartier, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet watches
Owens says she tends to acquire watches to commemorate milestones in her life. For example, her Patek Philippe Nautilus, fifth from left, was a gift from her parents for graduating from college at the top of her class. From left: Rolex ref. 1803, Rolex ref. 1625, Rolex Yachtmaster, vintage Cartier Tank with “Woody” dial, Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 4700, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak ref. 14470, Cartier Tank with lapis lazuli dial. Top: Owens’s watch collection includes iconic pieces like an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Cartier Tank (pictured on her left wrist) and a Rolex Day-Date (on her right).

Why are more women getting interested in watch collecting?

I think it’s now more top of mind and more encouraged in media and culture. It used to be an afterthought because women have so many other accessories to choose from. Celebrities, like reality stars and rappers, are wearing and talking about watches and have become huge influencers. The watchmakers have really benefited from influencer culture — some of my friends will now ask me about a watch after seeing a celebrity wear it. But I think that the more people who are involved in watches, the better. 

You have said you prefer the look of vintage watches to rereleases — in fact, the ratio of your collection is 8:2, vintage to new. Can you tell us more about vintage watches, specifically your interest in provenance and collaborations. 

For my 24th birthday, my parents gave me a double-signed Tonneau-style piece from Cartier and Vacheron Constantin. I fell in love with the case-back engraving, which said it was a gift from a wife to her husband for Christmas in 1971. I am nostalgic about my watches and have a fascination with provenance even more if I don’t know it. I am never fully motivated by a known provenance but more by the mystery of a piece’s past. I firmly believe I am the custodian of my pieces: They lived multiple lives before me and will live multiple lives after me, and it is my privilege to wear and love them for the time being. 

I find the business of collaborations fascinating. I love the concept of Cartier Vacheron or Cartier Rolex — the idea that those two brands would collaborate because they each know how special the other is. Collaborations such as the one between Carolina Bucci and Audemars Piguet also show timepieces not just from an horological vantage but for what they are: truly exquisite pieces of art.

Where would you advise women or young people curious about watch collecting to start looking? 

My best recommendation is to start following Dimepiece on Instagram. I love Brynn [Wallner], and her account is an excellent way to get women who have a piqued interest familiar with watches in a completely organic and very fun way.  

I find the best places to compare prices are looking at past auction results from Sotheby’s, Phillips and Christie’s. 1stDibs and other marketplaces are also great resources, as you can see the same watch at various prices dependent on certain variables, so you get an even deeper understanding of the value. My general rule is that the value of the watch is what the second highest bidder will pay. 

You have advised women to look for watches that fit their personalities. Can you tell us about one of yours that does so and why?

I like to say my personal style is where tousled and timeless meet, and I try to fit my watches into that as well. I need a watch that can be worn not only with a T-shirt and jeans to a diner but also with a tweed dress to a dinner. The best watch for that is my 18-carat solid yellow-gold Rolex Day-Date. I find that 36 millimeters is the perfect size that neither distracts from nor complicates my style. I think you need to have a certain je ne sais quoi or chutzpah to pull off a Day-Date (especially as a daily) and not look ridiculous. It’s definitely pushing the boundary of being low-key, but I think many of my friends would say the same about me, so we make a good match.

Rolex Cartier-signed Turnograph Reference 1625
In the ultimate mix of high and low, Owens pairs her Rolex Cartier-signed Turnograph ref. 1625 with a $10 strap from Bloomingdale’s. On her left wrist, she wears a Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra bracelet.

You’ve said that you would rather — and do — give watches away rather than sell them. Why have you given your watches to friends?

I firmly believe that watches are meant to be worn, and if I am not wearing and enjoying one, it’s time to pass it along. I gave my brother-in-law an Omega Seamaster that I bought in high school — because we both love James Bond — but I had stopped wearing it. I saw no point in letting it sit in the safe when someone I loved could love and enjoy it. I once loaned a friend a Cartier Panthère for a party, but she ended up wearing it every day for months after, so I just gave it to her. 

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