Dimepiece founder Brynn Wallner pens an essay about her personal watch collection: Cartier Tank Française, Rolex Lady Datejust, Breitling Navitimer, and more.
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In October, I was escorted to the Newark Airport by two armed police officers in a black Escalade. I was shooting a video for an e-commerce company in Los Angeles, and I was transporting a few watches from my personal collection across the country. Hence, the security.
“When everyone was at the UN last week, we escorted the Vice President around town,” said Danny from the passenger seat, who sat next to Gus, both detectives for the New York Police Department.
I leaned back in the plush SUV seat, feeling disoriented and a bit like a diplomat’s daughter. Why the NYPD would give up two detectives to take my watches and me to New Jersey at 4 p.m. on a Monday was beyond me. On my wrist was a steel Cartier Tank Française; in my backpack, a Breitling Navitimer, a Rolex Lady Datejust, and a Seiko Diver. Aside from that, I had my laptop, a copy of Tina Brown’s Vanity Fair Diaries, a pair of Levi’s, some Brandy Melville tops, and my toiletries. Did this warrant armed detail? Certainly not, but I just went with it, less shocked about the security than I was by the fact that I even had watches to protect.
When I started Dimepiece, my platform dedicated to all things women and watches, in the summer of 2020, I didn’t own a single watch. The project was born out of my own curiosity to learn more about luxury timepieces — and where women fit within that world — versus a desire to consume them.
The idea came about when I was working on editorial content at Sotheby’s in 2019. The watches department had me produce some articles about heavy-hitters like the Patek Philippe Nautilus and the Rolex Daytona, and I noticed that women were completely left out of the narrative. I Googled “women and watches” and nothing, other than a few photos of Ellen Degeneres and Jackie Kennedy. Sotheby’s wound up letting me go the same day that New York City shut down for the pandemic, and after having a nice, panic-induced cry (how would I pay for the hospital bills without health insurance when I’m inevitably put on a ventilator?!), I booked a ticket to Naples, Florida to stay with my mom and brother. Three blissed-out months of white sunshine and nothingness passed by before I started @dimepiece.co on Instagram, chronicling women and their wrist candy.
Overnight, the account started gaining traction. A watch magazine reposted one of my images, and suddenly I had watch people following me in droves. “What watches do you wear?” was my most-asked questions from people grilling me about my personal collection, which was, quite frankly, nonexistent. I considered lying to them in response, feeling like a total poser. But I’m horrible at being anything but myself, so I reluctantly told the truth.
I was catapulted into the watch industry at a pace quicker than I could have ever predicted — and I felt quite underprepared and unadorned. People were approaching me with questions as if I were an expert or a seasoned collector. Harper’s Bazaar tapped me to be its monthly watch columnist. The Wall Street Journal named me one of the “Top 8 Women Changing the Watch World,” alongside the CEO of Audemars Piguet Americas and a specialist at Phillips. On my wrist in the headshot that the WSJ ran of me was a Datejust on loan from a luxury consignment website.
Choosing my first watch was not effortless. In May 2020, my dad asked me what I wanted for my 30th birthday, and I couldn’t give him an answer. When you do not inherit the passion for watches from family, as many collectors and enthusiasts do, you’re left to your own devices and imagination. Unlike fashion, which has been drilled into my brain through the pages of Nylon and Vogue since I was a pre-teen, I had no sense of my personal watch taste. How was I supposed to know what I want? Don’t they all just look like… watches?
In the months that followed, I started to seriously work on Dimepiece, looking at endless photos of women and their watches, digesting and writing out my observations. I finally began to understand how these pieces take on identities and stylistically fit within bigger picture lifestyles and looks. Traditional watch advertising did not do that for me; they’re so slick and overproduced that I flip right past them in magazines, uninspired and unsure of where I stand within that universe.
But what really allowed me to develop my own taste was trying on as many watches as possible. I’d go to auction previews at Phillips and Sotheby’s, requesting to try on my favorites (often the understated, smaller ladies pieces that never grabbed the “top lot” label). At dinner, I’d ask friends if I could try on what they were wearing. My mom’s friend Courtney graciously let me pal around in her Cartier Tank Française, which I found so striking on her wrist, surprised at the life she breathed into it. On a website, against a white e-comm background, this watch comes off as rather serious…and cold, with its angular case design and steel integrated bracelet. But on Courtney, it feels warm against her L.A.-tanned skin. She stacks her Française with woven bracelets and mixed metals, and she even wears it in the ocean (because she’s worn it for decades, and it can endure a little salt water).
At last, I decided this was the piece for me. I was back in Naples visiting my mom and biked to the Tourneau at the fancy outdoor mall 20 minutes from her apartment. I showed up, misted with a light sweat in my Nike tennis dress, and asked to try on a Cartier Tank Française. The salesperson enthusiastically ushered me toward the Cartier section, urging me to try on the medium-sized Française, explaining how women these days love big watches and traditional “ladies” sizes have fallen out of fashion. The medium clocks in at 30mm, which is definitely not big by today’s standards, but it looked awkward and bulky on my wrist compared to the small’s 25mm case. I left feeling frustrated and unsure of myself — again.
I thought, How difficult is it to pick out a goddamn Cartier? My grandfather would have referred to this as a “high class problem.” But with research came more knowledge and awareness of how a chunk of steel should look on my wrist. And before I knew it, it was May again, and for my 31st birthday, I took the 6 train uptown in NYC to the Cartier Mansion on 5th Avenue and bought myself the small steel Cartier Tank Française. I left the maison with the watch on my wrist and the iconic red box in a nondescript white bag (to ward off thieves and greedy evil spirits).
Then, a month later — if you can believe it — I bought myself a second watch: a 26mm Rolex Lady Datejust from a luxury consignment website for which I’d done my first-ever “influencer” video. They paid me in store credit, and because the videographer drastically screwed up on set, they ended up doubling my negotiated rate to $4,500. It covered, with tax, exactly the amount of the Datejust I’d been eyeing.
From there, things began to evolve beyond my wildest dreams. I launched a website for Dimepiece with interviews about women and their watches (“First Dimers” is what I call those who just bought their first). The New York Times profiled me in its international print edition. I snagged bylines in British Vogue and GQ. I was whisked away on my first press trip (Hublot flew me and my chihuahua business class to Aspen). The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie invited me to Geneva to attend Watches and Wonders, the world’s largest trade show for the watch and jewelry industry.
With all of this success — which, to this day, I can hardly acknowledge because there’s so much more I want to achieve — my dad dusted off the Rolex Datejust that he hadn’t worn since the early ‘90s. He presented it to me, and I now proudly wear his 36mm piece, gleaming with golden Roman numerals against the blue dial and a two-tone jubilee bracelet, engraved with his initials, “SSW” (we share the same middle and last name — as well as our stubborn sense of self and childlike wonder at the world).
My collection and understanding of the watch industry would ultimately be meaningless without the guidance and generosity of Alan Bedwell, an antiques and vintage watch dealer from London. Our mutual friend Ryan Chong (now, incidentally, head of watch operations at Bezel) introduced us over email. And when we met, Alan brought a little leather pouch stuffed with vintage ladies watches, like a 25mm Royal Oak and a gold Cartier Baignoire on a red leather strap. Never before had any expert taken the time to show me — and discuss at length — watches like these. They’re under prioritized and undervalued, but that did not render them less worthy in his eyes. Alan and I are now very close friends, and we sell a small curated selection of vintage underdog watches. He also found two vintage dive watches to add to my collection: a Seiko and a TAG Heuer with a ghost bezel, both from the ‘80s, both teeny tiny.
To sit here and write at length about my luxurious possessions against the backdrop of the world’s imminent financial decline and a war raging in Ukraine feels surreal and, honestly, makes me a little nervous. I often envision myself in the nightmare Icarus scenario, flying a little too close to the sun, risking the scorching of my wings. But if there’s one takeaway from all of this, it’s that magic happens when you focus all of your energy on one thing. That thing for me is watches, and it’s paying the bills. Manifestation works. Now, I need to go buy a safe before I get robbed.
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