INTERVIEW: JJ Owens
Interview by Brynn Wallner, photos by Cobey Arner
JJ Owens is 24 years old and has been collecting watches for over a decade. If you don’t feel like doing the math there, that means she started collecting at age 13. She was one of Dimepiece’s early followers, and catching just a glimpse of her page, I couldn’t smash that “follow back” button quick enough. I was intimidated, honestly. Like, who was this Upper East Side queen with the knock-out watch collection? We started DMing and she immediately melted my shyness away with her warmth and grounded sense of humor. She has since become what I like to think of as my older watch sister, gently schooling me with her Rain Man-level horology knowledge and defending me against snooty dudes in my comments section. She’s sharp as a tack, brimming with confidence, and exudes a magnetism that can hardly be described in words. To know her is to love her; and although her watch collection is a teensy facet of what makes her so interesting, I encourage you to read about it below:
Dimepiece: How did you get into collecting?
JJ Owens: I started collecting at 13 with my father. He always had a deep passion for watches, as well as for vintage automobiles. I’m the youngest in my family – besides the dog – but my sister had no interest in watches, so I got involved and quickly developed a passion for it. I love growing my knowledge about horology and I’m very excited to be featured in Dimepiece because I think this new wave of women showing enthusiasm is very important.
DP: Tell me about when you first started collecting.
JJO: My dad definitely bit me with the bug. Watching old movies was our way of bonding, and we’d notice the watches together – like the (pre-TAG) Heuer Monaco in Le Mans or the Rolexes in James Bond. I’m giving away my age here, but I grew up with Daniel Craig as Bond, and he switched to an Omega. So Rolex and Omega were some of the first watches I really loved because that’s what I saw on film.
DP: Something about noticing them in those movies must have done something to you…
JJO: They were such iconic characters! Those movies really informed my collection, pushing my interest in diver’s watches – it’s why I got a Submariner and a Seamaster so early on.
DP: So it didn’t bother you that those watches were on a man’s wrist?
JJO: No, I don’t give a damn, no. I’m very petite, but I can wear a 40mm without a care in the world. If you love the watch, wear it with confidence, and have the personality to back it up? Go for it. The important thing is you need to find a watch that fits you – not in size, but in personality. You wear the watch! The watch doesn’t wear you.
DP: So because you’ve been in this for so long––
JJO: Almost half my life!
DP: Wow, yes. So since you’ve been in this for almost half your life, have you noticed a recent increase in women watch enthusiasts? Or have you always had female watch friends?
JJO: I’ve always had some female watch friends, and I’ve definitely bit my girl friends with the watch bug because it’s such a part of my life. But I definitely think that – with the start of Watch Femme and Clubhouse and your page – there’s more energy around it. There’s always been a community of kick-ass, powerhouse women in the industry, but now there’s much more availability for discussion. There’s a sense of openness – not just from journalists, people in the auction space, or collectors – but from everyone. We all came together and said, yeah, we’re going to champion women in watches, be friends, talk weekly, and make an effort.
DP: Tell me about your first watch.
JJO: My first watch was a ‘70s – almost 1969 – Cartier Tank in gold. My father was very adamant about getting me a piece that was a manual wind-up to teach me about the intricacies of a watch. I had to wind it every single morning. That watch did not leave my wrist for two years. I wore it to tennis, I wore it everywhere.
DP: And you were just 13!
JJO: Yeah, and that was during the time when Love Bracelets were starting to get really popular. I’ve always gone off the beaten path and wanted a watch instead. I got my Tank and people were like, why are you wearing that? Especially then… that was also when the Michael Kors watches were popular and larger watches were a thing. I was just like, you guys just don’t know. This is a thing between me and my dad. You’ll get it later…
DP: Do you wear that watch everyday still?
JJO: I only wear it on occasion because it’s so special to me. When I had the responsibility of winding it every morning, I really got closer to it than I thought I would. That’s what happens with a wind-up watch. You’re keeping the watch running, you’re making it go. As a 13 year old, to be really so infatuated with and dedicated to a piece like that – even though we had phones then – it became such a part of me.
DP: So tell me about the first watch you bought for yourself.
JJO: It’s a two-tone Rolex Datejust. 26mm. My dad was never a huge Rolex fan – more appreciative of them from the ‘40s and ’50s – but Rolex was always a brand I wanted to own. Especially as a collector… you want a Rolex. In modern society they’ve been used as markers of success, and at 15 you would think I’d have no reason to “mark my success”, but I had started a social media consulting business and had started making my own money. I would walk into businesses with no resume – just a blog – and ask people if I could run their social media. Looking back on it, I’m stunned at myself because I don’t think I’d have the balls to do that now. But it was just through my personality and willingness to show them something new that I was able to find such success in it. So I went out and bought a Rolex to mark that success. Many times I’ve contemplated getting rid of it or giving it to someone, but it’s such a symbol of that first time in my life when I realized my own intelligence and self confidence. It’s so much more than a Rolex, so much more than a watch. Each time I look down at it, I think damn, I was able to do that at 15. That’s pretty impressive. I’m proud of myself.
DP: Did you wear the watch daily after you bought it?
JJO: I didn’t. I was so worried to wear it, and my parents were very adamant about me not growing into a brat, having nicer things. In New York City, you kind of lose sight of that… but it’s not necessarily appropriate for a 15 year old to have a Rolex. They didn’t want me just casually wearing it to 7-11 because it was such a special piece – and, price aside, it marked something very important for me, and I needed to treat it as such. But I liked wearing it on Fridays at school. My dad’s philosophy on watches is that they’re meant to be worn, not hidden in a safe, and as I grew older, he was increasingly open to me wearing it.
DP: How do you feel being a woman collector?
JJO: I am hyper-sensitive to the preconceived notions that are given off when you see a woman in a gold or diamond watch. I’m also hyper-sensitive to the fact that I never want to come off like an asshole. The best way to do that is to lead with kindness, and as corny as it sounds, to be as nice and happy as you can be. If you lead with that and still people don’t treat you well, at least you can go to bed at night knowing it’s not you. As a female collector, I’ve been fairly welcome… I’ll give it a B+. Honestly, the more seasoned collectors have always been more welcoming, enthusiastic and willing to share their knowledge with me. That says it all… that the top guys in the industry are accommodating to, not only a female, but to a younger female. There may be Instagram guys making idiot comments, but does that really matter? No, it doesn’t. You realize they’re only being snobs because… god knows.
DP: When you were just getting into collecting did you notice the gender divide?
JJO: No, because it was always just something to share with my dad. Honestly, if he had collected coins, I would have gotten into coins. I’m glad he chose watches because those are way cooler than coins. I think the gender aspect of it never struck me until about 18/19 when I went to a store and somebody said, oh that size watch wouldn’t look becoming on you. And that actually came from a female. And understandably, my dad wanted me to wear more demure pieces because I’m his little girl… but at the end of the day, he wants me to wear what I like. The Submariner and the Seamaster are some of the best watches out there, and he really respected my love of their historical provenance.
DP: And the fact that they’re “men’s” watches…
JJO: They’re not men’s watches! They might be marketed towards men, but anyone can wear one. Whether you’re a female collector or a male collector, what’s the commonality? You’re a collector. So if you have the passion, enthusiasm, and willingness to learn, it doesn’t matter what gender you are or what you look like. If you want to learn, most people will talk to you. And we’re talking about watches here. You can’t take it that seriously. You have to know your stuff, of course, or you have to be willing to learn. But you don’t have to be a snob. You have to remember that this all started because collectors had a passion. There are obviously people buying to flip, but that isn’t what it’s about. It didn’t start because like, oh, I got a bonus so I’m going to get a Patek and let everyone know. That’s not a collector. True collecting started with love!
DP: Do you have a favorite watch?
JJO: So many of them hold such sentimental value that it’s very hard to say. I do love my first one, and ironically, that Tank is so not my style currently. I always wear a watch on a bracelet now. I also have a double-signed Rolex Cartier piece that I got last summer, which is one of my favorites. And then I’d also include my Nautilus, which my parents gifted to me when I graduated college early – despite many obstacles –at the top of my class. I was totally surprised when they gave it to me. But they said I had to have the best for being the best. That will always be so special because it was an achievement in beating the odds.
DP: What about your little Royal Oak? You wear that a lot.
JJO: Well, there’s nothing like a little gold watch. If it was any bigger it wouldn’t be a good daily. You kinda look funny if a gold 40/42mm is your daily watch. Anyway, when I got that one, I didn’t necessarily have the idea that it would be my daily watch by any stretch, but I just love how it looks… and funnily, my two-tone Royal Oak is my other daily. The diamond bezel isn’t typically my personality, you know, I typically wear sports watches. So looking at what has become my go-to surprises even me.
DP: Do you have any advice for people just getting into watches?
JJO: Well first of all, you are always welcome to reach out to me. I can be your person and your confidante – I will talk watches with anyone, whether they know the world or they just happened to see a piece they loved on a celeb. The best advice I have when it comes to purchasing a watch is try it on. You may think you like it, then you see it on your wrist and have a completely different reaction. And pick a watch that fits with your personality and lifestyle. Overally, my advice would be: if you’re interested, just get into it. I get that it can be intimidating, but there’s such a phenomenal community of men and women who’d love to have you and teach you if you’re willing to learn. Very few people would turn down a chance to talk watches, so send them a DM! Say hi! We’ve all become friends that way. If you can get over that initial shyness, you can open yourself up to such a good community. Oh, and one last piece of advice: don’t be a jerk.