Q + A With Roberta Naas @atimelyperspective

Greetings watch nerds! Our quest in the land of women in watches continues. Today we have the pleasure of chatting with Roberta Naas, notably the first woman to become a watch journalist in America. She is a widely respected authority on horology, jewelry and luxury items: her articles have been published on Forbes (where she has a regular column called Perfect Timing), Bloomberg, Elite Traveler, WatchTIme and so many others.  She is also the author of numerous books on the subject such as “Jewels of Time: The World of Women’s Watches” published in 2011, Masters of the Millennium, Master Wristwatches and others. An award-winning journalist (Gem Award for Excellence in Watch Writing in 2008), she carved out a niche so that others could follow.

Hello Roberta, thank you for dedicating some of your time for our readers. As we discussed over the phone, your journalistic career didn’t start with watches. Can you briefly tell us the story of how you managed to “steal the watch beat” that embarked you on what would become a long and successful career.

Ha …. It was no easy feat, that’s for sure. My Master’s Degree is in newspaper journalism from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. I started writing for newspapers and realized there was no time to sink my teeth into meaty, meaningful stories. So I jumped ship for the glossy magazines. That was in the early 1980’s. I found myself working at National Jeweler magazine – then one of the most important watch trade publications. We all worked “beats”  — watches, pearls, gold, gemstones, fashion, etc.  I had the retail beat and was just biding my time waiting for the pearl beat to come up – after all, think of the exotic trips that could include. Anyway, my good friend had the watch beat and he was planning to leave editorial for sales. He told me on the side and suggested I take the watch beat. NO WAY. How boring. But he looked at me like I was nuts and recounted the amazing trips he had taken all over the world. So, I asked for the beat. Her reply (yes, the editor was a woman) was that I couldn’t have it because there had never been a woman watch editor and the Japanese executives (remember, it was the quartz era still and the Japanese reigned) would not accept a woman. I asked her to give me a week. Then, I put together a letter stating that I planned to become the new watch editor (true), a list of questions, my headshot and asked for an in-person interview with the CEO’s of the biggest Japanese companies, Citizen, Seiko, Casio and Orient. I faxed (yep, no internet) the package off and within a few days I had all “Yes” responses.  (Maybe the Japanese didn’t want to insult a woman by saying no.) Anyway, I marched into the editor’s office and claimed my spot as the first female watch journalist in America. But, honestly, getting the job was the easy part. The climb up that paved the way for so many others after me was the challenge.

There aren’t that many women in this sector (though this is changing, especially for watches), even more so at the beginning of your professional journey. In your long experience has being a “Lady in a men’s only club” been more of a hindrance or an asset. Sometimes men are “scared” of women with such impressive credentials! (Author’s note: I’m in awe by the way!)

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Thanks for your kind words, Gigi.  At the time I entered the watch industry, there was one woman in charge of a watch brand in America. Marie Bodman, head of Breitling. She was Swiss and she was strong and well respected. I decided to follow her lead. I was young and I had to carve my own path. There was no one to go to for advice on how to get into some of the Men’s-Only types of events. Some clubs didn’t even let women into them, and back then, a lot of meetings in NY took place at the private clubs. But I didn’t let it deter me. I asked CEO’s for meetings over lunch instead, and it turned out to work in my favour. I got one-on-one time instead of group meetings and I really got to know the players.

I had to prove myself, though. I had to write better than the men on the watch journalism circuit. I had to ask better questions; I had to run after the news so that I could be first to break it. Remember, back then we only had print to communicate, so the written word ruled. Also, I constantly demonstrated that I could keep secrets, that I could be trusted not to break embargoes. I honed my skills at listening and was very easy to talk to. It was hard work but it was very exciting.

I won’t lie; there were issues along the way with certain men at parties or events, but I held my own. I was smart, strong and sincere. I always said exactly what I thought. In fact, everyone who knows me today knows that you don’t ask me a question if you don’t want an honest answer.

So, to answer your question, I think being a “Lady in a men’s only club” made me stronger. It made me more professional and more competitive. I’m not sure if that is good or bad. I have had people tell me I am territorial about my work. I don’t think I am, but I might be – after all the only way I made it to the top was by not backing down, by not letting people tell me I couldn’t do something in the watch world because I was a  woman.  Sure, some men are scared of successful women, but some women are, as well. I’ve had encounters with both.

At any rate, this is why I do everything I can to help other women entering the industry today. I didn’t have anyone to ask how to handle situations, so I want to be there for those who need it.  You ask, is being a lady a hinderance or an asset? I think it is both and neither. It depends on your personality. I was never one to flaunt my femininity, so my gender wasn’t an asset in that way. It could have been a hindrance if I had been weaker, and in some instances, it was a hindrance because I couldn’t go to the men’s clubs, etc. But I found ways to work around it, and that earned me a lot of respect.

You confessed to me that you didn’t start off as a “watchie” or a watch enthusiast, but the job of reporting on watches rubbed the passion on you to the point that you now have an extensive collection of timepieces. Today, after all this time, would you consider yourself a watch-nerd or just a serious professional who has a great appreciation for the subject and the product.

I don’t consider myself a watch nerd at all. I am a writer with a great appreciation for fine watches.  My passion for this industry comes from my heart. It comes from the people who build these watches, the people who run the companies. I think I am more excited about writing (whether it is a story about my experiences, where I have been, who I have met and what I have seen) than about watches. I think this is why I am successful when it comes to celebrity interviews.

I don’t really care what you have done as a celebrity; I care about who you are as a person and how time matters to you. I ask different questions. I look for different answers. Yes, my passion is the people and the writing. Luckily over 35 years, I have learned a lot about watches so that I can write knowledgeably about them, and so that I have come to love them.

By courtesy of DUjour spring edition 2020 

This is a question many (myself among them) have been asking themselves: I would like to put it to you since you have such extensive knowledge of the industry. The bubble on steel watches is so inflated that grey market prices on two-tone and gold watches are often lower than their steel-only counterparts (The Rolex Daytona comes to mind). Do you believe there will be a resurgence in gold and steel & gold watches?

Yes. I think the entire watch industry, like life, is cyclical. When I joined the industry, steel was all the rage. Along with yellow gold. It took a decade for two-tone metals to get attention and another decade for rose gold to come into the limelight. So on and so forth. I think there will be a love of gold again, even yellow gold. But new materials are also claiming some of the fanfare, and those aren’t going anywhere.

Is there a watch in your collection that you wear the most? Or do you prefer rotating?

With the pandemic keeping us quarantined, I am tending toward wearing different watches every day. It reminds me of how blessed and lucky I am to have had such a fruitful and fulfilling career.

Instagram has become a fantastic medium for sharing and divulging news and knowledge on watches. How has your experience with your account @atimeleyperspective been? Useful or a chore?

Both. I think it is important to be seen and to be on top of the social media platforms. But some days, especially during COVID-19 isolation, I want to social distance myself from social media.

Lastly, do you believe there’s a brand which embodies the concept of “watches for women” better than others?

I am not the person to ask here because while I have some watches with diamonds on them, I am not the woman who wants a diamond watch. Many of today’s brands still think that every women’s collection needs glitter. Also, as I worked in a watch world that catered to men for decades – with very few important women’s watches being build – I came to love the big watches, the complicated watches, the watches with substance.  But, just so you don’t think I’m copping out here, I think Jaeger-LeCoultre does a great job because it offers high complications for women. Granted, they’re often diamond-adorned pieces, but there are complications that range from astronomical pieces to tourbillons, calendars and more. I want functions and features in my watches – not glitz.

Thank you again Roberta, I hope to speak to you again soon.

Follow Roberta on Instagram @atimelyperspective

And on her website https://www.atimelyperspective.com/