For Women’s History Month, Tell the Time and Complecto are partnering to highlight 5 amazing women collectors from the watch community throughout the month of March. This series aims to elevate underrepresented voices in the watch industry by sharing stories of women watch collectors and women working within the industry.
Written by Dana Li
Kathleen McGivney is the CEO of RedBar Group and technology consulting industry professional. As a veteran in the watch industry, Kathleen has been actively championing collector groups within the community and engaging new watch enthusiasts with her vast knowledge. Her diverse collection includes a unique platinum automatic Swatch and a M.A.D. 1 Red, just to name a few. Kathleen has also been featured in a variety of publications and podcasts, including The New York Times, Hodinkee, Horological Society of New York, and more.
* Responses below have been edited and condensed *
How did you get interested in watches and get involved with the RedBar community?
Similar to a lot of collectors, I got interested in watches in a meandering sort of way. I collected Swatches when I was young and got myself a Tag Heuer when I got my first big job. It wasn’t until I got involved in RedBar that I became more interested in watches.
With the advent of Instagram, I would see many collectors posting their watches, some of which I wanted to check out in person, especially because phone cameras at that time were not photographing these cool watches well. I’ve been friends with Adam Craniotes (co-founder of RedBar) for over 20 years and he invited me to my first meet up. At the time, I didn’t have a big collection (a few Swatches, a Tag Heuer, and a Movado), but Adam told us there were no snobs, which held true. My then-husband and I brought our collection of 30 Swatches and people were really excited about them. Everyone was super generous with their knowledge and time even though I had a ton of questions. I started regularly attending after that because I thought it was a great place to hang out and continue learning about all these amazing watches.
From there, I went down a complete rabbit hole and dove into the community in full force. I’m the kind of person who will learn everything I possibly can about something I’m passionate about, so I was heavily researching on forums and sites to read about all things watches. At the time, RedBar was also growing and Adam and I decided to combine forces to grow the community. I took over the operations of RedBar and we’ve now grown from less than a dozen chapters to around 85 worldwide.
How did you start building your collection of Swatches?
When I was a kid, Swatches were the cool, fun thing to have and it was relatively easy to convince my parents to get me one because they’re reasonably priced. When I got older, I continued collecting them partially for nostalgia, but the Keith Haring Swatches were what really spiked my interest. I am a huge fan of Keith Haring and art in general so when I discovered that there was a Swatch and Keith Haring collaboration, I sought them out.
My favorite Swatch I have is my Tresor Magique, which is a platinum Swatch with an automatic movement. It came in this heavy, mirrored box with extra straps and was a limited edition of 12,999 pieces. While scrolling Instagram at dinner one night, I came across it because Josh Shanks (RedBar member and Chief Marketing Officer at Oris) had posted it. At the time there was a website that sold new old stock Swatches and served as an informal archive of vintage Swatches. I had bought a few pieces from them before so naturally, I went to the website after seeing the Tresor Magique and found one for sale. After a few glasses of wine and some newfound liquid courage, I ended up buying the watch that night when I got back home. If it weren’t for my connection to the community, I likely wouldn’t have come across the watch.
How do you think social media and the watch community have fostered the general interest and passion that people have for watches?
Social media has definitely propelled the interest in watches, especially during the pandemic lockdowns. A lot of friends were posting watches and many of us in the community ended up influencing each other on our purchases. While my collection is eclectic because I am a person of many interests, there’s watches in my collection that I wouldn’t have come across if it weren’t for Instagram or the community. There’s truly this cumulative effect that the watch community has both online and offline on collecting.
With interest-based communities in general and specifically the watch community, you’re able to get such a diverse group of people who come from different industries and backgrounds who are passionate about the same thing in a room together. I’ve met so many people around the world and a large chunk of my friend group are people I wouldn’t have ever met if it weren’t for our shared interest (or affliction) in watches. People who have met through watches have also made close friends who hang out even outside of meet ups, showing the power of this community.
In addition, people often come to RedBar and other watch community events as enthusiasts who are just starting out or collecting in a particular niche, but then get an opportunity to learn about new brands and watches from other like-minded people who share their passion. From my own experiences, I’ve been able to see a lot of watches that I wouldn’t see in person otherwise. I think the relationships within the watch community are particularly strong because watches accompany you everywhere and lend themselves well to sharing stories with others.
Why do you think women are underrepresented in the watch industry?
I think there’s work to be done both at the community and industry levels to make the space more inclusive for women. There’s still somewhat of an intimidation factor for women walking into spaces within the watch world because they’re so male-dominated. A few women I know who are serious watch collectors don’t want to attend meetups or events because they tend to be one of a few women in the room. While this needs to be addressed, I also think it’s worth understanding why women are intimidated. Realistically, it can easily appear to be a tight-knit, unaccommodating space, and I understand why women are uncomfortable in these situations. The watch community has self-organized in a way that has made the space more welcoming for all watch enthusiasts regardless of background or gender, but there are still gaps in the watch industry as a whole.
Broadly speaking, the industry also does not really market to women in an effective way. There are definitely exceptions to this, but there’s typically a stark contrast between watch ads in print magazines that feature men compared to women. If there’s a man featured, they’re often pictured either doing an activity like hiking, racing, or sailing, or as the head of the household in a heteronormative nuclear family. Women featured in these ads, however, are usually just sitting pretty and modeling the watch as a decorative object. Again, while not all brands have these kinds of ads, the industry has yet to recognize on a broad level that we as women also have varied interests and are not defined by a unilateral category. In order to see the broader market shift, the watch industry first and foremost has to buy into these needed changes.
What are some ways brands and retailers can make the industry more inclusive of women?
Following the summer of 2020, I think people really started paying attention to this conversation more than ever before. With Watch Femme and Cara Barrett from Hodinkee discussing why the industry was still gendering watches, some stores and brands started taking notes and began removing the gender labels from their collections. They began to recognize that most women do not resonate with the “shrink it and pink it” approach and in fact, have diverse likes and dislikes. While we’re taking steps in the right direction, there’s still more that can be done to make the industry more inclusive.
Overall, the watch industry should update the way they talk and market to people, especially for the US market because it behaves very differently than other significant ones in the industry. In the US, people want to feel a personal connection and identify with a brand’s stories before they become loyal to that brand. Particularly for their female customers and collectors, it would behoove the brands to listen to what women actually want in their watches.
I also think there’s no valid reason to continue gendering watches in this day and age. Watches are inherently a genderless object and if you’re marketing it to a specific set of people, you will end up missing a big portion of the market. I was on a WatchTime panel in 2021 and asked how many women want or wear watches that are marketed to men. As expected all the women in the room raised their hands. When I asked the inverse, how many men would wear a watch marketed towards women, only 15-20% of them raised their hands. This is a clear example of where the industry is missing opportunities. If you’re marketing to women, you’re unfortunately alienating some men who are uncomfortable with that, and if you’re marketing exclusively to men, you’re alienating women who feel ignored in the space.
This need for a non-gendered view on watches will only continue to become increasingly important as brands think about capturing the hearts and minds of the next generation of collectors. Gen Z has a large amount of purchasing power and they do not care about traditional gender definitions when they’re making a purchase. As we see more people identifying outside the traditional gender binary, it would be in a brand’s best interest to eliminate the “men’s” vs. “women’s” labels in their collections so they can not only be more inclusive of everyone, but also bring the focus back onto the watches themselves.
Are you an early bird or night owl?
Night owl for sure
Moment in your life you're most proud of
A tough question! Coming up with the idea for the WatchFam for Ukraine auction last year, bringing it to fruition in less than three weeks with the help of Revolution and Loupe This, and raising $250,000 for World Central Kitchen. It was a pretty proud moment for me.
When do you feel most like yourself?
Also a tough question because I have arranged my life in a way that allows me to be true to my authentic self as much as possible. That said, hanging out with my best friend and just enjoying each other's presence is when I feel the most comfortable.
I have two. Moonphase, because it's both romantic and a little bit nerdy, and completely unnecessary for day-to-day life unless you need to know when high tide is and/or when to avoid werewolves; and minute repeaters, because it's a practical way to audibly hear the time if you can't glance at your watch, but also because the intricacy involved in making the chime both loud enough to be audible and resonant enough to sound pleasing to the ear is an art form unto itself.
Sports watch or dress watch?
I lean more toward dress than sport, but I like both.
Steel or precious metal?
Neither. Titanium! (which some may consider precious, but I think it falls more under "unconventional" or "contemporary")
Watches on your wishlist?
Grönefeld Remontoire (which are sold out and therefore I will probably never get one). I am sure this list will grow after Watches & Wonders!