Mixing Minecraft and Watches

STOCKHOLM — Lydia Winters moved here from Florida in 2011 for a dream job in the video gaming industry: director of fun for what now is the phenomenally successful game Minecraft. By 2021, she had decided to take on another world also traditionally dominated by men: horology.

Her Instagram feed, @winters.watches, is in homage to her growing watch collection and has more than 8,900 followers. It combines her love of photography — she once was a professional photographer — with a passion for watches.

“I thought: ‘I’m going to take photos that I haven’t seen around the watch community; photos that just feel very me,’” she said during an interview that touched on her vision for the account, which features close-ups of watches from her 18-piece collection. “I wanted them to tell a story, and I wanted to take this approach of almost like it’s a person, it’s a portrait, but of a watch.”

She models some of the watches herself, as if it were a photo shoot in a fashion magazine, while other recent images feature the timepieces perched on volcanic rocks and nestled in Arctic moss, backgrounds she found during a trip to Iceland.

Ms. Winters, 34, now travels the world as chief storyteller, what she calls a sort of brand evangelist for Minecraft, which is owned by the Swedish gaming company Mojang Studios. The role finds Ms. Winters, who said she was the first woman and the first expat to join the company, interacting with some of the more than 141 million active players that the game tallied in 2021.

She also is part of a growing international community of female watch enthusiasts using social media to express their love of horology — and doing so without fear of being criticized, ridiculed or harassed.

“This last year in particular we have seen a huge shift because so many more women are joining the hobby,” Kat Shoulders, who, with Katlen Schmidt, hosts the Tennessee-based horology podcast Tenn & Two, wrote in an email. “And I think we all can jump in and support each other in ways previously not available.

“We aren’t afraid to speak out either if someone, male or female, is being bullied or talked about inappropriately on social media,” she added.

Ms. Winters said that traveling extensively for her job has allowed her to add international purchases to her watch collection and to curate exotic scenes for her photos, which she takes using either of her two Swedish Hasselblad medium-format digital cameras. (In February, the camera manufacturer named her one of its Hasselblad Heroines, an award it bestows annually on female photographers.)

She also uses the cameras to photograph watches at the home she shares in the countryside near Stockholm with her partner, Vu Bui, Mojang’s chief content officer, who also is a watch collector and photographer.

To accompany her photographs, Ms. Winters uses her iPhone to create tutorial images that demonstrate how she composed each shot. And she and Mr. Bui recently introduced a YouTube channel, Winters & Bui, that delves further into the art of watch photography.

“The main goal of it all has been to be creative,” Ms. Winters said. “And then to help inspire others in photography, which is why I shoot all the behind-the-scenes shots and post them with notes on how I did everything.”

She became a true horology convert in 2013, she said, when her Christmas gift from Mr. Bui was what she considers her first “serious” watch: a Cartier Tank Solo in rose gold with a brown leather strap.

“Then it was like, ‘Now I understand why you wear a watch.’ I had worn fashion watches on and off, and my parents liked watches, so I’ve been watch-adjacent,” she said. “But wearing the Cartier was like — wow, I really feel something when this is on me.”

“Growing up in Florida, my style was basketball shorts and T-shirts,” she said. “And now I have this watch that’s so elegant and timeless, but also cool. And every time I put it on, I feel very privileged that I get to wear it.”

Ms. Winters thought the Cartier had satisfied her appetite for luxury timepieces, but soon Mr. Bui was asking what her next watch would be. The answer to that question came a month later, when Ms. Winters bought herself a Rolex Datejust.

Then, in spring 2020, as the two locked down at the start of the pandemic, Mr. Bui suggested that she photograph her collection, which had grown to include a Tudor Mini-Sub purchased for an earlier trip to Vietnam and an IWC Fliegerchronograph, bought while visiting Tokyo.

At first, Ms. Winters rejected the idea, turning her camera instead to flowers in the lush environs of the couple’s home — until winter came and her subjects died. It was then that she started aiming her Hasselblads at watches.

She also had started watching YouTube videos produced by the German horology enthusiast Jenni Elle, and began corresponding with Ms. Shoulders and Ms. Schmidt, who then requested an interview for their podcast.

At that stage, Mr. Bui encouraged Ms. Winters to go beyond just photography by posting them on Instagram.

“When Tenn & Two reached out for her to be a guest on their podcast, I resumed my constant badgering,” he wrote in an email. “I thought that if she was going to be introduced to the watch community on a podcast, there should be a place for people to find and interact with her.”

Ms. Winters started the account and said she was shocked at how quickly it amassed a following. She soon found herself making dozens of new watch-fan friends and chatting in WhatsApp groups with hundreds of female collectors and enthusiasts from around the world.

The camaraderie came as a pleasant surprise — and a relief. As a woman who has experienced discrimination in the gaming industry, Ms. Winters said she had expected to receive sexist or discriminatory remarks in the comments section of @winters.watches.

And while she acknowledged that she has experienced some chauvinism in the online watch world, she said she felt comfortable and supported as a female social media influencer in a growing community of women watch lovers.

“This isn’t watches 10 years ago, when there were probably just a few women around who had to pave the way, which is how I’ve felt in gaming,” she said. “You feel like the community is large enough now. You can let your guard down.”