The Evolution Of Wristwatch Sizes

The Evolution Of Wristwatch Sizes

The Evolution Of Wristwatch Sizes   watch style

In the beginning the watch gods created the wristwatch, and it was good.

Up until the early 1900s, pocket watches ruled the day for men’s timekeeping fashion. These were worn on a chain in a pocket, either in a vest or trousers. It was considered “sissy” for men to wear watches on their wrists. However, in 1904 Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos Dumont collaborated with his friend Louis Cartier, the famous French watchmaker, to design and create a timepiece for the wrist that could be easily read while flying. Something that wasn’t so clunky and awkward as a pocket watch which Dumont hated to keep having to pull out of his pocket in flight. Thus the Cartier “Santos” was born, and the official birth of a new era in timepiece design: the wristwatch.

The Evolution Of Wristwatch Sizes   watch style

The wristwatch really caught on during WWI (circa 1917) where the soldiers had the same needs as Dumont… a convenient timekeeping apparatus that didn’t need to be pulled out of a pocket during stressful action times. Finally, it became not only convenient, but more importantly, fashionable, for men to wear something on their wrists. Thus the Golden Age of the wristwatch began. And it was good.

The Evolution Of Wristwatch Sizes   watch style

Things moved forward rather predictably in wristwatch design…. since the mechanical movements were mostly round miniature pocket watch movements, this movement shape dictated the case design…”form follows function”: the mantra of the Art Deco era in the 1920’s. But, innovators like the Gruen watch company, and Bulova Watch Company, began to design and engineer rectangular shaped mechanical movements, thus opening up more design avenues for square and rectangular shaped watches. For the next 30 or 40 years the watch industry made their collective living off wristwatches in the round, square, and rectangular variations of this design theme. Interestingly, from a modern point of view, these watches seem “tiny”. The round shapes were around 28 to 32mm, and the rectangular and squares were in the 26 to 29mm average range. As you can see in the below picture, a Bulova rectangular shaped movement is dwarfed by the Panerai (44mm). The movement, which takes up most of the case, only measures 25mm x 17mm.

The Evolution Of Wristwatch Sizes   watch style

And when the movement is placed back in the watch (below), it still only measures 29mm x 20mm, and looks like a “coffee table” for the Panerai. Also pictured is the quintessential dress watch from the 1970’s and 1980’s, The Rolex 18kt gold Cellini, which measures a whopping 31.5mm diameter. This watch belongs to a friend of mine who got it as a graduation gift from college. When I put this on my wrist, I feel like I’m wearing a child’s toy watch! (more »)

25 comments
hobycook
hobycook

a "timely" article, great with tongue firmly implanted in cheek...

Ryan B
Ryan B

Nothing worse than seeing a grown man happily wearing a watch that is proportionally too small for his wrists.

SuperStrapper
SuperStrapper

If we start using starbucks terminology to describe watches, I'm finding a new place to read about watches. Good marketing with a mediocre-at-best product is what I dispise about watches, so I'm not about to adapt nomenclature that encourages this type of practice.

And, more on topic, watch sizes are so much more than the tale of the tape. I'm a mechanical watch guy, but even though I'm in my 30's, I am a professed G-Shock addict, and the on-paper dimensional descriptions for many of them are very deceiving. Most models boast dimensions north of 44mm, yet few of them wear that big because of how technical the cases and strap designs are. And, in the more classical world, 2 44mm 3-hand automatic watches won't wear the same depending on a variety of factors, mainly lug design. A 46mm lugless watch will likely wear smaller than a 42mm one with standardized lugs dimensions, for example.

Tekky
Tekky

I'm almost precisely the 1980 U.S. average male size.  (As of now, males are 1 inch taller and 20 pounds heavier.)  I have small wrists.  45mm is overwhelming for them.  and I have an actual job.  I usually wear dress shirts.  A 15mm tall 45mm watch simply won't fit under the cuffs.  

Hey, I get that y'all are compensating, but try to be less obvious about it, huh? ;)


Shawnnny
Shawnnny

I like the bigger watches. 45-47mm is perfect for me, and I have small wrists. There are a lot of watches that I really like, but I won't buy them if they are under 45mm. I have a couple 52s that I will wear once In a while. But, really they are to big for me.

bichondaddy
bichondaddy

I personally have watches from as far back as the 1920's in my collection, and although I am a "Oversized" individual I wear watches of all different sizes.  ( Oversized in my case...I am 6'6" and weigh in at about 350 lbs.  I am an ex-football player...US Football.)  When the larger sized watches became popular, I was very happy, as I always felt that the 32-38mm watches I grew up wearing looked...well..like a nickel strapped onto my nearly 9 inch wrist.  The only smaller watches I now have in my collection are my vintage watches, and the rest my collection consists of watches from 46-53mm in size.  And yes, at my size...I can wear a 53mm watch with no problem.  But then again, I know I am in the minority, as not too many guys have a 9 inch wrist.  Another reason I enjoy the larger watches is I am getting older, and my eyes are not quite what they use to be, and I am developing a cataract in my left eye...so large numerals are essential for me.  And no...I don't do smart phones...I leave all the techno gizmo's to my wife.    

Fraser Petrick
Fraser Petrick

I have a square Bulova from the 1970s or 80s. Simple, modest, beautiful...and tiny. I recently tried on a new Bulova Precisionist Chronograph. Lots of bling, lots of bulk, lots of hey-look-at-me. I'm sure it weighed at least five pounds. Loved it, but with my skinny arms I'd need to buy two, one for each wrist, so I wouldn't tip over. Walking with two of them on, however, would be a good upper-body/cardio work-out.

LUW
LUW

Interesting that everything from Japan, from the 80's to the 90's was ignored in the article. "And then nothing really happened until the mid 1980’s when something very unusual transpired. Cartier released a watch that was big. Not just big, 38mm big." Ok, so a small brand releases a "big" watch that maybe a few thousand (hundred?) people came to know. What about Casio that in 1983 released the DW-5000 at 41 mm wide that was known by millions of people and was another nail in the Swiss industry's coffin? If you want to know where the trend started, look there, not Europe.

Ulysses31
Ulysses31

Plenty of terminology in the horological world isn't meant to be taken literally and some of it is plain ridiculous but it has become accepted.  "Oversize" is just another example of that.  It has come to mean "larger than usual" or "larger than necessary" - in fact those are the dictionary definitions and both seem apt.  The blog featured a watch with a carousel on it some time ago, but I didn't ask why there were no tiny wooden horses on it.  I'll tell you what should perish though - the use of the ligne as unit of measurement.

To get back on topic, I prefer the current trend of larger watches though there's a risk they could become too damn big like certain smart-phones these days.  I think i'd draw the line at 48mm give or take a few, unless the watch could pull off the huge look with finesse.

adisoon
adisoon

I thought this article ended too quickly. Would have liked to have read more. Perhaps a part 2 Richard?

Lesthepom
Lesthepom

I have a small wrist at just 6 1/4" but I have watches from 38mm to 48mm and were them all I suppose as watches are more fashion accessories than tool these days if it feels good wear it in the past the watch you had was probably the only one you would ever have so it was more practical than fashionable

P Oktori
P Oktori

+1 on the size renaming. Great idea (and while you're reading this, please get me a skinny latte, with an oversized macadamia cookie...). Whatever Ariel says, an oversized cookie always fits my mouth perfectly. ;-)

Tekky
Tekky

@Ryan B So many things are worse than that.  Terminal diseases.  Death.  Invictas.

MarkCarson
MarkCarson

@Kris C Agree on the Starbucks size names. On the rare occasions when a co-worker drags me  into a Starbucks, I order' medium' or 'large', screw the foo foo size names.

bichondaddy
bichondaddy

@Tekky An actual Job????  Oh yeah...working....doctors said no more of that to me late in 2009.  Rare genetic disease keeps me from working now.  I worked in Retail Management...and I really miss it.  Unfortunately...it's just not possible anymore. I have a lot of friends that cannot wear the larger watches...which is fine...everyone should wear what fits their body type and their personality. 

MarkCarson
MarkCarson

@Tekky Since 1980 I have gotten about an inch shorter (broke both legs hang gliding in 1983) and sadly and more than 20 heavier. I'm lucky that my actual job is in Hawaii so short  sleeves for me. Plus, and this sounds bad as I make watches, I take my watch off when I'm at my desk coding away on software. I feel naked walking around without a watch but also burdened when typing with one on.

I find Lesthmpom's comment interesting also. These days one wears a watch for reasons beyond just knowing the time. How loud of a statement you want to make (or not make) depending on the situation is probably why most of us have more than one watch. All context and environment when deciding what to strap on for the day.

bichondaddy
bichondaddy

@Fraser Petrick I have a 50mm watch that is made of Tungsten...including the bracelet....and it weighs in at slightly over a pound!  It is the heaviest watch I own...and when I wear my Bulova Precisionist....it feels like I am not even wearing a watch!!  I do not however, wear the Tungsten watch to bed...as my wife fears I will accidently hit her on the head with it and knock her out!!  LOL 

MarkCarson
MarkCarson

@Tekky @Ryan B Especially a grossly too large Invicta (I'm blind, I'm blind...). A fate worse than death - blindness where the last image burned onto your brian was an Invicta. A great big Invicta.

bichondaddy
bichondaddy

@MarkCarson @Tekky @Ryan B I happen to have a few Invicta's that are quite nice, a couple of their Grand Divers, that are between 45-47mm's that I wear with my blue sport coat...as they are two tone, gold tone and blue.  Even some brand name sport watches, like Diesel, have gone a little over the top on their sizing...as I saw an ad for a new Diesel watch that is 73mm!! But I draw the line at about 53mm's....larger than that is a bit over the top even for a guy my size.

Shawnnny
Shawnnny

Right on! The wife is a keeper!!

bichondaddy
bichondaddy

@MarkCarson   Yes it is....Wing makes some pretty big watch out of Tungsten too!  Croton also makes some....but more along the 43-45mm size...but they are still pretty heavy!

bichondaddy
bichondaddy

@Shawnnny  Android Antigravity Tourbillon....a gift from my wife.  That's how she knew it was so darn heavy!!  It's one heavy watch!!!

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