It’s no secret that smaller watches are coming back into vogue with a vengeance. Watch enthusiasts have been discussing it on forums, brands have been quick to release smaller sizes, and the watch media — myself especially at aBlogtoWatch — have been nearly screaming it from the rooftops with joy. It’s the most noticeable change in the greater watch market that genuinely affects all price points. Compared to the wild advancements in materials sciences or mind-bogglingly complicated and accurate complications, a size trend is anything but novel, and yet it’s causing plenty of buzz. Curiously, it seems some watch lovers are panicked and enraged.
There are two ends of the spectrum that are most affected by this shift in size. The first are those with smaller wrists who are seeing a steady increase in models that seem to be made for them. The second is the large-wristed, who are the most averse to this trend. There is the perception that as watches continue to be released in smaller sizes there will not be anything wearable for the large-wristed, and therefore not made for them. This isn’t entirely true, and there are a few significant factors we should consider.
First and foremost, there is a greater variety in the type of luxury watches produced than in recent years, with no significant decrease in demand in sight. Watch brands are investing heavily in increasing production volumes and in technologies to improve products. The demand for luxury watches outperformed almost every other market even through a global pandemic and the associated economic uncertainty. If there was any question about the staying power of luxury watch buyers, it has been answered over and over again. If brands fail to produce watches for the large wristed, they will alienate a substantial market segment and miss out on millions of dollars in potential sales. No matter how popular the trend is, luxury watch brands are going to make products people want to buy because at the end of the day, watch brands want to make money.
Second, we need to take a look at industry leaders, specifically Rolex. While Rolex exports the largest volume of Swiss Made watches each year, it is also at the head of the trend train whether we want to admit it or not. While Rolex leads this train it is rarely the first to do anything novel, but once Rolex does something everyone follows. It is surprising to see a large portion of the industry commit to a downturn in watch sizes without Rolex leading the pack. Rolex has actually been increasing watch sizes (sometimes more than anyone asked for) continuously across its most popular lines. However, the Crown has done something else quietly that leads to my next point — eliminating gender from their product descriptions. If you go to Rolex’s website you will not find men’s or women’s products listed as the first delineations in the product lines. In fact, you will need to choose a page to that will offer the watches in different categories to see them offered this way. Most of the time the watches aren’t even described as large, medium, or small, only the diameter is listed. This type of marketing isn’t anything new and is extremely effective with men. Any size or suggestion that could be demeaning or ego-deprecating generally will result in men making a choice that is incorrect for them simply due to our perception of how the defining factor may be seen by others. By not describing a watch as feminine more men may purchase watches that would traditionally be marketed toward women simply because it looks and feels correct for them without any superfluous terms affecting the choice. The opposite may occur for women, but women’s watches and women’s watch buying habits are a different topic. Cait Bazemore dove deep into women’s watches over on Gear Patrol and I highly recommend you read it for a thorough, enjoyable, and enlightening discussion.
Lastly, we need to discuss personal opinions, perceptions, and how watches of all sizes make us feel. Each and every one of us has a distinct opinion about watches. Over time your views may change, and what you like may evolve, but what you like may very much differ from what you are comfortable wearing. Comfort comes in physical and emotional forms. I, personally, draw the line with physical comfort. If a watch is physically uncomfortable — whether it be too large, too heavy, has sharp corners, a hotspot, or a stiff strap — it’s a hard stop for me. That’s just who I am. Emotionally, I am more flexible with what I am comfortable wearing. While I prefer to stay above a 30mm case size, in part for legibility, I wouldn’t shy away from the new Cartier Baignoire or the occasional Bulgari Serpenti (seen below on my wrist). The big problem I see in the comments is that watches are being written off based purely on the case size. These blanket write-offs very rarely include rude and insulting commentary when watches are large, but as soon as watches become too small the commentary takes a turn.
Association of small sizes with femininity is the go-to internet watch guy insult flooding comments sections with every new downsized release or watch review. The anonymity available on the internet doesn’t help prevent this either. If we look back just 50 years these sizes (36mm-38mm) were considered “jumbo” with the smaller sizes being worn formally and into battle for decades before that. This aggressively negative association that a small watch is anything but masculine isn’t an insult to the wearer, but evidence of personal insecurity. We have some of our own team at aBlogtoWatch with large wrists who confidently wear and appreciate smaller watches. I am not here to say you need to wear a small watch. I would never tell anyone which watch to wear because that is a personal decision. But I am here to say that a small watch’s existence does not affect you unless you let it affect you in an emotional capacity and remind everyone that every single watch is not made specifically for them. Let’s stop the rude commentary toward those who — for the first time in over a decade — don’t need to (politely) request smaller sizes in the comments.
Watches like all things, have trends, and every trend repeats itself. We aren’t even waist-deep into the small watch resurgence yet and the amount of pushback there is already has been substantial. If the response continues, odds are it won’t last nearly as long as the preceding trend. We are coming off a 20 year run of large watches dominating the industry, and brands aren’t going to forget the billions of dollars they made selling them. In the meantime, enjoy a change in the day-to-day releases that doesn’t add a comma to the price tag, and remember that watches are meant to be fun. While you’re having fun, give something small, large, or weird a chance on your wrist and you might just find yourself enjoying it and rethinking how you collect watches. As always, I’ll be here in the comments, so let me know what you think.