For several years now, the watch industry has been trending towards introducing smaller watches. For example, Tudor recently with the 37mm version of the Black Bay; Rolex has brought back the Explorer with its historic diameter of exactly 36mm; Omega now offers the Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M – known for its 37.5mm size…But what is behind this revival? Are smaller watches really popular again, or are watch manufacturers out of ideas when it comes to recycling old designs? Let’s take a closer look.

What qualifies as small?

First, we should clearly define what we mean when we talk about “small” watches, specifically men’s and unisex wristwatches with a diameter of 34 to 39 mm.

Historical perspective

Since men’s wristwatches began their long and historic development at the beginning of the 20th century, what is considered fashionable in terms of size has changed many times. Initially, to fit comfortably under a shirt cuff, smaller, flatter movements were needed to allow the watch to be built around. In other words, the diameter of a watch is determined primarily by the size of its movement. Since watch movements typically measure between 27 and 30mm, the watch should be about 32 to 36mm in diameter. For wristwatches, this size ratio remained more or less unchanged until around the 1980s.

However, the dimensions seem to be a bit different when it comes to tool watches. Pilot’s watches in particular increased in size significantly in the 1940s. With diameters of 50m or more, these watches were huge, even by today’s standards. The reason for this is simple: early pilot’s watches were often powered by pocket watch movements, which were more powerful and reliable than the smaller movements used used in wristwatches at that time. The large size also improves the readability of the watch.

It was also important that the diving watches that appeared in the 1950s were perfectly readable underwater. To ensure the necessary level of water resistance, the case structure of these watches also needs to be much more complex. Therefore, diving watches always have a diameter of 38 to 42 mm. However, this did not reduce sales; Non-divers quickly fell in love with these watches, and waterproof tool watches quickly became popular everyday wear accessories.

In the 1970s, luxury sports watches were also unusually large for their time. For example, Audemars Piguet’s original Royal Oak was 38.8 mm across, giving it the nickname “Jumbo”.

The 1990s and early 2000s were dominated by XXL watches, with brands like Panerai, Hublot and Breitling flooding the market with watches over 45mm in diameter. Since then, the trend has reversed and the watches have shrunk again.

Is the trend of small watches really popular again?

One thing must be recognized: People buy what they like. Yes, the watch should fit the wrist, but the lug-to-lug measurement is often much more decisive than the diameter.

But if the size of a watch doesn’t really matter, why do we still see so many manufacturers releasing smaller models? The answer is simple: The industry is finally realizing that women represent an important segment of the market and that women’s watches don’t need to be flashy quartz-powered accessories. Furthermore, Asia, where populations tend to be smaller (and more slender) than Europe or North America, is becoming an increasingly important market.

Manufacturers have expanded the range of sizes in their respective lines, which is great for watch enthusiasts. If watch diameters were no longer dictated by fashion, we could choose the size we wanted, when we wanted it.

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