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Size matters

Our watch editor ponders the politics of watch case dimensions.

Over the years, many men I’ve met have ruefully acknowledged their small size. They were, of course, speaking about their wrists. I’ve lost track of the number of times collectors – mostly male – have mentioned their apparently slender wrists while explaining their preferences for timepieces smaller than, say, 40mm.

If so many people feel the need to justify the size of their watches and their wrists, maybe the truth is that many timepieces have become too large for the average wearer. Brands seem to be wising up to this fact as more are offering new, smaller models or shrinking famously large timepieces.

Once known for its military-influenced watches favoured by the beefy likes of Sylvester Stallone, Panerai has introduced slimmer watches with a 38mm diameter, and IWC has dropped the size of its 46mm Big Pilot’s Watch to a still imposing but more manageable 43mm.

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It’s tempting to chalk it up to the Asian effect. A Bloomberg article from last year pronounced: “Smaller watches show China’s hold on the luxury industry.” While sharing A. Lange & Sohne novelties during a video conference in March, CEO Wilhelm Schmid reminded me that the 36.8mm Little Lange 1 model was launched in 1998 for Japanese men “because 38.5mm, the dimension of the classical Lange 1, was in those days deemed too big for the Japanese market”.

He also emphasised that the new Little Lange 1 Moon Phase, which is not only smaller, but also has a deep blue, shimmery dial accented with star-shaped markers – was not designed with a particular gender in mind. “Quite a few journalists, men as well as ladies, have said that that’s the one they want to see in real life. I always say that we do not build men’s or women’s watches. We produce A. Lange & Sohne watches.”

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This reminds me of something I’ve noticed in online discussions. When it comes to watch sizes, comments can take on a blatantly sexist, sneery tone. In horology, toxic masculinity is demonstrated by @alphawatchmale01 – I made this up, by the way – dismissing a smaller timepiece as a watch “for boys” or for women (which, to such commenters, is clearly a bad thing). A collector with a taste for large luxury sport watches once told me he found it difficult to like a certain timepiece because of its small dimensions. “I find it a bit sissy.”

Interestingly, the pendulum has swung the other way in recent years. It could be because of the rise of the Chinese market, the increase in female collectors, and/or the resurgence of vintage watches, which tend to be small. Increasingly, male watch enthusiasts are proudly proclaiming their preference for petite timepieces that even I – an average-height string bean with a 13.3-cm wrist – sometimes find a tad puny.

A good guy friend who is twice my size has a 34mm dress watch in his collection that I find more suitable for myself. Another male friend recently jokingly accused me of being sizeist when I pooh-poohed a 31mm model for looking like a toy. I never thought I’d see the day when guys equate smaller sizes with bigger bragging rights. I guess this is progress.

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