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The Life of a Collector What’s the Big Deal with Big Watches?

Watches in Different Sizes

How many times have you walked into a watch store, tried on a watch that you thought you’d love just find out it’s much too large to own? Over the years, how many Baselworld or SIHH press releases have left you disappointed after reading that the beautiful new watch in question was a couple millimeters beyond your comfort zone? If you’re not wearing the big watches, then who is?

There is no question that in today’s market, the larger watches are norm, not the exception. Large watches aren’t really a new trend, either. The turn of the century ushered in brash new styles, pushing demand for larger watches further than it had ever been before. Brands such as Audemars Piguet, Hublot and Panerai moved the marketplace beyond that largely subjective and imaginary line that defined what a “big watch” was and what it was no longer.  There is nothing wrong with wearing big watches or smaller watches, this is to build your knowledge on the trend.

So what exactly is the big deal?

First, we have to actually define what a big watch is. This is quasi-subjective problem. I tend to think sports watches (or any other non-dress watch) that measures beyond 44 millimeters are large while dress watches larger than 40 millimeters fall in this category. Therefore, I define a 42 millimeter watch as dead average. Your definition might be — and probably is — different, which is totally fine. Let’s also not forget about case thickness; not all modular chronographs and ultra-thin movements are cased the same way. Also, I’m strictly defining men’s watches right now. I’d argue the boldest and most dramatic shift in watch sizes came to the women’s watch market in the last five years. It was like one day the market was a 26 millimeter Rolex Datejust and the next day it was a 40 millimeter Chanel J12.

Group Of Big Watch Sizes

Shift in Watch Size

Why the gradual shift away from the traditionally smaller cases towards these oversized cases — nearly across the entire industry — during the past decade-and-a-half? One, consumers demanded it, and two, the watch companies (some rather reluctantly) seemed to embrace the afforded advantages of producing larger, more user-friendly movements inside the massive cases. But make no mistake about it, while the larger cases tend to have their manufacturing and constructional advantages, they are still very trendy.

Rolex, for example, has negotiated this interplay of brand heritage and market demands brilliantly. Over the past few years Rolex has continued to produce their bread-and-butter models such as the 36mm Datejust and the 40mm Submariner, among others, while simultaneously creating larger watches to adapt with the change in the market with the Yacht-master II, the Explorer II (reference 216570), and the Datejust II.

By running these models concurrently with each other, Rolex continues to draw consumers on its traditionally historic line of classic, moderately sized sports and dress watches, at the same time it’s able to leverage the larger models against other brands, not itself. Very few companies can do this. In fact, Rolex might be the only company that can operate in a way so that the new, larger models in the collection are actually capturing market share and not really cannibalizing their own sales.

small and big watch 2.0

With Watch Collectors

The argument of watch size has been long standing between collectors preferring larger watches and those preferring smaller watches.  Both groups continue to go back and forth about which is better, and each group is right; size comes down to personal preferences and style.

 Showing It Off

Over the past few decades, as watch sizes were growing, it also allowed watch brands to up the size of the movement and complexity of the design.  The 1990s and the later end of the quartz revolution, brought about watches being more of a designer product versus using for the time.  The emphasis here was put on the size of the watch so people would be able to readily see it rather than you just being able to see it to tell the time.  The large cases were also a chance for the wearer to show off the decorative designs found in the dial and the case.

Not Going Back

Large WatchesThe old saying “Once you go big, you don’t go back,” has also been used in relation to wearing larger watches.  People who wear large watches are often heard saying when they do wear a smaller watch, it feels too light and looks too small.  The same can then be said for those who wear smaller watches, large watches feel too heavy and are too big on the wrist.  Again, it all goes back to personal preference.  Some occasions, like sports events, lend themselves perfectly to wearing a larger watch while a smaller watch may be appropriate for more formal occasions in a suit.  At the same time, not all sports watches are large and not all dress watches are small. What really matters though is how you feel when you put it on ans the overall fit of the watch on your wrist.  You’ll want to make sure the lugs don’t hang over the sides of your wrist, they should go right to the edge.

About Jon Callahan
Father, husband and watch enthusiast. After getting his start as a stock boy in a jewelry store and watching them expand to carry Swiss watch brands including: Ulysse Nardin, Oris and Roger Dubuis, he was hooked. His first watch is an Oris XXL Chronograph which he still owns. He has also owned a Graham Chronofighter Oversized, a Panerai PAM 251 Daylight and an Oris Pro Driver. His ultimate grail watch is the ultra rare Kari Voutilainen Monopoussoir Chronograph. Find Jon at the Philadelphia location of Govberg Jewelers.

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