Smaller Watches Are Back with a Vengeance

Smaller Watches Are Back with a Vengeance

| 12.28.23

Finally, the winds seem to be shifting. 

From the mid-’90s through, well, just a few years ago, watch companies were producing absurdly large timepieces — ones whose diameter and depth positively consumed the puny wrists of the average, non-Schwarzenegger-sized watch buyer. (Which includes us, for the record!) On a bigger guy, these watches make perfect sense, but for the rest of us? We tend to prefer more moderate fare. 

These pie-pan pieces overhung our wrist bones, causing immense discomfort. They stopped cuffs dead in their tracks from elegantly abutting our hands. They burrowed deep fissures into concrete when accidentally dropped on the ground. However, enough watch journalists complained about it over the past decade that the horological gods seemed to hear us. Finally, the trend is reversing, and companies are building smaller watches.

And not just dress watches — we’re talking smaller dive watches, smaller chronographs, smaller perpetual calendars. Things are shrinking down to more manageable proportions, to a sweet spot somewhere between 34-39mm where both men and women can enjoy them — and still see them — without discomfort. In celebration, we’re rounding up some of our favorite smaller watches, both pre-owned and vintage, for your perusing pleasure. 

Remember: A good watch should be framed by your wrist — it shouldn’t consume it. If you have the wrist size (or simply the preference) for a larger watch, then by all means wear it! But keep in mind that between the 1920s and the 1980s, men’s watches were (mostly) well under 40mm wide, and they looked great. So wear what you like — and be confident in your choice! — but don’t be scared off by 32mm or 35mm timepieces. 

Not until you’ve tried ‘em on, at least. 

TAG Heuer Carrera GMT ~ ($2,200) 

Tag Heuer Carrera GMT - IN THE SHOP

Finding a GMT-equipped watch that’s both stylish and affordable can be a difficult endeavor. Thankfully, this 1990s-era TAG Heuer Carrera fits the bill: Housed in a 35mm stainless steel case reminiscent of those of midcentury Heuers, it features a luminous, glossy black dial with a highly legible 24-hour GMT scale on its periphery. Honestly, what more could you ask for? 

Omega Seamaster 300 Professional Midsize Quartz ~ ($2,700) 

Omega Seamaster 300 Professional Midsize Quartz - IN THE SHOP

This Bond-era Omega Seamaster is proof positive that a smaller — gasp! — quartz-powered diver can be just the ticket on the right wrist. With its blue ‘wave’ dial and patinated tritium lume, it blends the best in vintage styling cues with a bulletproof modern movement, and even a helium escape valve. (Plus, it comes paired to a most excellent bracelet.) 

Tudor Black Bay 58 Blue ~ ($3,190) 

Tudor Black Bay 58 Blue - IN THE SHOP

No company has perfected the vintage-inspired tool watch quite like Tudor. The Black Bay 58 takes everything we love about older Submariners and adds a modern, chronometer-certified movement; the brand’s iconic ‘snowflake’ handset; and an awesome ‘rivet’ bracelet. And at 39mm, anyone can comfortably wear one. 

IWC 'WWW' ~ ($4,500) 


Dating to the last months of the Second World War, the “Dirty Dozen” watches are some of the most covetable in all of military timepiece collecting. This example from IWC is beautifully sized at 35mm in stainless steel, and still retains its caseback engraving and handsome, utilitarian looks. Produced in less than 6,000 examples, it’s also relatively rare. 

Vacheron Constantin 'Calatrava' Steel Dress Watch ~ ($6,200) 

Vacheronm Comstantin 'Calatrava' Steel Dress Watch - IN THE SHOP

A stainless steel dress watch with an in-house, automatic movement from one of the horological ‘Holy Trinity’ for under $10K? That’s right! This Reference 7592 features a gorgeous, simple dial with applied indices and a thin ‘pencil’ handset, plus a screw-down caseback that protects the K1120 movement ticking away within. Wear it with a tux, wear it every day — just wear it!

Universal Genève Polerouter Date 'Tropical' ~ ($7,200) 

Universal Genève Polerouter Date 'Tropical' - IN THE SHOP

Speaking of “wear it every day” — feast your eyes on an incredible example of perhaps the best ‘everyday’ watch ever made. This Polerouter Date Ref. 204503/2 has gone completely ‘tropical’ brown — which is why we paired it to a handsome, brown leather Montone strap. Powered by a Calibre 215-1 automatic micro-rotor movement, it’s a gem of midcentury design.

Ochs und Junior Anno-Annual Calendar ~ ($7,900) 

Ochs und Junior Anno-Annual Calendar - IN THE SHOP

This clever annual calendar from the mad geniuses at ochs und junior utilizes a slightly modified ETA 2824-2 to provide day, date, and month information in the form of small cutouts on the dial. Measuring 39mm in titanium, it’s eye-catching yet simultaneously subdued — the perfect piece for a collector who wants something left-of-center that nevertheless flies under the radar. 

Vacheron Constantin Ultra Thin Cushion Case Integrated Bracelet ~ ($11,500) 

Vacheron Constantin Ultra Thin Cushion Case Integrated Bracelet - IN THE SHOP

This automatic, cushion-cased dress piece couldn’t possibly pack more ‘70s cool: Measuring 34mm in yellow gold, it features a handsome brushed champagne dial and comes paired to a matching, yellow gold ‘brick’ bracelet. Plus, it’s got Vacheron's Calibre K1121 automatic-winding movement within, making for a worry-free wearing experience. 

Piaget Altiplano Ultra Thin Platinum ~ ($11,900) 

Piaget Altiplano Ultra Thin Platinum - IN THE SHOP

Looking at this gorgeous, 34mm, salmon-dialed Altiplano, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it dates from the 1960s. In actuality, it’s a modern piece from the 2000s — housed in platinum and powered by an ultra-thin automatic movement visible within a sapphire caseback, it’s the type of watch that should have its own line item in any prenup.  

Patek Philippe Annual Calendar Moonphase ~ ($44,000)

Patek Philippe Annual Calendar Moonphase - IN THE SHOP

For decades, Patek Philippe has constructed magnificently complicated watches in relatively small cases. This Reference 5396G is, at 38.5mm, the perfect size for an annual calendar — cased in white gold, it’s satin silver dial, poetic moonphase display, and beautifully decorated Caliber 324 S QA LU 24H set it apart from other watches with similar functionality.