When I really got into watches, back around 2009, it was all about size. This was when Panerai was exploding in popularity and their 44mm Luminor models dwarfed many other luxury watches. Many guys were equating size with price, prestige and coolness. I was definitely one of those guys. For me, in the beginning, it was about the show- it was about impressing other people. I wanted huge timepieces so that, when I walked into a room, everybody would notice my watch. I wanted my watch to create shock and awe which would let everyone know I was the boss. I certainly achieved this effect with various Panerai — especially my 359. And I got watches as large as 47mm and even 50mm!
Not long ago, I was looking to buy a 48mm Breitling Super Avenger II on a polished steel bracelet. My dealer said to me, “They will see you coming down the street with this.” And I replied enthusiastically, “That’s what I want! I want them to see me coming down the street!” I wasn’t kidding. The appeal of that gorgeous beast was its shock and awe effect on innocent bystanders.
So what happened? If you have been following my blog, you have seen me buying, wearing, trying and reviewing watches in the 38mm to 40mm range. Part of the fun of blogging for WatchPaper is observing myself. My tastes are evolving and the pieces I crave are changing. Perhaps this is because I am pushing 40. Perhaps this is just a sign of the times. Or perhaps it is the normal evolution of a watch collector.
Do you remember when Rolex launched the Datejust II back in 2009? I only discovered it in 2012 and I eventually bought one. The DJ2 is 41mm, which seemed way to small for me. But it always looked and felt perfect to me. This was the piece that made me question whether size mattered at all. The DJ2 is very impressive on the wrist despite its modest size. This is because of the supreme quality of the piece, its high-end materials, and its superb proportions. We’ll get back to the idea of proportions later.
Last year, I started to get into dressy watches. This might have been because I didn’t have any really dressy watches and you always want what you don’t have, right? I started to crave a really classy, simple, well-made dressy timepiece. I wanted to have a piece for weddings, galas, suits and old-school flavor. As you know, most watches in this category are 40mm or less. And then I found it — the Montblanc Heritage Chronométrie Ultra Slim. Click here for a full review on this piece. This piece was it — the only “problem” was its 38mm case which would look stupid on my huge wrist… or so I thought. It looked fantastic when I tried it on! My ideas about size and timepieces suddenly took a 180-degree turn. If a 38mm watch could be perfect on me, how many other amazing pieces had I overlooked due to my obsession with oversized cases?
As well as the Montblanc, I acquired a few other sub-41mm timepieces. After wearing these watches, I began to appreciate the virtues of traditional men’s watch sizes. Rather than create shock and awe when you enter a room, smaller watches often go totally unnoticed. And I started to enjoy this. Here, you have an expensive timepiece on your wrist, but you are not advertising it. The watch fits under your shirt, blends in with your suit and provides discreet mechanical timekeeping without screaming for attention. This started to feel more mature and sophisticated. The only guy who will notice your 40mm dress piece is a watch lover — regular people won’t notice it and won’t know if it cost $1,000 or $25,000. I really dig this concept. YOU are the only person who can really appreciate the quality and heritage behind your 39mm piece — except for fellow watch nuts who will engage you in conversation. This started to feel more like what I wanted. Also, when you are going into meetings with new people, you don’t always want to dazzle them with the bling of an enormous wristwatch. You might want to be more low-key and wear a GOOD timepiece that doesn’t make a big fuss.
After a few years of buying watches on forums, I noticed how size is a big issue. But while you have guys specifically searching for watches OVER 41mm or 42mm, there are very serious collectors who will NOT want anything over 40mm or 41mm. Only recently have I begun to understand why. These guys might have smaller wrists, but they might just be into the virtues I described above. And there is the comfort factor. A 39mm watch will probably fit more easily under shirt cuffs and sit more comfortably on the wrist then a 47mm diver… probably.
I still like oversized watches despite my new appreciation for smaller pieces. I recently reviewed a 47mm Bulova diver, which I enjoyed and my 45mm Heuer is sensational. But I do not always want to wear these pieces to the office. I think the key is to have balance in your collection — you can have both. But there is another lesson here. Yes, let’s get back to the idea of proportions.
I have explained to you that a 38mm ultra slim watch looks great on me. But a 44mm Luminor also looks fine on me — it definitely does not look TOO big. Certain larger pieces look totally appropriate on me, although my 50mm U-Boat was just too big for anyone! While I now appreciate the features of smaller watches, I also realize that larger watches can still look appropriate with more formal clothes if they are designed well. It all depends on style and proportions. As my Bulova review mentioned, there are always occasions where you really want a huge watch — beach parties, Grand Prix weekends, hockey games and gangster activities. But in my daily business life, I definitely now favor the more subtle and discreet examples of mechanical timekeeping.
I find it very interesting to observe my own evolution as a watch collector. Perhaps I am now learning what so many of you already knew — size alone means nothing. A timepiece can be special for its design, quality, style and features regardless of its case diameter. Understanding this concept opens up a whole new world of possibilities for me. As always, the fun is in the search.