Last month at the Watches and Wonders, the annual luxury watch fair in Geneva, a new trend emerged. More than a dozen brands welcomed new product lines in small sizes or reduced versions of existing popular wristwatch models. The new watches were below 40mm—even for brands that traditionally opted for huge timepieces.
In 2017 when auction house Phillips in Association With Bacs & Russo sold Paul Newman’s 1964-made Rolex Daytona ref. 6239 for a record $17.7 million, a vintage obsession started that’s yet to subside. The Rolex Daytona timepiece was 37mm, making smaller watches cool again, as reported by Bloomberg.
With smaller watches becoming mainstream, it’s no surprise that many vintage revivals were introduced at Watches and Wonders, in diameters ranging from 32mm to 40mm. For instance, TAG Heuer’s Glass Box Carrera Chronograph is now 39mm. Inspired stylistically by the original Carreras from the 1960s, it ranged from 36mm at the beginning to 40mm for more recent models.
Tudor unveiled a Black Bay 54 diver’s watch with elements from the 1954 original, including its 37mm size. Chopard’s 36.5mm L.U.C 1860 is modelled after an original 1997 timepiece. The 1980s cult favourite Cartier Pasha was introduced in a 35mm version this year, as reported by Bloomberg.
This year, IWC honoured its Ingenieur line and reissued the timepiece created by design maestro Gerald Genta in 1976, in its original 40mm size. This watch was considered so huge at the time that it was nicknamed the Jumbo.
At the fair, Piaget introduced a 36mm “unisex” version of its Polo Date, scaled down from the standard 42mm. It was meant to “encapsulate today’s mood,” according to a press release. Furthermore, even pilot’s watches, which are generally big, are reducing in size. Zenith also introduced one in 40mm this year.
New watch models are scaling down. Hublot Big Bang’s flagship collection which helped start the big-watch trend in the 1990s topped out at 45mm, as reported by Bloomberg. This year a new version of the Spirit of Big Bang premiered in 32mm and surprise, it’s not tagged as a ladies’ piece.
For some brands, reducing the size to 40mm means more than coming down from 41mm or 42mm. For instance, Panerai’s average size is 45mm, and it often makes 47mm watches.
“We are the world leader in big watches, but the Radiomir Quaranta is a new classic for Panerai, one that both women and men can wear,” Chief Executive Officer Jean-Marc Pontroué told Bloomberg. “Last year we launched the Luminor Quaranta [40mm], and it was a great success. We found that 60% of buyers were men, and 40% ladies, which we were not expecting.”
The shift to smaller sizes is partly because of a new wave of collectors, says Danny Govberg, chairman of preowned-watch giant WatchBox, “It isn’t just a love of vintage,” he tells Bloomberg. “It’s driven by the next generation of buyers. People like my son want a watch that’s more wearable than what my generation is used to.”
Some brands have abandoned the age-old tradition of categorising watches as either men’s or women’s and are moving ahead with a new sense of gender neutrality. Searches can instead be according to size, materials and style.
Men are wearing what used to be defined as ladies’ watches WatchBox CEO Justin Reis told Bloomberg, a difference that was often limited to size. “They want something more elegant, more refined,” Reis says. “Which doesn’t mean they want something lightweight in terms of substance. They still want complications, they just want them to be smaller.”
Talking about the preference for smaller watches, Parmigiani Fleurier CEO Guido Terreni told Bloomberg, “I don't think a big statement in boldness is considered very refined anymore.”