Ben Affleck’s miniscule 25mm Franck Muller Cintrée Curvex watch—a gift from his on-again, off-again, on-again partner and now wife, Jennifer Lopez—has served as a symbol of everything from rekindled romance to the limits of aftermarket customization. (Word has it that one of them put it on a Chrome Hearts bracelet at some point after acquiring it in 2002.) But now that he’s been spotted wearing out and about again, most recently during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, it’s also become an interesting bellwether for one of the biggest trends in the horological world.
Yes, small watches are big news. Over the last couple of years, more diminutively sized pieces that hark back to the dimensions popular from the 1920s to the ’60s (roughly 32mm to 36mm), have been gaining in popularity. Clearly, the surge in interest in vintage watches has propelled this movement, and watch brands have begun to take note. And as an increasing number of women wear what are traditionally marketed as men’s watches, the move toward a more unisex size makes commercial sense. So it’s no surprise that at Watches and Wonders—the annual confab of Swiss timepiece makers, press, influencers, and retailers in Geneva, Switzerland—there was increasing proof that good things really can come in small packages. Many of the standout pieces had cases a good deal smaller than the 42mm watermark that has been dominant for years.
To wit: Chopard debuted the 36.5mm L.U.C 1860, an elegant stainless-steel homage to the dress watches of yesteryear, with a guilloche salmon dial. The much sportier TAG Heuer is reissuing its Carrera Date model from the 1960s in a 36mm size—with a few bright, candy-colored dials to boot—while the world’s oldest running watch manufacture, Vacheron Constantin, has created a 35mm version of its Overseas model. Tudor showcased its Black Bay 54 diver’s watch in a 37mm case, while there were many other pieces revealed elsewhere at the fair that looked great in sizes 40mm or below.
But at least one watch-world insider still doesn’t think enough is being done to address just how many oversized models are available today.
“I’m not necessarily advocating that all watches need to be small,” says Mark Cho, a seasoned collector and co-founder of the menswear retailer The Armoury. But, he adds, “there needs to be some diversity in the sizes of watches, so that if you’re not a big guy, you have a watch that actually suits you. And I think, generally, that is very lacking in the marketplace right now.”
Cho, who published the results of his Ideal Watch Size Survey in 2019, recently released the data of his latest poll, which found that many of us believe our wrists are smaller than they actually are.
“Forty percent of people said they had small wrists, 40 percent said that they had average wrists, and only 20 percent thought they had large wrists,” Cho says, noting that when respondents actually measured their wrist-size, the bell curve looked a lot more normal. “People are mistakenly assuming that they have small wrists. My theory has always been, ‘Well, it’s because the marketplace has so many large watches, it makes everyone feel like they’re small.’”
Beyond physical suitability, it’s also obviously a matter of personal taste. And in a world where every third guy has a recently purchased 41mm stainless steel dive watch, smaller and dressier models can make an even bigger statement.
“I think it’s an individual thing,” said Ben Dunn, a London-based dealer of neo-vintage watches, who was wearing a 36mm Vacheron Constantin skeletonized perpetual calendar with diamond-set bezel, Ref. 43532, from the 1990s. “Do you want to walk into a bar and [see that] everyone’s got your watch on? I don’t. And so for me, those smaller pieces tend to be the rarer pieces from the past, which I really enjoy.”
And just like Affleck’s watch, everything old may soon be new again—at least according to Cho’s survey respondents.
“I also added a question over the last two years: Have your tastes changed slightly or greatly in terms of larger [case sizes] or slightly or greatly in terms of smaller [case sizes]?” he says “Everybody was on the smaller side. There’s barely anything on the large side.”