Do Smaller Watches Have Staying Power?

Dialing down the dimensions: Gender-fluid and enticingly retro, slimmer timepieces are a big hit with today’s collectors.

July 30, 2023  |  Joshua Hendren
Watches Small Timepieces July August Magazine USED 073023 1280

Supersized styles might be having a moment in the jewelry world, but when it comes to horlogerie, smaller dimensions are what collectors currently covet. Over the last few years, the resurgent interest in vintage watches has fed a growing hype around timepieces spanning 32 to 36 millimeters, which hark back to the popular sizes of the 1920s to 1960s.

It’s not just vintage models enticing collectors, either, says Mark Toulson, head of buying at UK-based retailer Watches of Switzerland. Existing icons, newly unveiled in downsized proportions, are also hitting a horological sweet spot.

“Over the last couple of years at Watches & Wonders, and particularly this year’s [edition of the] fair, we’ve seen a greater number of smaller-size watches,” he reports, referencing models like Chopard’s Happy Sport, which arrived in a 25-millimeter version, and the Tudor Black Bay 54, which the Swiss watchmaker faithfully reproduced in a slimmed-down 37 millimeters.

Chopard Happy Sport watch in 18-karat rose gold and stainless steel with diamonds. (Chopard)

Even Panerai, the Florentine brand best known for its chunky, purpose-built designs, has been producing scaled-down models. “They debuted a smaller Luminor and brought the Radiomir, which is normally 45 millimeters, down to a 40-millimeter size,” says Toulson.

He connects the size shift to “a growing trend of gender-neutral watches. Both men and women feel comfortable wearing a 40-millimeter size. It’s not over the top. It’s not ostentatious. It’s a Goldilocks size: It’s just right.”

Petite and pre-owned

On the secondhand market, “there is always a cycle with fashion, and people are going back to the 1920s and early-1950s aesthetic and loving the small watch again,” says Eric Wind, founder of luxury pre owned-watch dealer Wind Vintage. “Part of this trend is driven by Asian and particularly Japanese collectors, where small watches have remained popular for decades.”

He highlights sought-after designs like the 31-millimeter Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 96 and the early Rolex Oyster Bubbleback watches. Also catching collectors’ eyes are discontinued cult favorites like the 34-millimeter iterations of the Rolex Air-King and Date models.

Wind, too, points to the gender-fluid appeal that such timepieces have. “Women are also adopting smaller watches,” he says, “and there is the new trend of watches not being gendered like they were in the past.”

Age appears to be a factor as well. “Younger collectors in particular seem to be gravitating toward the smaller models, particularly since they weren’t around in the ’00s for the craze of oversized watches,” he says. For some, though, it’s simply a practical choice. “There are many people with smaller wrists who just want watches to sit properly on the wrist and not overhang,” he adds.

Gucci G-Timeless in stainless steel. (Gucci)

Short-term fad?

Is the small watch just a fleeting trend, or does it have staying power?

“You’ve got to give these trends two, three, five years to see how it plays out,” Toulson maintains. “But I certainly think smaller sizes are going to be popular for at least several more years. The sweet spot for watch sizes seems to be between 40 and 42 millimeters. In 2018, that was about 68% of our mix [at Watches of Switzerland]. It’s now 75%.”

Three best-sellers

Zenith Chronomaster Revival A3817. (Zenith)

With the Chronomaster Revival, Swiss watchmaker Zenith breathes new life into one of its most sought after references. Indeed, the new A3817 was one of the first watches to bring authentic vintage sizing to the mainstream, with a diameter identical to that of the historical 1971 model.

Complete with the familiar angled tonneau shaped case and pump-style pushers, it’s proven quite the contemporary gem.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding 34 mm. (Audemars Piguet)

Updated classics in compact proportions have become popular among collectors. With a case thickness of just 8.8 millimeters, 32 baguette-cut diamonds studding its white gold architecture, and a smoky Grande Tapisserie dial domed in sapphire crystal, this beloved model commands attention.

Vacheron Constantin Overseas Self-Winding 34.5 mm. (Vacheron Constantin)

Earlier this year, heritage watchmaker Vacheron Constantin introduced a quartet of new models to its emblematic Overseas collection, including a 34.5-millimeter style in steel or pink gold. With this latest size, it has subtly reworked the codes of the existing 41-millimeter model to achieve a collector’s appeal, with a slimmeddown silhouette and a lacquered sunburst dial in deep royal blue.

This article is from the July-August 2023 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.

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Main image: Tudor Black Bay 54. (Tudor)

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