I guess it’s the Goldilocks medium bear and it’s the perfect size for me.
As the title of this blog suggests, watch collecting is a journey
which is bound to evolve due to many personal and environmental factors. Affordability
is probably foremost in my mind but wearability also plays strongly in how I
purchase and collect. I have purchased many hyped 40 mm Rolexes, one Patek
40 mm Aquanaut and a VC 41 mm Overseas at retail price since my journey began. While it was the thrill of the chase that motivated me and many others to purchase those hyped watches (e.g: GMT, Sub, Daytona), I feel that I have matured in this watch journey. I no
longer desire the hyped watches everyone chases but rather I prefer to chase
those watches that are pertinent to only my personal tastes, my wrist size and
shape. I had sworn off Rolex maxi cases because they are bulky, heavy and to be
brutally honest, they feel like handcuffs.
I only recently discovered the elegance and perfect fit of the 36 mm Rolex.
I have a 6.5 in wrist which is more circular in shape. Watches don’t wear
flat on the upper side of my wrist therefore anything greater than a 45 mm lug
to lug distance would tend to protrude beyond the wrist margins.
When Rolex reintroduced the 36 mm Explorer 124270 in April 2021, I knew I
had to have one. So when my local and very generous AD (to me) granted me the
36 mm Explorer soon after its launch it changed my perception of the ideal
watch size forever and with clear conviction I can state that I certainly ain’t
going back to anything greater than 38 mm. With this discovery brings up the question of
what to do with my >38 mm pieces? Thirty-six mm has always been the classic
watch size ever since the Triassic period and, while I respect and understand
why watches were pumped with testosterone, 36 mm is all one needs for
readability and functional aesthetics. Unless one has a larger than 7 in.
wrist, 36 mm is plenty big to be able to tell the time and date. And even with
a larger wrist, the 36 mm diameter does not look or wear small.
For those who prefer the heft and size of larger watches such as the Rolex
maxi case or even larger watches, theirs is a choice of aesthetic and comfort
preference rather than of necessity. The recent trend towards larger watches
(eg. 44 mm) may just be a transient hype and I truly believe the watch industry
will revert to back to classical pre baby boomer sizes. And it looks like Rolex
has bucked the trend again with the reintroduction of the 36 mm Explorer. I own
both the previous 39 mm Explorer and the new 36 mm and I can verify that on my
6.5 in. wrist the new 36 mm wears much more proportionally to my wrist and
eliminates the redundant extra metal and dial real estate. I don’t find any
more difficulty in reading the time with the smaller diameter.
The 36 mm diameter fits best for 6-7 in. wrists because the lugs will not overhang the wrist margins. This size also requires less metal of any kind and therefore will wear lighter. It’s also important to note that a 4 mm reduction in case diameter is circumferential and that 4 mm reduction translates to a fairly sizeable reduction in circular area by π r2. I find also that when downsizing to 36 mm I can wear the watch looser by adding more links to compensate for the loss of lug length. This renders the watch less top-heavy and more balanced between bracelet and case. Whereas with a larger 40 mm case, one needs to wear a tighter bracelet so the case doesn’t fall off the wrist. Mark Cho of The Armoury has statistically surveyed the ideal wristwatch size(dress and sports watches) and his conclusion was that a smaller diameter like 37 mm and not 40 mm is the ideal wristwatch size. He actually prefers to wear smaller watch sizes. To cover all the bases, Cho’s conclusion was that the ideal size was a range between 36-39 mm in the general population, irrespective of race.
Naturally, following the purchase of the 36 mm Explorer, I went nuts (again) and purchased a couple of two-tone 36 mm Datejusts, a stainless steel Datejust, a medium 36 mm Cartier Santos and a 38 mm Girard-Perregaux Laureato (which I will review later). I performed head to head comparisons with my 40 mm watches and invariably preferred to wear 36 mm compared to 40 mm. And as time ticked on, this direction was irreversible.
Of course, bezel diameter varies across brands and models and one cannot reliably predict wearability on this dimension alone. A 37 mm Royal Oak will tend to wear bigger than 37 mm due to lug length, width and shape as compared to a 36 mm Rolex. The best test would be to actually try on these sizes if we could but in this current market it is almost impossible to try on anything.
A big thank you to Rolex for showing me a new niche and for slowly reversing the oversized watch trend and I sure hope the other watch brands follow suit. Patek Philippe, for example, manufactures very few 36 mm watches unless for ladies. Searching for 36 mm watches in all brands results in very few models and ,in fact, most 36 mm models are manufactured from the crown. I therefore commend them highly for offering this choice and I’m rather selfishly glad that the masses are not chasing 36 mm as much as the hyped maxi models (for now). However, I think that soon the masses will realize that 36-39 mm is the ideal wristwatch size and will start to chase this size predominantly as opposed to >40 mm watches.
Ignazio Conde Garzon, of Fratello Watches, in searching for alternatives to the 124270 36 mm Explorer, remarks that the big brands are welcoming the reduction in case sizes to a more traditional smaller size and it seems the public is warming to this trend as well. He does mention however that it takes a while to get accustomed to the smaller size but when one does warm to it, there is no going back. Lex Stolk also of Fratello Watches in his article comparing watch sizes, remarks that even though a watch may not look big on the wrist, “it’s what feels right”, that matters. Bob’s Watches , in this guide for slender wrists, also notices this trend away from oversized watches and correctly observes that “although the average watch case size was getting increasingly larger from one year to the next, the average size of the human wrist was not.” Time + Tide Watches also highlights some of their picks for the best midsized watches currently available on the market which are actually attainable. As a midsized watch collector though, the choice of 36-38 mm watches amongst the major brands is limited because they are not produced as much as the more desired larger models. But that may be a good thing for collectors like me who desire the smaller size. Although, as the major watch journals keep writing about this trend towards midsized watches, availability in those sizes may become more scarce unless the big brands produce more.
The predominance of oversized watches in today’s market doesn’t leave the feeble-wristed collector with much choice of size unless one searches the vintage market, a direction which I am reluctant to chase. Therefore I dearly hope the watch houses will produce more manageable sizes moving forward. For now, I will be chasing 36-38 mm sizes.
Interesting article, thank you. Definitely agree about sensible sizing. My 2019 Air King is perfect for me at 40mm, anything bigger looks pretty silly! That said, my enormous Fenix6x seems to look OK, perhaps because it’s all black and is more sports kit than watch!
Try 36 mm. I love the switch from maxi case to 36. However, if you can get one, I find the 40mm daytona hits the sweet spot between 36 and maxi case