The Big Watch Boom – and Bust

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Remember when watches – he-man men’s watches – were a demure 34mm? Naw, of course you don’t. I barely do and I’m thinking the typical modern watch enthusiast is more focused on current and modern watches.

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The Author’s 34mm Rolex Oyster Perpetual ref. 1503 from 1967

But seriously, I’m telling you watches for guys were once in the 30 – 34mm range. Just go into any antique store and look at the old stretchy-band Bulovas, Elgins, Hamiltons, and Gruens tucked away in the corner of the vintage jewelry cases. In the first place, most of them won’t be round, they’ll be square or rectangular. And they’ll be tiny by today’s standards.

Maybe the trend towards bigger watches was started by the growth of the dive watch genre. In the interests of underwater visibility/readability, makers edges dive watches to the upper 30s of millimeterdom, and eventually, 40mm seemed like a standardized size. The Submariner landed there, and dress watches cautiously followed. Most stopped short of 40mm, though, landing in the 36 – 39mm range.

Certainly the luxury makers hovered in this range – for decades. Then, the fashion brands took over. If big is good, bigger is better, right? And soon, rappers and movie stars were wearing what looked like steel hockey pucks on their wrists. Brands big and small took up the challenge. Mostly, these were fashion brands that you’ve never heard of in horological circles.

But luxury brands didn’t want to be left behind. IWC came out with their Big Pilot series a few years ago. The flagship is the ceramic Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Top Gun, ref. 5029, at 48mm. This watch is the signature piece of a certain Red Bar dude you may have heard of.

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IWC’s Big Pilot Perpetual Calendar Top Gun

Panerai has long been a caliper stretcher too. Their collections typically clock in between 42mm and 48mm.

And finally Rolex, that bastion of conservatism, felt compelled to get in the act. They acquiesced in the mid-2000s and released their Datejust II and Day-Date II in 2008. Both watches measured 41mm, modest by big watch standards (but wild by those of The Crown). Yet they both began to show up in rapper feeds on Instagram in both plain and bejeweled incarnations.

day-date-ii

And then a funny thing happened. Watches – at least those we tend to think of as luxury watches – began to shrink again. Yes, Panerai and IWC’s Big Pilot line are still in the stratosphere. But Rolex discontinued the Day-Date II last year, replacing it with a new, and some say more refined Day-Date 40.

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Interestingly, they kept the Datejust II. However, they augmented the Datejust II and Day-Date II Datejust line with a new line of Oyster Perpetuals and Pearlmasters in several sizes.

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And once again, the large watches have become the domain of boutique and fashion brands while the luxury brands for the most part have left for smaller pastures.

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