In a recent GQ cover story, actor Jason Sudeikis is shown wearing two Cartier watches that, by today’s standards, look tiny. Of course we know men regularly wore watches 34mm and under probably until the 1990s. But today, most men prefer watches at around 40mm. Six millimeters may not seem like a huge difference, but on the wrist the proportions, and how the watch sits on the wrist, makes a big visual difference.
Photo by GQ
If I put on my wife’s 34mm Rolex Air-King at first it does look extremely small next to my 39mm Submariner. It looks downright feminine by our modern cultural standards. But if you “zoom out” with your perspective in front of the mirror, the proportions start looking right. When I tried on the new Cartier Tank Must (large version, 25.5 mm across) at a boutique in SoHo, the rectangular case made the watch look too much like a bracelet in my opinion. But that’s exactly the look that Sudeikis is sporting in his GQ photos and Harry Golding is shown below.
Photo by GQ
As we all can see in the rearview mirror, the gigantic baggy jeans that men wore in the 1990s look downright silly now—as did the skinny jeans in the 2000s. The pendulum swings far in fashion, so my prediction is that with watches we’ll probably see more men embracing 36mm and 34mm watches, especially in the sport watch category with a bracelet. To my eyes, a steel bracelet offers a visual continuity that mitigates the contrast between a band and the watch head. You don’t see the smallness of the watch framed on the wrist.
There are many men who really pull off the small dress watch look well. These men are confident and tend to feel just as comfortable in a well-tailored suit as they are in a tracksuit. Like any look one chooses, wearing it with confidence goes a long way towards success. Sudeikis certainly illustrates this point.
Photo by Atelier de Griff
I do believe that smaller watches will be back in vogue very soon as women will re-embrace traditional ladies’ watches and more men will realize they can get vintage sizing in a modern package. Availability of Rolex models in these, for now, less desirable sizes will also play into this effect. Tastemaking media such as GQ will always help spur a fashion trend, but unless you are sized like an offensive lineman, watch sizing will likely settle down at under 39mm. And some will confidently wear a 34mm Oyster Perpetual as their daily driver.
Rolex is slow to change and the significance of the newest edition of the Explorer I back to its original 36mm (vs. 39mm) size is a good indicator of where the market may be heading. But if you really want to be ahead of the curve try on a “tiny” watch like Sudeikis and see how you feel.