Big is out? Rolex, IWC, Tag Heuer launch smaller, slimmer watches 2
IWC Big Pilot's Watch. Photo from IWC Schaffhausen's official website

Big is out? Rolex, IWC, Tag Heuer launch smaller, slimmer watches

Why some major luxury brands are downsizing, at least when it comes to watch cases 
ANCX Staff | Apr 12 2021

As this year’s edition of Watches and Wonders in Geneva draws to a close, timepiece observers have zeroed in on a new trend: Honey, they shrunk the watches. 

It’s hard to ignore the, uhm, diminishing evidence. Three important watches just launched respective smaller models. First, the Rolex Explorer went from 39mm to 36mm. It will be remembered that the Explorer was really, originally, at 36mm—but Rolex discontinued the size in 2010 and restarted with the 39mm. Until this year, of course, a decade later, when the luxury company decided to discontinue the 39mm and reverted to the original—one of the rare times Rolex dialed back from a trend.

Then there’s the IWC Big Pilot, which was sized 46mm upwards, but for 2021 came out with a 43mm version. Next, there’s the TAG Heuer Aquaracer, previously sized at 43mm and 41mm. This year, these have been resized to 43mm and 36mm.

Executive Class host David Celdran made the same observation last week on his Instagram, citing the original size of the 1953 Rolex Explorer and its new model, saying the reduced size just sits better with with its classic design and uncluttered black dial. “In a reversal of the oversized trend of the last two decades, more watch brands have been launching and reissuing models with slightly smaller and slimmer cases.” 

The switch in sizes is making Sieg Suarez of Instagram’s @watch_mnl think of a similar thing happening over at Apple, with the introduction of the iPhone 12 mini. “Di ba the craze was for the phones to grow and grow? Then iPhone comes out with the 12 mini!” 

But what could be the reason behind this downsizing? 

“No reason, really, except to adapt to the times,” says Suarez, a lawyer who’s been obsessed with the world of watches for decades. “Because back in the day, 36mm was considered to be big. Then the watches grew and grew.” He cites Panerai normalizing the 44mm watches. Then Audemars Piguet starting its Royal Oak Offshore with 44mm and upwards. “Watches grew. Even Rolex came out with large versions of their Datejust and Day Date.” 

Suarez says the trend might just be the watch companies finally noticing there are other watch buyers in the world—those who are not exactly fans of chunky, hefty things coiled around their wrists. “There might have been a realization that there's still a big market for people who want a more reasonably-sized watch,” says Suarez. “The growth of the watches from 2000-2021 has really been incredible. So now, watchmakers may be thinking that larger doesn't always mean better.”

Big is out? Rolex, IWC, Tag Heuer launch smaller, slimmer watches 3
TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 300 in 36 mm

The explosion of the big watches trend that happened in the 2000s might be seeing its last days. Like the iPhone that may have peaked with the Pro Max, watch companies might be looking to find the balance. 

“Today, 36mm can be considered a ladies’ size—which used to be in the vicinity of 26-31mm. Men’s sizes now are 36-44++. Sometimes the size looks ridiculous na on people’s wrists,” Suarez offers. “Especially with the Asian buyers. Asians usually have smaller wrists.” 

And there you have it. While it’s nice to think the watch companies are reversing their size preferences to shake things up or excite the market, it’s most likely that while they’re thinking small, they’re actually thinking big-GER—sales-wise. “Asia,” Suarez reminds us,  “is a huge market.”