We live in a fast-moving time that it is almost impossible to keep up with the latest seasonal trends. But let’s take you back in time to find out why vintage watches are small and how has it evolved to watches we know today:
Let’s start from the beginning:
The first true modern wristwatch, built by Swiss watch manufacturer Patek Philippe for Countess Koscowicz of Hungaryin in 1868, and was intended to be used as a piece of jewellery. (picture above) It was a relatively large piece that could be wounded with a key. It looked almost like a triptych, with gold panels and two diamonds each side of it. Most women’s wristwatches after that were also mainly used for decorative purposes than timekeeping as men stuck with their larger more traditional pocket watches.
Wristwatches didn’t become popular for men till about 30 years after the Patek Philippe piece, due to it being viewed as a feminine accessory and thought to be too dainty and inaccurate for the manly man. It has to be worn on a chain for in the pocket/vest or trousers.
But in 1904, Louis Cartier and Alberto Santos Dumont (a Brazilian aviator) designed a watch for pilots that had to not be too big and awkward like a pocket watch yet it had to be easily and quickly read by the pilots while up in the air. The Cartier “Santos” was born. This started the new era of wristwatches.
This watch becomes very popular in the WW1 among soldiers using it as a convenient timekeeping apparatus. In place of wasting time trying to pull out a pocket watch on the battlefield, they could simply rotate their wrists to check the time or use it as a stopwatch. From there it became a fashion accessory for men’s wrists. The Golden Age of the wristwatch was launched.
The pocket watch movements were used in the wristwatches, just on a smaller scale. Soon many companies started following this trend too such as Bulova who started to design more square-like and rectangular like movements and cases. Round shapes came in sizes between 28 and 32mm, and the rectangular/square ones came between from 26 to 29mm.
However, there were limitations of just using the smaller pocket watch movements to fit into smaller wristwatches as it forced the companies to make watch shapes according to the smaller watch movements.
But then companies like Gruen and Bulova began to design innovative rectangular shaped mechanical movements, opening up a new world of designs for square and rectangular shapes.
We might look at these vintage watches and think they are a bit small for a big man’s wrist, but these round, square and rectangular new era wristwatches made many companies very profitable.
The round shapes were around 28 to 32mm, and the rectangular and squares were in the 26 to 29mm average range.
Then came the mid-1980’s. Cartier released a watch that was big, as 38mm big! This created the fashion statement of the bigger the watch, the bolder the statement. Keeping in mind that the average watch size of a case was 32 to 34mm, this gave way of companies of making their current watches just bigger which was incredibly exciting in this time period.
The JLC Reverse became the “Reverso Grande Taille”. The 36mm IWC Mark XII, grew 2 mm in diameter and was reborn as The Mark XV. The Patek Philippe Nautilus grew into the “Jumbo Nautilus”. And so the trend goes.
Another example is here, which on the right side you have a man’s Cartier Santos, (round shape), from the 1980s (32mm) next to the 100 Year Anniversary Santos (42mm) which makes the 1980’s version look like the woman’s watch!
Now coming back today. Many people would perceive or assume any watch under 40mm to be a women’s watch, which as you can now see is not true. New watches might average 42mm, and most men would prefer a watch of an “oversize” fit, but that could just result in a very inconvenient and highly unpractical piece of jewellery. Appreciate the size of the vintage watch, and if it does not suit you ( as a man) then we’re pretty sure your lady wouldn’t mind wearing it!
Here is a basic guide: