The Best Watches for Small Wrists

There are some occasions where bigger is undeniably better, but your watch isn’t necessarily one of them. Once considered an indication of the refinement and delicacy of the movement within, small watch cases ruled men’s wrists for generations. With the advent of compact quartz movements in the 1970s, the size of a watch no longer equated to refinement, and thanks to the popularity of chunky steel diving, racing, and pilot’s watches, case widths began to grow. While 36 mm in diameter used to be considered the “right” size for a man’s watch, that number is now closer to 42 mm, a size that has a certain rugged appeal but looks like a dessert plate in comparison. Thanks to surging interest in vintage watch collecting, however, spurred by record-setting models like Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona (which at 37mm is significantly smaller than new Daytona models) watchmakers are beginning to rediscover the appeal of classical proportions, and are creating a whole new generation of smaller designs for those who appreciate them. Size, after all, isn’t everything.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic 36

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Like dive watches, pilot’s watches were designed to be big for practical reasons — chiefly easy readability on the fly. That means that if authenticity is your end game, you’d be totally justified in wearing something 44mm or larger (and IWC makes dozens of those as well). If you just want a beautiful watch inspired by the ones worn by WWII pilots — and one that looks great with anything in your wardrobe — this 36mm model will fit the bill nicely. ($6,800)

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 36

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Rolex scored a surprise hit when it added colourful dials to its Oyster Perpetual watches in 2020, and they’ve remained some of the most sought pieces in the collection ever since. What remained unchanged about the Oyster Perpetual, however, was the option to buy one in 34mm, 36mm or 41mm sizes. There are 28mm and 31mm models, too, but for most guys — even guys who like small dials — those are probably going to be a little too small. The 36, though? Perfect. Especially in Rolex green. ($6,800)

Patek Philippe Calatrava 5196G

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A legend among watches, the Patek Philippe Calatrava has been a mainstay of the brand since the 1930s. Interestingly, the first Calatrava model was just 31mm across the case, which was on the small side even by 1932 standards. Over the decades that followed, Patek bumped up the Calatrava’s dimensions, with its latest edition topping out at a whopping 39mm. This one, however, retains the iconic look of the original at a very wearable 37mm size. ($24,600 USD)

Longines Conquest Heritage

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The best way to get a sense of what a classic-sized men’s watch looks like is to find something vintage. But it’s far easier to just get something like this heritage-inspired piece from Longines, whose looks (and size) are essentially period-correct for the 1950s. Unlike an actual 1950s watch, however, this one also comes with the bonus of a self-winding automatic movement and a five-year warranty. ($1,500)

Accutron Legacy “R.R.-O”

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Along similar lines as the Longines Conquest Heritage (but of a completely different flavour) this 1970s-era reboot is based on a watch made for Canadian railroad crews. Bigger watches were already becoming popular in the 1970s, but this one keeps things old-school with a 34mm case, which is just enough room to show off its unique 12-hour dial. ($1,695)

Hamilton American Classic Intra-Matic Auto

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Its case has grown slightly with the times, but the Intra-Matic’s design is otherwise unchanged from the mid-century original. While a watch like this would have been 34mm-36mm in the 1960s, its 38mm case gives it a more modern look and more wearability for folks accustomed to larger wristwear. It also leaves more room for Hamilton’s designers to add a date window, a much more common feature in 21st-century watches than those from the mid-20th century. ($1,035)

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding

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This piece, which marks its 50th birthday in 2022, is made in such limited quantities that buying one at retail is next to impossible. That said, its status as one of the world’s most coveted watches is well-earned thanks to its pioneering design by the late Gerald Genta. Interestingly, this watch was dubbed “jumbo” when it was released in the early 1970s, but at 37mm it’s now among the smallest in the Audemars lineup. Why mess with perfection? (21,500 CHF)

Tudor Black Bay 36

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When it comes to case sizes, sports watches were some of the first to make a push for more real estate on your wrist. There was initially a good reason for this: divers need a big, ultra-legible dial that can easily be read underwater, so larger cases were a logical solution. Given that no one relies exclusively on an analog watch during a dive anymore, however, the continued growth of dive watches towards the 50mm mark is driven more by fashion than function at this point. This Tudor’s, however, with a 36mm steel case simple, uncluttered face, and Tudor’s trademark snowflake hands, shows that beautiful divers come in all sizes. ($3,560)

Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical (38mm)

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This watch is infamous for finding its way into collections alongside watches that cost ten times as much, or more. The reason? It’s got everything that’s great about field watches, from the 24-hour dial to the olive drab NATO-style strap, and a rock-solid Swiss mechanical movement to boot. Would this watch look even better at 36mm? In my opinion, yes, but it still wears really well as it is. ($645)

Panerai Luminor Due (38mm)

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If there’s one thing that Panerai is known for, it’s watches sized to look normal on guys like Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is great if you have arms like tree trunks. For the rest of us, however, a 45mm case can be a bit of a tough hang (especially if you want it to sit under a dress shirt cuff). Enter the Luminor Due, the smallest, sleekest member of Panerai’s extended family of diving watches. Featuring a slimmed-down 38mm case (which is teensy by Panerai standards) it retains all of the classic design of its siblings, and won’t require you to get your shirts altered. ($8,000) 

Breitling Chronomat Lady (36mm)

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Yes, it says “Lady” in the name, but there is nothing specifically feminine about this scaled-down version of Breitling’s recently-relaunched Chronomat. The only negative thing I can say about this watch is it’s missing the chronograph found on its larger siblings (what, women don’t need to time things?) Still, it’s a beautiful watch that in my opinion would look good on anyone of any gender. ($5,640)

NOMOS Club (36mm)

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Using Nomos’ watchfinder tool, the 36mm edition of its Club series is classified as a “medium” size, which says a lot about this German watchmaker’s commitment to classical proportions With its clean numerals, delicate small seconds dial, and polished steel case, the Club is an exercise in German minimalism. Simply put: it’s as big as it needs to be, no more, no less. ($1,930)