How Tiny Watches Became the Biggest Trend of 2023

Photographs: Getty Images, Cartier; Collage: Gabe Conte

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How’s this for a tease? Next week, I’m going to be rolling out the second-annual GQ Watch Survey, recapping 2023’s most exciting brands and watches based on responses from a wide-ranging panel. But in the early returns it’s clear that there is one trend that infected the consciousness of the Watch Illuminati more than any other. In 2023, we were all excited about the industry’s great downsizing.

This trend stood out to me because no other question in my survey generated such unanimous consensus. This was especially surprising given how open-ended the directive was: “Name a trend in the watch world you’re loving.” Collectors couldn’t agree on which brand had the best year, or what the best piece of 2023 was, but watches getting smaller was something apparently everyone can delight in. (To clarify, I’m talking about watches smaller than 40 millimeters—typically between 34 and 39mm).

Tudor's Black Bay 54 clocks in at a pleasing 37mm


Tudor's Black Bay 54 clocks in at a pleasing 37mm

I honestly never understood the big watch thing. Ever since I started writing about watches many moons ago, my grail has been the petite Cartier Tank, which hugs the wrist as delicately as a butterfly. It’s light, it’s beautiful, and it doesn’t have the presence of a Hummer. “Most of us aren't Arnold Schwarzenegger,” said Nick Ferrell, of DC Vintage Watches, referencing the huge man who helped popularize huge watches in the first place. And yet the prevailing trend among casual and hardcore collectors alike was big honking sports watches.

The change can be seen across the industry. The collector known as @Bazamu (the 2022 COTY!) directs us to look at a watch like the Tudor Black Bay 54, which made its debut during Watches & Wonders in March. “Smaller sizes are coming back,” he wrote. The piece’s 37 millimeter size is in perfect step with what vintage collectors are looking for. Even new watches that don’t boast slimmed-down silhouettes aspire to be small. When I met with Max Büsser last week, he walked me through all the hoops he jumped through to get his new HM11 down to 42 millimeters—basically microscopic for a brand like MB&F, which specializes in beefy watches.

H.Moser released its smallest and thinnest Streamliner, a 39mm variation, this year
H.Moser released its smallest and thinnest Streamliner, a 39mm variation, this year

The brands are following what is a swelling change in consumer preferences. Earlier this year, I spoke with Mark Cho of The Armoury about his second edition of the Ideal Watch Size survey. He received responses from over 2,000 people and found that 36 millimeters was the most popular watch size. The other sizes receiving the most votes—38, 39, 40—weren’t much larger. He also found that while many respondents’ preferences hadn’t moved, those that did change their minds were moving down the scale, not up.

Tastes are changing for several reasons. For starters, smaller watches are just a lot more wearable. “I'm sure all the watch-world people are rolling their eyes at the case-size dialogue, but I think it's continuing to be essential in converting new enthusiasts. People want pieces they can actually wear,” wrote Brynn Wallner of @Dimepiece. With a smaller timepiece, you never have to worry about whether or not it’s going to glide seamlessly underneath a sleeve or whether your watch is visible from space (Paneristi meetings are considered an astrological event). Slimmer timepieces are just much more comfortable—the difference between forgetting you were wearing a watch and looking forward to taking it off when you get home.

Another major factor here is the increased interest in vintage watches. Generally speaking, older watches, which more and more collectors are seeking out over modern pieces, tend to run in the neighborhood of 36 millimeters. The vintage trend is so powerful that brands are adopting those standards for their new releases, meaning options are getting smaller no matter where you’re buying from.

Collectors are still drooling over Chopard's 36.5mm L.U.C 1860 that made its debut during Watches & Wonders this March
Collectors are still drooling over Chopard's 36.5mm L.U.C 1860 that made its debut during Watches & Wonders this March
Alex Teuscher

The last reason is the rise of the typically tinier dress watch as the go-to piece for many collectors. A few years ago, it was exciting to wear a sports watch to a black-tie event. Now collectors are getting a thrill out of the opposite: wearing a dress watch for everyday occasions. It’s a drum I’ve been beating for a long time. While trends may change, I find that there’s one constant truth when it comes to watches. Nothing looks cooler than a white T-shirt and a tiny dress watch like the Tank. So when it comes to your next watch purchase, embrace the rare moment in your life where it might be best to think small.

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Originally Appeared on GQ