Why Small Watches for Men Declare Confidence, Swagger, and Security

A small, discreet, and elegant watch has all the swagger you need.

If a big watch is made for the man with a huge ego, then a small watch is made for someone in possession of an outsized one. Think about it: A huge watch announces its presence from across the room. A small one, on the other hand, is far subtler and more discreet—requiring that the man wearing it has a personality that needs no unnecessary distractions.

Like the woman who looks hot even when she’s wearing sweats or a steak that needs only salt and pepper, a small watch screams security, composure, and restraint. It was made for those who are comfortable with their place in the world and never feel the need to overcompensate.

The Best Small Watches For Men

Oh, and a small watch is lighter, unfailingly elegant, can fit easily underneath most shirt cuffs and jacket sleeves, and lends itself well to business lunches and dressier gatherings. There are simply times when the occasion does not call for the equivalent of a wall clock on your wrist; it can be a sign of respect to the people you are consorting with that you don’t feel the need to outdo or impress them with a fancy, screaming timepiece. It’s a signifier of sensibility and timeless, impeccable taste.

Small watches tend to have a vintage look and appeal, partly because they pre-date the time when modern men’s watches, starting in the 1990s, began to outdo each other by getting bigger, brasher, and more maximalist than ever. Truth is, for most of watchmaking history, watches measured between 36mm to 40mm, and many of the classic models of the past were well within this size range. You might also find that if you are of slender, leaner build, a big, hefty watch can look cumbersome sticking out of the edges of your wrist. It’s all about finding the size that is proportionate to you—and we don’t just mean your arm, but your character, too.


Just because these watches are on the slighter side, however, does not mean they are any less beautiful or worthy of being deemed works of art. Here are a few of our picks for classic small watches… if you think you’ve earned the chops to wear them.

1| Piaget Altiplano

Piaget continues to push the boundaries of ultra-thin watchmaking; the brand has a history of specializing in this niche, releasing its first ultra-flat movement in 1957. It consistently breaks records by coming out with ever slimmer watches, with the world’s thinnest self-winding watch, the Altiplano Ultimate 910P, measuring at just 4.3mm thick. So maybe you’re not necessarily interested in wearing the thinnest watch around, but a light, slim case is what appeals to you. The classic Altiplano, with a black alligator leather strap in white gold, is the way to go, with a diameter of 38mm and a still very thin case width of just 6mm.

Photo by PIAGET.
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2| Rolex Day-Date 36

Naturally, Rolex is known for coming out with some of the most beautiful classic men’s watches around, offering a handsome selection of timepieces in the understatedly elegant 36mm diameter case range. But if you truly want to put yourself in the ultimate boss category, get one in 18k yellow gold with a liberal sprinkling of diamond hour markers, including baguette-cut diamonds at six and nine o’clock, to boot. The 2019 iteration comes in a rich emerald green ombré dial, while the three-link President bracelet—a Rolex trademark since its launch in 1956—shows you know how to pay homage to the greats.

Photo by ROLEX.

3| Seiko SKX013K2 Automatic Diver’s Watch

Dive watches tend to fall squarely under the oversize and ultra-chunky category, what with the need for high visibility underwater plus a host of other essential life-saving functions. Which is why this Seiko model is quite the outlier, with its modest 38mm case that doesn’t sacrifice all of the other things: 200m depth rating, glowing Lumibrite hands, scratch-resistant Hardlex crystal, and a 43-hour power reserve. It’s a good choice for those who want the features of a dive watch without the extra bulk on the wrist, and as with all of the very best tool watches, it’s classy enough to look right at home when you’ve traded your dive suit for a business suit.

Photo by SEIKO.

4| Nomos Orion

Fans of this German watch brand’s minimalist, straightforward aesthetic will find plenty to like in this no-frills dress watch, a personal favorite among many of Nomos’ own designers. The 35mm stainless steel case is just the right size, and since there are barely any other details on the Bauhaus-inspired dial, it tends to look even bigger than it actually is. The simple design seemingly magnifies the gold-toned indexes and skinny cornflower blue hands, all of which are beautifully complemented with a durable strap in black cordovan leather. But be warned: Since it is meant to be unisex, don’t be too surprised if your girlfriend “borrows” it for the weekend. (It goes without saying, of course, that you’re most likely never going to get it back.)


5| Frederique Constant Slimline Gents Small Seconds

Another entry into the small watches for men category, Frederique Constant stakes its claim with a 37mm stainless steel case that measures in at just 5mm thick. The Roman numerals and guilloché dial lend it a very classic, formal feel and, paired with the brown leather strap, this watch could easily deceive you into thinking it is much pricier than it really is. Accessible luxury is, in fact, the battle cry of this brand that is a relative newcomer to the Swiss watchmaking world; Frederique was established in 1988 with the intent of bringing high-quality Swiss watches to a broader consumer market. It has certainly made a strong case for itself with this one, as the sleek design and graceful, curved lines make it the perfect entry-level piece for those looking to invest in their first-ever dress watch.


6| Longines Heritage Military  

If you genuinely want to capitalize on a small watch’s vintage appeal, pick one that has a cool throwback vibe and an interesting back story to match. The Heritage Military is based on an early 1940s timepiece originally created for British Royal Air Force pilots during World War II. This current model retains many of the same design cues: black numbers that stand out against a cream backdrop (for easy legibility) and a proportionately large crown (so pilots could adjust the time without taking off their gloves). Little black droplets have even been hand-sprayed on the dial to give it that aged look, and the green leather strap further reinforces its military-issue ties. And while the original watch had an even smaller dial at 32mm, this one comes in at 38.5mm—a modern improvement, in our book.

Photo by LONGINES.


7| Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 5196G 

There are those who believe the Calatrava is the greatest dress watch of all time. Classic, practical, minimalist, pared down to the essentials, the 5196—with its prism-shaped hour markers, integrated lugs, and leather strap—is certainly a master class in how a watch so simple can have a huge impact. The model itself was the prestigious Swiss watchmakers’ attempt to transition into the modern age; launched in 1932, shortly after brothers Jean and Charles Henri Stern took control of the company, it was intended to widen the brand’s reach and draw in a new generation of fans to help it survive the Great Depression. It worked, and to this day watch lovers still recognize the Calatrava’s beauty: at a modest 37mm, it’s proof that good things come in small packages.        

Photo by PATEK.

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Nana Caragay
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