You don’t need a satellite dish on your wrist to cut a dash argues Michael Karam.
Today’s men – from astronauts to hedge fund mangers – love their watches. And you can’t really blame them. A watch is one of the few ways a man can express himself. And they’re getting bigger, as big as 50mm in diameter. Hublot, Ball and Panerai are known for their oversize creations, but if we are being honest all the famous and venerable watchmakers, without exception, have added more than a few millimetres to their watches. In today’s world, the bigger the watch, the bigger the statement… or so the manufacturers would have us believe.
But it was never always thus. In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Mount Everest wearing a 1950 Rolex Oyster Perpetual, the ancestor of what would be the Rolex Explorer, a timepiece with a modest 36mm diameter. Just over a decade earlier Battle of Britain pilots probably wore even smaller watches as they sprinted to their Hurricanes.
When, in 1953, Rolex launched the Submariner, arguably the most masculine timepiece ever made and designed for professional divers to operate at skull crushing depths, even that came in at a shade under 40mm, a size that today is entry-level for a chap looking to cut a dash.
So in a bid to assuage status anxiety, Boisdale Life has chosen ten “smaller” watches – 40mm and under – for the chap who instinctively knows that size really doesn’t matter.
The most famous watch in the world? Only the Omega Speedmaster comes close, and like the “Moonwatch”, the Submariner has changed very little since it was introduced in 1953 with a 39mm diameter. Contrary to what most watch fans might think, Rolex followed Omega, Panerai and Blancpain in producing a decent dive watch but the Submariner remains the most famous. It’s a sports watch that has transcended its purpose and is worn under the cuff of a dinner jack as often as it is strapped to a wet suit. We have gone for the non-date model, which is faithful to the original design – the “Cyclops” magnifier was added in the late 60s.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reserve de Marche
Jaeger-LeCoultre is probably better known for the famous Reverso, the watch that could be turned inside out to avoid being bashed by a polo mallet. But JLC also has the exciting master series, which gives us among others the achingly beautiful Reserve de Marche complication with its understated lines, hour zephyrs, power reserve needle, date dial, internal second hand and “exhibition” caseback. N.B. Until a few years ago, it was 37mm, but JLC clearly felt that two more millimetres would have greater appeal to modern consumers.
The early Speedmasters, worn on almost every lunar mission, were a few millimeters smaller in diameter than the current 41mm model. This “special numbered” edition is a pleasing 39mm and released to commemorate the very first “Speedy” worn by astronaut Wally Schirra during his Mercury Atlas 8 mission in October, 1962. It has the same manual movement as the Speedmaster Professional but this one comes with a scratch sapphire crystal that consumers might prefer to the more Hesalite crystal designed to not shatter in space but which is prone to scratches on Earth.
Patek Philippe Aquanaut
Patek, quite simply the gold standard of watchmaking, are more known for their ‘boardroom watches: Calatravas, moonphase chronographs and those rarities, which achieve eye watering sums at auction. The Aquanaut is for the man, or woman, who thinks the Submariner is simply too butch and is clearly one of the company’s more “fun” models. Yet it reflects Patek’s gravitas without neglecting any of its more functional credentials. PS Those looking for a more sober Patek should consider a Calatrava, a watch that reassuringly doesn’t stray above 38mm.
Tag Heuer Carrera
Created by Jack Heuer and launched in 1963, the Carerra’s clean lines are what makes it ultra-versatile. We also like the blue dial with rose gold hands, which gives the model a hint of Riveria swagger. Tag Heuer is a company that is rooted in sport, motoring in particular – Steve McQueen made the square Monaco a collectors’ favorite – and it could have gone nuts making watches that resemble Jodrell Bank. But, while not totally ignoring the trend for bigger watches, it has remained faithful to its heritage.
Breitling is known for watches that resemble chunks of space debris. One model, the aptly named Emergency, has a personal locator beacon should the owner have ditched in the ocean; got lost in the jungle or is simply too pissed to find his way home. Elsewhere, the iconic Navitimer was a pleasing 38mm when it was launched in the late 50s. Today the watch beloved by stunt pilots and Saudi teenagers weighs in at a whopping 47mm. A sign of the times if ever there was and this is why we love the love the relatively modest Transocean 38mm with a midnight blue dial, automatic chronograph function and mesh strap that oozes 60’s Riviera appeal. Now, where’s my Riva launch?
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
Time for a bit of jet set bling. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is another classic design, created by Gerald Genta and first launched in early 70s as the company’s last roll of the dice to avoid bankruptcy during what was known as the “quartz crisis”. This version, with the iconic “dive helmet” bezel, has an 18-carat gold case; gorgeous blue dial with the famous hobnail or Grande Tapisserie pattern, a sapphire crystal and “exhibition” caseback. Oh and it’s waterproof to 50 meters if you fall overboard.
Levison Wood wore the 46mm big brother on his travels across the Himalayas but this is the descendant of the watches on which IWC built its reputation back in 1936 with some of the first timepieces designed especially for pilots. It is beautifully crafted, adorned with delicious propeller hands, an in-house automatic movement with a 42-hour power reserve and slate grey dial on a brown strap with the ever popular a deployment buckle. Stylish, understated, versatile and not at all “shouty”.
Tudor Black Bay
Tudor has arguably come up with the most exciting range of watches in recent years stepping out of the shadow of its parent company Rolex. That said, Tudor is not shy where when there is heritage to be mined and this functional watch with the lovely snowflake hands is a nod to the early Rolex Explorers, especially the Ref 1016. It was deemed ‘Watch of the Fair’ at Basel 2016 by Hodinkee, the online watch mag and perfect for those who want a understated perfectly proportioned and durable watch that does nothing but tell the time well.