Over the past two years, we’ve seen an influx of modestly-sized timepieces from the dominant industry players. Even the leaders of the “wrist-saucer” trend, Panerai and Breitling, have changed their strategy and started developing a more approachable range. It turns out after years of wristwatches growing exponentially to the point where they dwarf anyone that isn’t an Expendables-style action star, not everyone wants to look like the Last Action Hero when they’re at the office. While it’s still more common than not to see watches landing over the 40-mm mark, it’s a good sign for the industry, especially for those with dainty wrists, that we’re slowly shifting back to more classically-proportioned timepieces. We rounded up six watches from the past few years, all from top-selling brands, that embrace the sub-40-mm fit.
One of the most discussed watches of last year – perhaps only overshadowed by its travel-time, Pepsi-colored sibling – was Tudor’s Black Bay Fifty-Eight. The watch condenses what we love about the Black Bay into a smaller 39-mm by 11.9-mm frame (for reference, the original Black Bay was 41 mm by 14.75 mm) and retains the main attributes of Tudor’s most well-regarded watch family. Yup, the Snowflake hands; the blend of applied triangular, circular, and rectangular indexes; the enlarged crown stamped with the Tudor Rose; and the Tudor shield logo are all here. The Fifty-Eight’s old-school appeal and name come directly from the Tudor Submariner Reference 7924 “Big Crown” that was originally released in 1958, and has since become one of the most sought-after vintage Tudor timepieces. So, could the BB-58 become the Platonic Ideal of a Black Bay? For some, it likely already is; for everyone else, we’ll just have to wait and see what comes next. One thing is for sure, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight isn’t going anywhere. It’s priced at $3,250 on a leather or fabric strap and $3,575 on an Oyster-style riveted steel bracelet.
One of the biggest surprises at SIHH 2018 had to do with the fact that, for the first time in as long as anybody could remember, Panerai shifted directions. Just for example, the new Base Logo model is an ideal entry-level piece with an in-house movement for the aspiring Paneristi at less than $5,000, and the update to the Luminor Due line embraced a whole new status quo for the brand. With dimensions at 38 mm across , last year’s Luminor Due is Panerai’s smallest timepiece in recent history. It features every single recognizable Panerai trait such as the crown guard, sandwich dial, raised bezel, and cushion case, yet comes in an inherently wearable diameter. For those who always loved the Panerai design identity, but refused to wear one with a suit, this one’s for you. Pricing starts at $6,000.
The Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Master Chronometer 38 mm was a part of the brand’s 2017 lineup. It was released alongside two other Aqua Terra models that came in at over 40 mm, but this stainless-steel iteration with a striking blue dial and integrated steel bracelet won over a lot of hearts during that year’s Baselworld showcase. The dial is sun-brushed and features the popular horizontal line motif that is inspired by the wooden decks of vintage sailboats. Inside the watch is Omega’s in-house Caliber 8800 that has been certified by METAS as a Master Chronometer. Price: $5,500.
Georges Kern had a few immediate goals when he became the head honcho at Breitling. One of those was a renewed focus on bringing collectors that felt alienated by the brand’s previous decade of masculine posturing in oversized cases and overcrowded dials back into the fold. With that in mind, the Navitimer 1 Automatic 38 is the purest distillation of this new philosophy. It eschews the typical chronograph complication that people have long associated with the Navitimer, yet keeps the classic slide rule functionality on its outer bezel. Further distinguished by a beaded bezel that references the original Navitimer from 1954, this update keeps the brand heritage in full perspective while venturing into refreshed territory. The Breitling Navitimer 1 Automatic 38 is priced at $4,300 in steel with a crocodile leather strap, $4,860 in steel on a steel bracelet, and $5,820 in rose gold.
The Grand Seiko SBGH263 is a prime example of why the upscale Japanese marque is one of the most remarkable watch brands working today. Released in 2018 as a limited edition, the stainless-steel dress watch introduces a concept dial color called “Shironeri” that references the off-white silk of a Japanese wedding dress. It’s a simple time-and-date watch, but the charisma of the dial — with its Arabic numerals (somewhat rare for Grand Seiko) and refined presentation — is what makes it so memorable. Powering the 39.5-mm watch is Caliber 9S85, one of Grand Seiko’s renowned Hi-Beat movements. Price: $6,200.
One of my favorite watches that Rolex introduced in recent years came in steel, yet it wasn’t a sport or travel-time timepiece. Surprised? Don’t be. The Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39 has been continuously underrated since it was first released in 2015 and its latest update was no exception. Offered for the first time in white and black, both of the monochromatic variations are superlative examples of Rolex at its most basic. In fact, the time-only model is the simplest timepiece that the brand produces, making it a great point-of-entry for neophyte collectors or those looking for a daily wearer that straddles the line between dressy and casual. Keeping with the theme of simplicity, there has been absolutely nothing changed on the inside or outside of this watch other than its dial color. The Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39 in white and black is priced at $5,700.