Downsizing: Six Watches Under 40-mm from Top Brands

In this article from the WatchTime Archives, we revisit six watches released in recent times capitalizing upon the growing interest in smaller diameter watches, including timepieces from Tudor, Panerai, Omega, and more. Enjoy!

Over the past several 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.


Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight

One of Tudor’s most discussed watches of recent years, perhaps only overshadowed by its travel-time, Pepsi-colored sibling, was the 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.


Panerai Luminor Due PAM00903

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.


Omega Aqua Terra Master Chronometer 38 mm

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.


Breitling Navitimer 1 Automatic 38 with black dial and black alligator leather strap.

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.

Grand Seiko

Grand Seiko SBGH263

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.


Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39

One of the most popular 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.


No Responses to “Downsizing: Six Watches Under 40-mm from Top Brands”

Show all responses
  1. Excellent article- I am the target market for smaller watches, having smaller wrists. 36-38 mm is the sweet spot. Of course watches wear larger or smaller based on lugs, thickness. curvature and dial/ bezel design.

  2. Michael Darling

    I love the smaller watches 35 to 40 in automatic. I think that they represent craftsmanship at its best. Clocks belong on the wall! I think a watch should complement your attire and not overshadow! Just my opinion.

  3. Alexander Bucell

    I don’t like the Seikotic watches anymore!!! The Fortis watches have my new favorite designs!!!

  4. Peter j harmes

    At last, sensible and far more elegant styling with sub 40. Even better would be 35-38mm

  5. Enzo Mechana

    Although I have been making large, well, very large(deep divers) watches going back about 20 years or more, I have always appreciated classic sized watches, as well., it was never either or for me. Moreover, I often wore them in tandem, quite happily, with my more oversized watches.
    I never followed the watch trends, as they come and go, so really, it depends on your likes as well as size of wrist and lifestyle. When I traveled throughout S. East Asia by motorcycle, most of my classic timepieces wouldn’t be able able to cope with the dust, rain, and humidity, as well as the odd hard knock or off road spill, though many newer ones could surely, but i wanted a bigger, more robust looking watch for the adventure. So my beefy watch housings made a better choice., though I still brought a couple classic sized timepieces with me when I wanted to feel a tad more civilised in the evenings in in a nice shirt and no cycle jacket.
    So it is nice to see some variety again in size, and some nice offerings as well, that will surely suit many who felt a bit dumbfounded by the big watch craze that seemed to just keep getting beyond big, so it had to eventually do a u turn, as there was not enough wrist space left for some of the even bigger than big pieces on offer as of late.

  6. Richard Crawford

    I have an explorer, black bay 58, submariner hulk 40 and nomos club which has long lugs on a 36mm face… Won’t buy larger. The omega looks very well done although zenith do the el primero in 38 I belive which is also lovely

  7. George Joannou

    The size of the watch preference is a personal bias and obviously has a lot to do with the size of your wrist and dare I say your ego. For me I would be happy with a minimum 39mm diameter watch and a maximum of 41 – 42 mm diameter watch. Personally a 41mm Rolex Submariner would make me very happy indeed.

  8. Stephen Day

    I am a fan of the thinner smaller watches of the yester year.
    Timeless Classics – heading in the right direction down down down sizing :)

  9. stephen

    Not surprising people don’t rate the Perpetual when the original size was something like 36mm or similar. And I remember Air Kings used to be 34mm.

  10. William Hudson

    It’s about time! These 45mm dive watches were getting on my nerves. Particularly in formal settings. Give me a Grand Seiko or Rolex Datejust 41mm and I am a happy camper. And better yet, it doesn’t appear to others that I am showing off…

  11. D. Goode

    40 is ideal and 44 is the biggest. I am 5’8” at 195lbs. My biggest is the dark side of the moon

  12. Apart from the Tudor and the Rolex, there is nothing else worth looking at.

  13. Smaller is good, 37 to 42 mm makes a watch (from dress to diver) look proper while looking like you invested in yourself.

  14. Nils Maydell

    It’s a good thing that the trend is back towards smaller watches. Lost elegance in favor of Bling Bling comes back.

  15. I recently sold a good chunk of my collection and drastically reduced to 4 (two Tudor and two Rolex). Of these 4, one is a newly acquired Oyster Perpetual 39, in exactly the same colorway as the one illustrated in the article. Now I’ve had dozens and dozens of watches throughout the years, affordable and expensive both, but that OP 39 in black and white is close to perfection. It is so timeless and classic, that it basically represent the quintessential modern wristwatch for the gentleman. It’s my everyday watch and is basically getting most of my wrist time.

  16. Ancon Harpy

    Regarding your intro: …”especially those with dainty wrists”… Surprising comment from you.

  17. I am a big guy with large hands and thick wrists. Any watch less than 42mm looks a bit ridiculous on my wrist. Hope manufacturers out there continue to make larger diameter watches for large guys…

  18. Jerry Hom

    I admit that my many Breitling watches appear a little out of fashion but simply making the new models also did not feel right to me and several of my friends who enjoyed the big shiny chronograph watches. I have been very loyal to the brand but am waiting for some true innovation before choosing the next purchase from Breitling!

  19. Jesse Freed

    Great to see elegance, wearability returning to watch makers. Nice to see many guys don’t need to overcompensate for “small hands syndrome”.

  20. Goode

    I agree min 40 to max 44, 44 is cut close. Bigger looks ridiculous or smaller looks lady like.

  21. DavidM

    Good to see there can be something for everyone. Though I own one 45mm, mostly like 42mm-43mm is the perfect size for me… not to mention easier to read at a glance as my eyes at not as good as they used to be.

  22. Dion phillips Crown

    I am the type of person who wears a 36 – 42mm on my wrist. I believe in elegance. These are great choices. Still, I never was a Breitling kind of guy.

  23. Sorry guys, but any watch under 40mm ,particularly 38mm or less seems like a ladies watch to me. Maybe this is due to my love of complications.
    The 55mm watches were ridiculous, but the best size for me is a round 42-43mm or a square 38mm (like the best ever Panerai above), and I am a typical 6′ guy.

    • There are plenty of men with slender builds who would disagree with you. Also in most places 6′ is slightly above average rather than typical although plenty of guys like to say they’re an inch or two taller than they really are. It’s amazing how many guys who look to be about 5’10” say they’re 6′.

  24. Gerry Dimatos

    I must admit that I have avoided both Panerai and Breitling for the very reason that the majority of their designs simply do not fit my wrist.
    As watches at this level are major purchases it is great to see these brands have come to their senses and realise that their watches simply don’t fit under a shirt cuff for work purposes.
    The millennials that wear the oversized watches look ridiculous…
    Even Rolex fell into the trap of falling for this market trend with the 42 mm Explorer 2 which is just too big as well as the 44 mm Deap Sea which is just a brick..
    Bring on the 40 and Sub 40 mm models and we can all breathe a sigh of relief and start exploring other brands with a rich history,
    From Gerry Dimatos in Australia.

  25. Barry Silver

    Dear Mr. Baker, I just purchased the Breitling Navitimer 8. Downsized and made vintage-simple-elegant, with a gorgeous deep blue dial and dark brown band. Stunning! Hope to see you again at your BH Watchtime Event later on this year!

  26. The Seiko ….Why can’t they make that exact watch with a spring drive movement ?

    • ranchracer

      Agreed. The new SBGA387 comes in at 40mm in the 44GS SS case, equipped with the 9R65 Spring Drive. I know the SD is size-constrained, but even if they had to upsize the case of the SBGH263 by half a millimeter I think it would be worth it in order to get the movement in there.

  27. Charbel zod

    rolex will be my first my last my everything in watches world tanks yours charbel zod

  28. Debashish

    It seems those watch brands have come to their senses, at last. They have realised that ordinary folks do not have physique like Sly Stallone and other musclebound hulks.

Leave a Reply