Friday, July 17, 2015

How to Wear a Large Watch on a Small Wrist

Did a brew of genes from small-wristed parents forever condemn you to wearing small-faced watches, rather than a coveted 47 mm Panerai? Are you able to slip your hand in the small space between your desk and the wall to retrieve a paperclip? Does a diver watch always make you look like you’re trying out for a part in the remake of The Incredible Shrinking Man?

Do you wish that you lived in the era of Mad Men, when almost all watches were a cool 35 mm in diameter?

If you have a thin wrist, don’t despair. You don’t need need a diet of cheeseburgers to fatten your wrists, or a time machine, to be able to wear a large wristwatch. All you need is an optical illusion—provided by the large watch that’s your heart’s desire.

The classic optical illusion.
Duck, rabbit? Both? 
There’s no such thing as a wristwatch that’s too large. There are only wristwatches that look too large.

Optical illusions exert immutable control over us. What’s real doesn’t matter when it comes to shape and design. It’s how we perceive what we see that matters. The same goes for watches. Watchmakers put extraordinary thought and inspiration into designing watches, because what a watch looks like is the first thing we notice.

A watch that distracts you from the watch wearer’s wrist—that draws people’s eyes to both the overall shape and color and the details within the watch—can be worn by somebody with a small wrist. If a watch’s color canopy is right, then even a big watch will be a match for a small wrist.

Here are some examples of watches that look good on a 6 ¼-inch (16 cm) wrist.

40 mm Cota Sun and Moon handwound watch

40 mm Movement in Motion automatic on a 16 cm wrist

The 45 mm Egard Passages

41 mm Perpetual Pointer Date/Moonphase automatic
Generally, the busier and more visually detailed the watch, the greater the chance that it will look just fine on a small wrist. Not every complicated-looking watch is going to be a work of art on a small wrist, but many will look sharp. This means that you can venture past the 35 mm range into what’s considered standard.

A 40 mm watch that acts like a bullseye for your line of sight will work a lot better on a 15 mm wrist than an ordinary dress watch that doesn’t stand out in any special way.

There are limits, of course. Watch diameter does matter. And if the lugs overhand your wrist, the fashion police might want to have a word or two with you. Lugs should not protrude beyond your wrist...but sometimes with a well-designed watch they can.

Take a look at this Mondaine Automatic. This 41 mm watch has a bright-red second hand—Mondaine’s trademark. But despite the eye-catching properties of this watch’s second hand, I don’t think that it works on this 6 ¼-inch wrist. It should work because of the way that the second hand attracts your eyes, but it doesn’t. Perhaps this Mondaine feels like it should be framed, and a small wrist isn’t a suitable frame for this large watch.

Trying on a watch is the best, and only, way to see if a large
watch works on your small wrist.

I once tried on an Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean that was 37.5 mm in diameter, certainly small enough for my puny wrist. But it was 13 mm thick, and that gave it a weird out of proportion look to the watch when I put it on my wrist, like a plate at a fast food restaurant that’s ¼ burger, ¼ fries and ½ broccoli. It was just wrong.

What’s the takeaway here? It’s all about design—that ephemeral, hard-to-quantify quality. As a rule of thumb, if you have small wrists, you should lean toward busy, bold, interesting larger watches.

Try on watches that don’t look like every other watch on every other wrist, ones that you might think won’t look right but which you are attracted to. Because the rule of thumb about design is only rule of thumb: The only way to tell for sure is to see it with your own eyes on your own wrist.


  1. What is the brand name of the watch above with the caption, 40 mm Movement in Motion automatic. Love it.

  2. That's a Tic Tac Movement in Motion watch. It's a Japanese watch. You can buy it in stores throughout Tokyo and on