Written by Everett Meadows (Co-Host of The 40 and 20 Podcast)
So… I have to confess that I was (maybe) wrong.
See, I am the kind of dude that will change my thinking on a topic without admitting any evolution (“I’ve NEVER liked bootcut jeans, obviously”). In this case, though, I’m sort of stuck. When we came up with the title for “40 and 20,” we weren’t intending to say that there is a single and definitive best size for a watch, but what we were implying is that there may be some prevailing dimensional orthodoxy. It was (then) my opinion that a watch with a 40mm case diameter and 20mm lugs resided in a sort of Goldilocks zone – that those dimensions would lend themselves to most watches and most wrists. Increasingly, I’m unconvinced of the clarity of that idea.
I recently acquired a Pulsar G10 watch, issued to a UK Service Member, sometime in the last decade. The watch is extremely cool: super inexpensive, Seiko manufacture, military bona fides, NSN printed on the back, etc. I love it. I haven’t been able to get it off my wrist. But here’s the thing: it’s diminutive. I come up with a roughly 36.5mm diameter, and a 41.5mm ‘lug to lug’ dimension. Objectively, tiny. Two years ago, I could have never imagined that starting a horology podcast would lead to chain-smoking 36mm used quartz watches, but here I am.
So where did we go wrong?
Is “40 and 20” actually… Bad? Should I sell everything over 37mm? Is the size of a watch completely unimportant? Perhaps not. When I’m not wearing tiny military watches, I’m still fairly predictable with my watch sizing. I mostly run in that 38 to 42mm zone, and I basically refuse to buy watches with 22mm lugs. A 45mm dive watch is still, often, uncomfortably big for my taste (the exception being my beloved Casio AMW320). I haven’t completely abandoned the underlying theories, but I have had to rethink the assumptions that lead to their formation.
We all know the important watch dimensions, and the respective significance of each:
• Diameter: this is the one that we need to know before we buy, because (its understood that) the diameter of a watch (usually) tells you most of what you need to know about the overall size of the watch.
• Lug Width: because… will it take my custom suede EA8?
• Vertical/Thickness: will it fit under my shirt cuff?
• Lug to Lug: the least likely to be listed, but (probably) the most important dimension for how a watch will actually wear.
I don’t actually think that any of these ideas are wrong or poorly considered. In fact, I am sure that they are generally as close to useful as pithy dimensional figures are going to get; I’m not advocating any paradigm shift, here.
What is clear to me now, however, is that the naked dimensions don’t tell the whole story. In a previous column on this website, our host, Will, told us about his full size Oris Aquis, with its integrated lugs, and flowing lines, making the 43 (and change) millimeter watch wear much “smaller” than the diameter might suggest. On a similar note, in one of our recent 40 and 20 podcasts, we discussed watch thickness, and how, if at all, the number might affect how a watch will wear. At the end of the day, we concluded that it probably doesn’t tell us much of anything.
In that show, we spent some time discussing this Watchuseek post, by user ‘ffritz’ where he measured the on-wrist circumference of several watches with vastly different “Z” measurements; he makes the basic methodology clear in the post, but imagine putting the watch on and then running a soft measuring tape around the outside. At this point of the column, I suspect you will not be surprised that the results did not follow the dimensions; the tallest watch in his test had less overall circumference than the flattest, and so on.
So, then, if not dimensional height, what is important? Is prominence or slab-sidedness important? The Tudor Black Bay 58 is frequently maligned for its towering case sides, but, at 39mm, the 12(ish)mm sides are not objectively disproportionate or even, really, large; they’re just straight. The BB58 is less than a half of a millimeter taller than the Christopher Ward C65 Trident, which is almost universally lauded for its slender fit.
Ward, with its “light-catcher” case, draws the eye away from the dimension, but, for better or worse, it’s illusion. It’s not actually (much) slenderer, it just hides its height; its wearing watch Spanx. Is one better than the other? Is there any winner here? I suspect not. Both watches are wonderful, and different, and, for the people who love them, just… work.
I remember once upon a time, ca. before dinner, where I was certain that the point of this column would present itself eventually. Alas, here we are. I suppose, if pressed, the point is this: a watch is nearly always more (or less) than the sum of its dimensions.
Whether it’s a big Oris Aquis or a tiny Pulsar G10, the experience a watch provides comes not from the dimensions, but from the design, and even the purpose of the watch. While we may use dimensional considerations to assess the suitability of a watch, we also don’t have to completely limit ourselves to those numbers. Take a chance – buy that tiny G10, or that too big Lunar Lander. You never know (until you know).