From The Straits Times    |

Courtesy of Shawn Tan & Chopard, Getty

Not too long ago, watches serving big wrist energy—literally, the bigger the better—used to dominate the market. But as of 2023, the trend for small watches has reached new heights, attracting collectors and A-listers.

While the Rolex Daytona, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Off­shore and the Patek Philippe Nautilus are still considered the “holy grail” for seasoned and budding collectors, men and women alike, models with dimensions ranging from 25 to 38mm like Cartier’s Tanks and Vacheron Constantin’s Overseas Selfwinding are on the lists of watch enthusiasts.

A-list men are leading the charge on this downsizing trend. Last year, Ben Affleck made an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! with a 25mm Franck Muller Cintrée Curvex, gifted by JLo, and The Weeknd wore a diamond and yellow sapphire encrusted Piaget Limelight Gala timepiece at the 76th Cannes Film Festival. Of course, most recently at the 2024 Golden Globes, Timothée Chalamet pulled out the 2013 ladies’ Cartier Crash with a diamond bezel and a white gold bracelet, which was a huge red carpet moment on social media.

Photo: Getty Images

So, what gives—why are small watches experiencing a renaissance?

For starters, watches with smaller diameters and thinner cases are more comfortable and wearable because they are lighter and, ergonomically, smaller watches tend to sit flush on our oval-shaped wrists, especially those fitted with a leather or rubber strap.

Taking into account that size is relative, Shawn Tan, founder of Singapore’s acclaimed vintage watch boutique—Heirloom Gallery—explains that smaller watches make sense for most Asian people because of their build, while the Americans and Europeans might gravitate towards 41 or 42mm watches as they look small on their wrists. But, there are exceptions.

“Look at Muhammad Ali. He’s a [heavyweight] boxer and he was wearing a Cartier Tank in the 1970s, which is a very small watch for men of today too. He probably wasn’t paid to promote the watch so it must have been a personal choice—he must have felt that it was a classic,” says Tan.

The shape of the watch also matters. Collectors aren’t only paying attention to the name of the brand or the prospective value of timepieces on the grey market; they want novelty. “Collectors being collectors will get bored with wearing the same things every day. They will then look for something more obscure,” says Tan.

This is where the boom in vintage watch comes in. Models before the 1990s were smaller in size and watchmakers were producing experimental designs that were under-appreciated for decades, which meant that resale prices were much lower in the modern era.

Photo: Courtesy of Shawn Tan

Tan experienced this himself when he acquired the Louis Vuitton Monterey I in yellow and white gold and the ceramic Monterey II with a 37mm case size at reasonable prices before social media turned the references into an overnight sensation in 2023. “I was lucky. I noticed these watches and bought them before they were popular. Even Jean Arnault has only seen three of the gold Montereys—mine included—during his travels,” said Tan on his encounter with the director of watches for Louis Vuitton at Heirloom Gallery last September.

Louis Vuitton’s increased dedication to their watchmaking arm is important to note—fashion and watches no longer exist on separate planes. Quiet luxury, which started out as a fashion trend based on HBO’s Succession and Gwyneth Paltrow’s courtroom looks during the controversial ski trial, has influenced the small watch trend.

“Nowadays, people want to show that they have taste and class, and you don’t need a super big watch for that. People want something like this [Chaumet Jump Hour] or a [simple] watch that peeks out of your sleeve that makes others go ‘wow, what is that’,” said Tan.

Photo: Courtesy of Shawn Tan

For women, cocktail watches rocking diamonds and other precious gems are seeing a resurgence at his boutique due to the intricate designs that complement the clothes, bags and shoes that they have collected over the years. Men and women are looking into different ways of showcasing their style by treating watches as an extension of their style rather than purely as a time-keeping device.

Rihanna made headlines for wearing a Jacob & Co. Boutique Emerald Cut Diamonds watch as an anklet to juxtapose her casual all-black ensemble at the Las Vegas Grand Prix last year. Likewise, Emma Chamberlain turned the Cartier Baignoire into a choker during the previous Paris Fashion Week, jazzing up her “librarian core” look.

Photo: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton

Also at the 2024 Golden Globes, Saltburn’s Barry Keoghan opted for the 34mm OMEGA Seamaster Aqua Terra in Sedna Gold with a snow-set diamond dial and ruby hour markers that matched his red Damier Louis Vuitton suit and jewellery to a tee.

Keoghan is the perfect example of how the perception of men’s and women’s watches are changing. Several manufactures have also blurred the lines by applying gender-neutral design codes to their repertoire, such as Richard Mille’s peppy RM 07-01 and Chopard’s 36.5mm L.U.C 1860 with a salmon-hued dial.

Photo: Courtesy of Chopard

Tan shared that there was a time when watches were used to stroke one’s ego a little, which is why aficionados and casual wearers sought out big timepieces designed specifically based on gender. But that time is long gone.

“I have sold many ladies’ watches to my male customers— after some convincing from myself and their families—and they pulled it off so well,” said Tan. He continued: “It’s really about how you carry it and I always tell them to wear what they like because at the end of the day, they need to wear the watches and not let the watches wear them.”

This article was originally published in Harper’s Bazaar Singapore.