MY EXPERIENCE WITH LARGE WATCHES
Posted by Justin Time on May 17, 1998 at 13:09:05:
The tremendous response to Walt O.’s post on large watches piqued my curiosity. I was especially intrigued by the two recurring themes in the posts. Many viewed the large size of current watches as simply fashion, not right nor wrong. But to avid fans, large watches are more than a fad because they offer real advantages not found in small watches.
Unsure of where I stood, I decided to run a little experiment with my own watches–doesn’t this sound like a bad sci-fi movie on late-night TV? My four IWC pilot watches were once again the guinea pigs. You know them well by now: the Mark XII, the small Fliegerchronograph, the automatic Fliegerchronograph and the Doppelchronograph. They share similar designs and span a good range of size and weight (diameters = 36 to 42 mm; thickness = 12 to 16.5 mm; weight = 92 to 174 grams). And so began my journey to uncover the secret of large watches. (My Mark XII joined the trip only in spirit, being still with Jack F. for a tune up and a lube job. The comparison was from memory).
DO BIG WATCHES SHOW OFF DESIGNS BETTER?
Richard Paige suggested that large watches allow subtle patterns or decorations to be seen and appreciated more easily. He was right. On the Doppel (42 mm), the alternating pattern of brushed and polished SS surfaces accentuate the exquisite details on the bezel, suffusing these simple lines with a dazzling elegance. On the auto Flieger (39 mm), you feel these details more than you see them. The two smallest watches, the méca-Flieger and Mark XII, are adorned with fewer accents and look more Spartan. On the wrist, the unmistakable aura of the Doppel commands your attention, whereas the auto Flieger is more subtly elegant. The small Flieger and Mark XII, distinctive in their own right, suffer in a head-on comparison with their bigger bothers. So, at least for these pilot watches, size is clearly an asset. (The photos poorly show what I discussed above).
I still wonder. Is size indispensable to showcase design? As Paul S. pointed out, many lady’s watches exude elegance and class despite their tiny size. Many Lilliputian beauties by Cartier and Vacheron Constantin reveal a level of details not seen on the mammoth Royal Oak Offshore. It seems to me that you can show off intricate designs on virtually any size watch, if that’s your intention. As we shall see, extremely large or small sizes exact a price.
ARE BIG WATCHES EASIER TO READ?
Undeniably yes. The dials, markers, and hands are much more readable on the Doppel and the Flieger than on the small Flieger and the Mark XII. Then again, I never had trouble telling the time with any of these watches thanks to the matte-black dials and the large Arabic numerals and straight baton hands in contrasting white. But even the huge Doppel, the numbers on the sub-registers are still damn near impossible to decipher. So while size helps, 42 mm is not enough to make the sub-register numbers readable. Should we go for the 50-mm Eberhard or the mysterious 60-mm watch at the 98 Basel Fair that many raved about? I know how Hans Z. and SJX would vote, but I for one would prefer changing the design to improve legibility. Size clearly helps readability but new designs may do even better.
ACCURACY AND RELIABILITY: MORE ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Horological trivia: It is much easier to deliver accuracy and reliability in a large watch than in a small watch. With the same part tolerance, the accuracy improves as the size–read diameter and weight–of critical parts increases. The large railroad pocket watches achieved amazing accuracy that smaller wristwatches struggled for a long time to match. Thickness helps reliability and durability. Even prestigious firms like Patek Philippe and Blancpain had reliability problems with some of their ultra-thin models. Sadly, many lady’s mechanical watches were reduced to jewelry-size for the sake of fashion, at the expense of features, accuracy and durability. It’s a miracle that these miniature watches run at all.
Shock absorbing, magnetic shielding, water-sealing, finishing, and assembling also become easier with thicker movements and larger cases [Fred Bart, I wish I could elaborate more]. Unfortunately, few if any of the larger watches in vogue today use larger movements. It is the same ETA 2892, Valjoux 7750, Lemania 5100 with bigger plastic rings to fill the extra space. What a waste! Perhaps this was what offended Walt O.’s and Mycroft’s sensibility so much. The IWC Portugieser is one of the notable exceptions where the case was made larger to accommodate essentially a
DO LARGE WATCHES FIT SMALL WRISTS? (OFF-THE CUFF REMARKS)
The small Flieger and Mark XII fit under the cuff of all my shirts. But there were a few cuffs that would not accommodate the auto Flieger (39 mm x 15 mm). The Doppel (42 mm x 16.5 mm) flatly refused to hide under any cuff and demanded to be on display at all time. Perhaps I should shorten all my left sleeves by about an inch to accommodate this watch, or wear only short-sleeve shirts. I would say that the Doppel’s size (diameter and thickness) is a bit…excessive–please wait while I dodge invectives and sharp objects Richard Paige and Hans Zbinden are hurling in my direction. As Walt O. and Paul S. have noticed, the flat part of the wrist is limited in size. Mine is less than 35 mm wide! The IWC PD Titan chronograph, which is actually smaller than the Doppel at 42 mm x 14.5 mm, stuck out 1/4 inch over each side of my wrist like a Wendy’s square meat patty on a round bun, except not nearly as appetizing. I fully concur with Jack F. and Mycroft that ergonomics also affects the apparent size of a watch.
THE WEIGHTS OF SINS
No matter which watch I wear, I eventually get used to its weight. Up to a point. As I have said in previous posts, the key to comfort is how well the lugs/bracelet/strap fits you wrist. This fit becomes more critical as the size and weight of the watch increase. I’ve lost some weight this spring, so all my watches fit a little lose, which is not a problem with the small Flieger and the Mark XII (under 100 grams). But I could feel the auto Flieger (142 grams) move around a bit on my wrist, though not excessively. The Doppel (174 grams), on the other hand [but on the same wrist :—)], flopped around annoyingly. I also banged the Doppel more than I do smaller watches; the risk of damage is great without the protection of the shirt cuff. With titanium and light space-age alloys, watch fans could enjoy the advantages of even larger watches without the weight penalty. This is an avenue well worth exploring if the large-watch fashion endures.
SWITCHING WATCHES TO FIND A COMFORTABLE WEIGHT
Switching watches proved to be an eye-opener. matwat was absolutely right: when I switched from the small Flieger to the big Flieger, the added weight felt “solid.” It felt like I got what I paid for–silly notion isn’t it, Swiss watch fans? But when I moved up from the small Flieger/Mark XII to the Doppel, the six-ounce-plus weight felt excessive initially, though I got used to it eventually. Wearing a very heavy watch is like hanging; you feel a sharp pain the instant your neck snaps, but afterward, as you swing back and forth at the end of the rope, you hardly feel any pain. Seriously folks, there’s got to be a maximum weight that an individual is comfortable with. What is it? Switching from a heavy watch to a light watch gave me the answer. Removing the Doppel and putting on the small Flieger gave me a great relief. Replacing the Doppel with the titanium PD méca-quartz brought sheer delight! So, for everyday wear, the weight of the Flieger is the limit for me. Hans can–and probably does–wear the Royal Oak Offshore all day long without any problem. But everyone has a limit. Some of the current large watches exceed mine; they may exceed yours too.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Not surprisingly, there is some truth in each view about large watches. Watch fashion changes with time and place, but practical concerns has always guided and restricted these trends, albeit loosely. Watches that strayed too far beyond these boundaries either failed to catch on or fizzled out quickly. Those that struck the right balance endured or reappeared periodically after short hiatus.
My four IWC watches taught me that bigger can be better: designs are better fleshed out, enhancing the elegance of the watch. Legibility improves. Accuracy and durability will also improve with larger movements. But when size exceeds practical limits–they vary with individuals–then bigger is not better. Very thick watches fit poorly or not at all under the shirt cuffs and carry excessive weights that can interfere with fit and comfort in extended wear. Sometimes, a huge watch looks plainly ridiculous on a small wrist, as a tiny watch does on a large wrist.
Oversized watches reflect the taste of our time. They are probably here to stay because they offer some real advantages, and still have untapped potentials. They also have drawbacks. So, chose your large watch with care. Make sure that your wrist is up to it.