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How does the watch world continue to challenge the gender disparity between men’s watches and women’s watches? We caught up with a selection of leading female voices in horology to explore if size really does matter. 

“Our preferences do not determine what is true,” declared Carl Sagan, an American astronomer who popularized science to the masses. That is to say, if smaller watches are popular amongst women, that doesn’t mean they are only for them. They say it’s the small things in life that bring us happiness – could that be a 17mm watch? 

In the timeline of horology, what constitutes a ‘small’ watch evolves with each tick of the clock. Ask around in the 1930’s and a small watch might come in at 27-30mm, given the scaling-down of pocket-watch movements onto the wrist. But in today’s market, it’s considered to be between 33 to 36 millimeters. While these figures might sound like minute strides, it shifts the whole spectrum. 

Reporting on the outdated gender classifications in the industry, Victoria Gomelsky penned that “from the Swiss industry’s perspective, it’s a quartz-powered timepiece small in size and elaborately decorated (with diamonds, of course).” When the invention of quartz made its way into the watch world, with dire effects on the Swiss industry in the 1970’s. 

Courtesy of Hamilton

As a result, timepieces that were once bulkier and heavier, due to all the steel parts that make-up the core of a watch in order to make it tick, were challenged by thinner and smaller timepieces that use an electric oscillator – a mini circuit like the ones you made in school –  regulated by a quartz crystal to keep the time. Requiring less space to contain the mechanism, smaller watches dominated the market. But where did the association with women come from?

In 2012, Reuters positioned the women’s market as a predominantly quartz-dominated enterprise, focusing on simple models for $1,000, or on the contrary, luxury diamond-encrusted pieces with mind-blowing price tags. The disposability and affordability of value watch brands make them a popular fashion choice among consumers across the world. But fast forward a decade and the relationship between women and small watches has drastically altered. 

It might seem obvious that the bigger the watch, the more things fit in it, thus making it more complicated, and smaller watches more refined. But small watches require just as much, and often more planning to fit the core components that go in a bigger watch, within less surface area. The moral of the story is that it’s high time we stop giving smaller such a hard time.

Courtesy of Bulova

“27 Men’s Watches for Small Wrists That Look Manly,” an online article, published in December last year scribed the founder of The Slender Wrist, advocating a shift in attitudes for men to wear smaller watches. “Just after becoming a watch enthusiast, I discovered that my wrists were small. And smaller than average for sure,” shares Brick McGoff. “But I didn’t really know exactly how much smaller they were. I needed to know about my wrists size to find the best watch for me. As crazy as it may seem, this information was nowhere to be found on the Internet. So I started to gather data from polls on watch forums.” While McGoff is campaigning for a shift in the presumptions around size, there’s still a latent reflection in consumer attitudes that in order to be swayed, they need to be poached by the proposition that it still remains ‘manly.’

It’s like boyfriend jeans and mom jeans, figments of the past that dictated fit by a gendered silhouette. The common approach for brands to dilute the gender disparity in the watch world is often through upsizing small wrists into larger watches, with an undeniable boom in popularity for oversized watches, considered 41mm. “The industry has made some progress and a few of the more forward-thinking watch brands have gone the genderless route,” shares Laetitia HirschyCo-founder Watch Femme, Founder & Managing Director of Kaaviar PR,  a leading female voice amongst the male-dominated industry. “At Watch Femme we believe you shouldn’t assign a gender to a watch, chose whatever you like best. As our Co-founder Suzanne Wong always says: “What is a woman’s watch? It is a watch that a woman wears”. This is based on the idea that a woman’s watch is any watch that belongs to a woman and cannot be categorized by gender.”

via @diwanbydesign

Arguably one of the biggest catalysts in accelerating the shifting attitudes towards size came with the advent of the Apple Watch, in April 2015. An extension of the iPhone, it represents a more ubiquitous approach to timekeeping, through the sundry options  to customize the watch to the individual through the straps, rather than the size of the dial. Self-confessed watch enthusiast and event planner, Sneh Diwan, acknowledge this shift, as “an evolution happening where watches are becoming genderless, Women are now wearing watches larger than they did traditionally. The spectrum is widening, and I think that is a good change. 

As such, the increasing emphasis on diversity of choice means a wider threshold of choice for women who have historically, and particularly under the influence of brand advertising, been sidelined into limited models. But as the sizing narrative evolves, so too has a watchwearer’s freedoms. “I don’t have a  preference,  I like to mix it up and that’s the beauty of it,” continues Hirschy. “There is a watch for every occasion and every mood. Let’s just say my imaginary watch collection is very large and very diverse ranging from smaller jeweled watches like my BVLGARI Serpenti tubogas with a pave diamond dial to the URWERK UR-100 Electrum.”

via @laetitia_hirschy

For so long, size has not only been linked to gender, but to occasion and the unspoken rules of etiquette. “In a traditional sense, it is still very much associated, but I think not just horological but societal gender norms are slowly dissipating and the lines are becoming more and more blurry,” reflects watch collector, Jessica Owens. “I always admire people who go outside of the norm in terms of dressing, specific to watches, Ryan Gosling has always worn a smaller vintage Rolex and most recently, Tyler the Creator stunned in a Crash.”

 That’s not to say the evolution hasn’t been without resistance, shares Lucy Kapetanovic of The Watchbox Diaries. “For smaller watches (say, sub 36mm) it’s still a very female directed sizing. Some men feel unable to wear smaller sizes for being judged, while women going into ADs are automatically handed these smaller sizes. I, and other women I know have been told that any “larger” watches (say 38+) are too big for us and look silly. It’s quite depressing!” 

via @jessicajjo

The biggest interdiction to the movement ultimately comes down to the individual, than to the masses. “I genuinely believe it all depends on one’s own confidence,” reflects Owens. “Undeniably, men who wear a piece like the Crash or even a smaller watch have some level of confidence to go against the norm and wear what makes them happy but obviously, you don’t see many men wearing much less than 34mm so there is clearly still some trepidation. I think anyone can wear any size watch, it all depends on how you wear it. It is no different than any other accessory in that regard, as silly as it sounds, how you carry yourself is key.”

The gender parity we strive for in a notoriously dominated by men will only achieve true gender parity when men feel comfortable enough buying feminine timepieces, as women do in men’s. To quote Diwan, ““Versatility” is the key, as the old adage says, variety is the spice of life. What you decide to wear usually represents you as an individual, women should be empowered to wear whatever they want. Male consumers also have the same right. I am lucky enough to be able to share watches between my dad, mom and my husband, and size was never a consideration. Rather, what works well with my look. As a friendly reminder the most coveted vintage Rolex Daytona’s are 37mm. If Paul Newman can wear a 37mm, I think we all can.” 

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Scarlett is a writer, editor, and creative consultant specializing in art, fashion, culture and digital strategy. Drawing on her work from previous titles including Dazed, LOVE Magazine, The Perfect Magazine, AnOther and 1 Granary, as the Editor-in-Chief of The Next Hour, Scarlett is leading the editorial vision toward new territories providing an alternative lens of social commentary to recontextualize the world of watchmaking for the next generation.