BASEL, Switzerland – Last year, during my first Baselworld, I found myself having a chat with a veteran watch journalist while standing at the Bremont party at The Palace. The conversation went a little something like this:
Him: “What watch are you wearing?”
Me: “Oh, my grandmother’s Longines from the '40s. I love a small case.”
Him: “You love a small case? That’s my cue to get out of this conversation.”
And like Kanye West’s career, he disappeared into the night before I even had a chance to say, “I also thought Beyonce was robbed.”
Since then, however, it seems that (unlike Kanye’s ego) watch case sizes have started to shrink, and last week during Baselworld, we saw a plethora of new releases by brands who went into the fair standing on the old adage that less is more.
Just prior to Baselworld, Blancpain introduced a new vintage-inspired Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe, only this time in 38mm. The Bathyscaphe diving watches were initially created by Blancpain in the late 1950s, but the 2017 version (while not just being smaller in diameter) is also equipped with two series-coupled barrels ensuring a 100-hour power reserve.
As I sat in on the Blancpain press conference while the timepiece was being passed around, I watched as my colleague Jason Heaton – an avid diver, watch enthusiast and co-host of adventure podcast The Grey Nato – took it into his hands as is if he had just unearthed the Holy Grail. When I asked him why it was so special that this and other dive watches were being made in smaller sizes, he responded by saying, “The fact is, many of the earliest dive watches were under 40mm in diameter with no compromise in their functionality. Arguably, the most iconic of all sports watches, the Rolex Submariner, has never exceeded that ‘golden’ diameter. I love that watches are returning to more wearable sizes, even for me, a devotee of rugged watches built for diving.”
Another smaller-sized watch that went over well with the adventure writers in attendance was the HyperChrome Captain Cook by Rado. Two 37mm diameter models were released at Baselworld, each with a specific gender in mind (though don’t tell that to someone like me who would clearly opt for the men’s version over the women’s). The inspiration behind the name of the collection was 18th-century British explorer James Cook, who charted thousands of miles of unexplored coastline in the Pacific, and the 2017 version is a throwback to the original Captain Cook collection launched by Rado in the 1960s.
Oris was also a brand whose watches – at least two of them – experienced shrinkage this year (in their defense, it was pretty cold in Hall 1). The launch of the Oris Chronoris Date (an updated version of the 1970s collection) clocked in at 39mm in diameter, and the much-anticipated Big Crown 1917 Limited Edition measured 40mm. While these are not petite by any stretch, when you consider that the majority of Oris’ Baselworld releases were 43mm and 45mm, you can see why these two watches were the ones most talked about.
Lastly, while it is not quite as uncommon for a woman’s watch case to be small, it is uncommon for women’s watches to be both small as well as mechanical. Bremont did not have a booth inside of the Messeplatz this year, but that didn’t stop it from showing off its new wares, which included two new women’s watches that it added to its Solo 32 women’s chronometer collection. One of the most appealing things about this British company is that it doesn’t go by the “shrink and pink” mentality that many of the watch brands use when it comes time to create something for a female customer. Bremont certainly had the “shrink” part down by manufacturing these watches in 32mm cases, but in terms of how they look, one could even consider them to be “gender neutral.” Both watches were released in rose gold, measure 9mm in thickness, and house the mechanical BE-10AE chronometer, which is becoming more and more appealing to those of us who have invested our time into learning about just what makes this industry tick.
I suspect we’ll be seeing more releases following this scaled down trend by next year’s Baselworld, but in the meantime, there is still plenty of variety out there for the watch collector who continues to live by the “go big or go home” cliché.