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"Is it bigger than a breadbox?"

December 26 2011 at 4:07 PM
keithc  (Login kacomess)
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from IP address

A pithy send-up from The New York Times on watch sizes, copied in all its glory, below:

December 23, 2011
Is It Bigger Than a Breadbox?
A HALF-CENTURY ago, a guy given a watch for the holidays would have torn off the wrapping paper to find a modest box containing a timepiece about the size of a quarter. This season that same package is more likely the size of a hamper, with inside it a hunk of bristling, steel-studded hardware and gears.

Watches have bulked up steadily since the Mad Men era, incrementally becoming brawnier, thicker and wide enough across to invite comparison to sundials. Particularly over the last decade, high-end watchmakers like Breitling, Franck Muller, IWC, Lange & Söhne, Omega and Panerai and even traditionally conservative companies like Cartier led the way with models offering ample quantities of what the industry refers to as wrist presence.

It was an odd development, given that the rest of the culture was headed in the opposite direction, favoring smaller cars, reduced carbon footprints and leaner six-pack bodies over pumped-up bloat and monster guns.

But the Mark McGwire look, otherwise so out of style now, persists in the world of the steroidal sports watch. And that helps account for the fact that timepieces in stores this season seem to have reached epic proportions.

The current record holder is probably the U-Boat U-1942, a monster at 64.4 millimeters in diameter, or about 2.5 inches.

But the U-Boat has plenty of company from heavy metal covering a cost spectrum ranging from, say, Invictas modestly priced (just over $100) but hulking Russian Diver Collection Quinotaur Chronograph to the Breitling Super Avenger, a $6,000 (and up) 48-millimeter-wide hunk of metal that would make Dads Longines look like a dainty cocktail watch.

Watches have grown as men have adopted a kind of car collector approach to buying them, said Tom Kalenderian, general merchandise manager of Barneys New York.

Guys wanted a fine timekeeping device that not only kept time but said something about status and personal style, he said.

For men like Steve Baktidy, who owns auto-body repair shops in New York State, a big sports watch is indeed like a sports car. It gets attention, and it makes a statement, he said.

Mr. Baktidy started his collection of 35 watches some 15 years ago with a 40-millimeter Rolex Submariner.

Though that watch seemed large at the time (most average sports watches then were 34 to 36 millimeters in diameter), he now favors his Panerai (44 millimeters), Omega Seamaster Railmaster XXL chronometer (49.2 millimeters) or a Glashütte Original that looks like Big Ben on a crocodile strap. They got bigger and bigger, Mr. Baktidy said. Whats the limit? There is no limit.

There is also, as it happens, no longer much of a gender divide. The vogue for super-size watches is hardly the exclusive province of men, said Carrie Shumway, an associate at a Container Store in Manhattan, shooting her cuff to reveal a wristwatch the size of a saucer. Its a boyfriend watch, Ms. Shumway said. My boyfriend gave it to me. Hes the fashionista in the family.

When Lisa Eisner, a writer and publisher in Los Angeles, was still dating her future husband, he surprised her one day by taking her to Tiffany & Company to pick an engagement ring. I told him Id rather have a big Rolex Submariner, Ms. Eisner said. I love seeing women with big watches. I like big anything.

According to Edward Faber, the director of the Aaron Faber Gallery, a watch retailer in New York and the author of American Wristwatches: Five Decades of Style and Design, it was the sight of more women wearing hefty hardware that triggered a kind of forearms race.

No man wants to wear a watch smaller than a woman has on, he said.

The hulking sports watch, the industrys top seller, is a curious counterpoint to much else in a culture where McMansions are out of favor, fewer gas guzzlers can be seen filling driveways and phones and laptops aspire to near invisibility. In an age when cellphones have largely eliminated the need for a timepiece, the monster wristwatch serves another purpose, as a holdout of permissibly conspicuous consumption.

Its still the ultimate look-at-me, said James Wallman, editor of LS:N Global, a publication of the London trend-watching firm the Future Laboratory.

By all accounts, the shift began with the arrival of the Panerai, an Italian diving and sports watch introduced in the American market almost a decade ago. It started with celebrities, Sly Stallone, the fashionistas and the Hollywood crowd, said Mr. Faber, of the Aaron Faber gallery.

The Panerai jolted a conservative industry that had gradually slumped into the design doldrums. People wanted to feel that if they were spending more, they were getting more, said Michael Sandler, vice president for the watch retailer Tourneau.

Where a watch of 36 to 38 millimeters might once have been considered wide-screen, newer models expanded in all dimensions dial and case diameter, depth and crystal thickness, bracelet heft until comparisons to objects like kitchen timers, manacles or hockey pucks became inevitable.

Youd have to go way back to find watches that big, Mr. Faber said of the kind of whoppers sighted on the arms of men like Tom Cruise and Giorgio Armani.

By way back, Mr. Faber means World War II, when big watch faces were created to enable aviators to read them while flying combat missions. Even the watches worn by Luftwaffe pilots, though, were almost modest when compared to the U-Boat, which has the same overall dimensions as a White Castle slider.

Thats a hubcap, said Ted Stafford, European market editor for GQ magazine. Still, theres probably a guy who can carry it off, maybe a Mark Sanchez or a Jay-Z.

For the average man, Mr. Stafford suggested, a timepiece measuring more than 38 millimeters in diameter probably exceeds a tasteful watch-to-wrist ratio.

In recent years, even Rolex, the standard-bearer for conservative taste in the industry, has gradually grown the dimensions of its faces.

We have increased some cases to 40 and 41 millimeters, said Carla Uzel, a spokeswoman for Rolex Watch U.S.A., adding that while the standard size for classics like the Oyster Perpetual or the Air King have held steady at 36 millimeters, watches like the Yacht-Master II and the Deepsea come in outsize 44-millimeter cases. But these are professional watches that serve a specific purpose, she said.

The Deepsea, in other words, is functional underwater to a depth of 12,800 feet, useful perhaps if the owner plans to dive the Marianas Trench.

Thats for a guy with a bathyscaph in his yard, said Terry Betteridge, the chief executive of Betteridge jewelers in Greenwich, Conn.

As with hemlines, watches are far from immune to the whims of fashion, and hints of a countertrend emerged last March at the Baselworld watch fair, where watchmakers previewed a variety of slimmed-down timepieces.

For now, though, the big watch holds steady as an acceptable symbol of status. You cant really do that with a car anymore, said Watts Wacker, the chief executive of FirstMatter, a marketing consultancy.

You cant reasonably be out looking for a Humvee, he added. But you can have a Humvee watch.

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(Login dynhm6)
VRF Member

Yet another reason not to read The Times anymore.

December 26 2011, 7:39 PM 

Dick Tracy-sized watches have been so '00 since....well, 2000.

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(Login conrail)
VRF Member

Re: "Is it bigger than a breadbox?"

December 27 2011, 7:24 AM 

Never a fan of the NY Times, but they are right. The classy elegance of watches is being lost in the dinner plates people like to put on their wrists. Even Rolex's modern offerings, at 42mm and the "maxi case" look completely unbalanced compared to their earlier counterparts. And look at IWC, as cited by the author. Beautiful dials and designs, but many are at 44mm!

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John Ireland
(Login figcar)
VRF Member

The good news is...the trend is now heading back

December 27 2011, 9:54 AM 

the other way with many of the top end makers offering thinner models with ultra thin movements. Hang on to those old 36 mm and 34 mm Rolexes...they be back in style very soon...and the large case watches will be as hard to get rid of as 80s Leisure suits.

John Ireland

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(Login kacomess)
VRF Member

Leisure suits!

December 27 2011, 10:30 AM 

Exactly what I thought about ostentatious, large-case watches! Perfect analogy!


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(Login M.A.G.)

Asia Observation: Is bigger any better :)?

December 27 2011, 8:42 PM 

Though personally my preference for an everyday watch is a 37mm case size, I have observed the successful transformation/marketing of larger case sizes to the Asian consumer - and lets be honest and grateful who is driving luxury watch sales today wink.gif regardless of their preference. Cartier has been extremely successful with their larger size Ballon Bleu 42mm, and also seen quite a few movers in the extra larger 46mm size.

Panerai has been extremely successful once again with their 2011 SIHH launch as seen with the 372, bronzo 382, and even the 390. Risti is blowing up with thousands of proud new owners...I must admit I have fended off several panerai urges even a 3646 purchase the last few months. When I thought Panerai was slowing and just being used to fund the Cartier double barrel movements, I am always reminded of how strong their following is with the Risti crowd and events. Well done.

Also we can observe the redesign and popularity of the Patek Nautilus, Jumbo Aquanaut...explosion of Bell & Ross like Panerai in the early 2000... great price point...and size..ha

In the end there is always "vintage" models for us to collect and life is a circle as some of the responses here suggest. We do see a strong movement in the slim development and refined case size in the future.


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