The waxing and waning of watches has been a great spectator sport over the past decade. It began with hockey-puck-sized chronographs and is progressing toward a finale of paper-thin vintage automatics. Ladies’ watches have been swept along with the swing of the pendulum between large and small case sizes, and right now there is an unmistakable trend toward the latter, with makers introducing new models under the 25mm mark. Bulgari, Cartier, Rolex, Corum, Chopard, Rolex, Chanel and Hermès are doing it, and that makes it a trend.
The force behind it is unclear. It isn’t about price; the pieces pictured here are not fashion watches. Some are gold or gemset, and all are by luxury brands, with the name itself justifying a big price. It is more likely a companion trend to the downsizing of men’s watches, driven by the vintage fashion, or simply time for a change in the preference for larger watches for women.
Collectors' most sought-after pieces
The watches are unquestionably feminine and jewelry-like, but in terms of function (which may not be the point) the diminutive dials might be something of an issue for older eyes. The Corum Bubble is especially small. Originally available in 42mm, 47mm and as big as 52mm, the new one is 17mm, three-times smaller than the largest, and now appropriately named the “Mini” Bubble. Corum CEO Jérôme Biard, who calls the watch “coyly discreet”, argues that it is “perfectly readable thanks to its bubble-shaped sapphire crystal, which acts as a magnifying glass.” He also points out that the large hour and minute hands contrast with the colored dial. Nevertheless, it is a very limited series of 18 pieces each in three versions: topaz-set bezel on a turquoise bracelet, ruby-set bezel on a red bracelet; and diamond-set bezel on a brown bracelet. “We had already offered some rare Mini Bubble collections in 26mm which are now our collectors’ most sought-after pieces,” says Biard.
The Chanel Première Rock Gold, introduced at Baselworld this year, also has fairly large hands, which may help with legibility on a dial that is only 20mm wide. The dramatic double-wrap strap with a double row of links, however, adds bulk to the tiny case. The woven gold leather and steel combination is inspired by a signature feature of Chanel’s handbags.
We know that Hermès’ female customers are looking for delicate watches that are discreet and can be worn with every type of outfit.
Right design and right name
Like Chanel, Hermès uses a diminutive angular form with its new 24mm Carré Cuir. Hermès creative director Philippe Delhotal points out that this is only one of several small-sized ladies’ watches from the brand, including the 15.5mm Faubourg, the 21mm Heure H and the 23mm Cape Cod. “When we launched the Faubourg in 2014, at the height of the trend toward large ladies’ watches, the minuscule diameter of 15.5mm ran a little bit against the trend,” he says. “However, we know that Hermès’ female customers are looking for delicate watches that are discreet and can be worn with every type of outfit. We want to create tiny and elegant watches that reflect the values of the House.” The point about designing a watch to be worn with every type of outfit is a fair one. A large watch does not always look good with a dress. It can get in the way of some sleeves, and make it difficult to take a blazer on and off.
Bulgari’s latest introduction, a his-and-hers pair of Bulgari Bulgari revivals, includes a ladies’ small size of 23mm. Here again, the minimalist dial with contrasting hand and background colors adds to the legibility. There is a date window option for the larger version, but not on the smaller model, which would make the dial look more crowded.
Cartier and Rolex also have something for women who prefer a smaller watch – Rolex with its 26mm Oyster Perpetual and Cartier with many limited-production jewelry watches but also notably a 22mm model in its revamped Panthère line. Being the two strongest brands on the market, they must be on to something; if they are creating smaller ladies’ watches, we can assume there is a demand for them. With the right design and the right name, a small watch can make a big statement.