A small watch must be the ideal crossover of traditional and on-trend, force and finesse. It must be David in size, Goliath in design. This is clearly no easy task, which makes the small watch releases for 2016 all the more admirable. Everything it takes to stand up to the big boys is packed inside their tiny cases, without skimping on standards. While we can quibble over the fact they don’t all have a mechanical movement ticking inside, a diminutive timepiece is no less an ambassador for excellence in a different register to complications, world records, certifications and other stamps of approval: that of poetry. And occasionally humour too. Longines had its tongue in its cheek when it named one of its tiniest creations Grande Classique. Introduced in 1992, this collection stands out for its very slim steel case in either a 24-mm or 29-mm diameter. This year, shades of pink, blue and white add to the range, which also offers the option of diamonds set on the dial.
The target audience is clearly feminine. To begin with, men’s wrists are too burly to wear these mini treasures. Then there are the rainbow colours. One look at the Mini D de Dior Granville says it all. Vibrant hard stone dials and candy-coloured straps paint a picture of Christian Dior’s childhood spent on the Normandy coast. Dior explains how “the idea was to recreate a collection that would resemble a game children might play, using their imagination to make pictures out of stickers”. This carnival of colour, in a 19-mm diameter, is the work of Victoire de Castellane, the exuberant aristocrat who has turned bourgeois luxury upside-down with her extravagantly imaginative collections.
The idea that watchmaking can entail a certain fantasy has its charm. Baume & Mercier, for one, has come up with Petite Promesse, a brightly coloured collection in a minuscule 22-mm diameter. The brand clearly has its sights trained on millennials, digital natives, Generation Y… all those born between 1980 and 2000, and who are considered the most influential demographic since the Baby Boomers. The range appeals directly to these new consumers who get onboard with traditional cultural codes and pop culture references. Petite Promesse certainly hits the mark with a design that takes its cue from the freedom of the 1970s, a double-wrap strap in cornflower blue or spicy orange, a mother-of-pearl dial, oh, and diamonds. Traditional and contemporary all in one, Baume & Mercier describes Petite Promesse as “more than just a style statement, it’s an attitude”.
This same cultural remix, this injection of glamour into a melting-pot of references is also evident in the Piccola Lucea. Bulgari has redesigned its model as a “contemporary answer to growing demand for women’s watches in smaller sizes”. The ingenious bracelet proves that deep purple isn’t just a rock band. The case has been trimmed down to a 23-mm diameter. The result is inventive, chic and totally Bulgari.
Small watches with automatic movements take another angle. As well as having all the abovementioned qualities, they put mechanics front and centre. Take the example of Breguet’s Reine de Naples Princesse Mini 9818. Its oval shape (32.7 x 27.3 mm), ideal for slender wrists, combines with a mechanical movement, Calibre 586/1, fitted with a silicon balance spring. Over at Blancpain, the Ladybird celebrates 60 with a reminder of its avant-garde credentials: a 1956 advertisement challenged distributors to “be the first on your market to import the world’s smallest round watch”. From 11.85 mm back in the day, its movement now measures 15.7 mm in diameter. Thirty-two diamonds surround the bezel, with another diamond on the rotor. Manufactured as a limited edition of 60, this Ladybird comes in a 21.5-mm white gold case. “We stopped imagining women’s watches as scaled-down versions of men’s styles a long time ago,” says Alain Delamuraz, Vice President of Blancpain. “Women’s watches now represent 28% of our collection”. A watch can be small and think big.