This Is the Ideal Watch Size

This story originally appeared in Box + Papers, GQ staffer Cam Wolf’s watch newsletter. For more stories like it, hit the link and subscribe.

This week in Box + Papers, we’re sharing some exclusive findings from Mark Cho, the owner of The Armoury and Drake’s. Over the years, many of Cho’s customers have told him that they have small wrists, which is surprising to him: “Men don’t typically say they have small anything,” he told me. He started to get interested in the idea of men misjudging the size of their own wrists, and how that might affect the watches they wear. In 2018, he launched a survey dedicated to gathering data around men’s wrist sizes and their watches. The survey, which he ran for nearly three years, from August 2018 to March 2021, revealed that many men believe they have small wrists, and so tend to prefer smaller watches. 

Cho reopened the survey in September 2022, and just closed it this Wednesday at midnight. I slid into his DMs to ask him about the results. 

CW: How many people participated this time around?

MC: Last time was like 1800, and this time is about 2400. Seems like preferences actually got a little smaller, which is kind of cool.

MC: This is pretty similar to beforeway too many people thinking they have small wrists compared to the measured wrist size

CW: Lolol wrist size dysmorphia plagues the watch community
MC: 😂 Yea, man, for real it’s dysmorphia. People see the marketplace see a ton of big watches and think, “O shit i must be small.”

CW: That’s true, when I try on a 40mm watch I’m like holy shit this thing is massive.  But you’re saying the preference towards small watches leaned even further in that direction.Compared to last time, even more people prefer smaller watches?
MC: Yes, seems like it. I’ll show you a few more charts:

MC: Previously I split my data into primary vs. secondary watch. Primary being weekday, secondary being weekend. But since everyone lives differently [since the pandemic], I also combined them.

CW: Interesting it’s split between 36 and 40, but those are sort of like the main sizes for vintage versus modern. What do you make of 36mm being the favorite among collectors?

MC: Totally makes sense. 36mm was a sweet spot. Weirdly, i can’t help but think of the Rolex Datejust, Oyster perpetual, Explorer all in 36mm size, massive range in designs, all super wearable, reliable, etc. I think also because Rolexes are generally pretty sturdy, they never disappeared from the marketplace in the same way that maybe a finer watch might have.

CW: We’ve seen more 36 mm modern watches for sure. Do you think the rising interest in vintage is helping that along, too?

MC: Probably helps a little, but actually we had more respondents for modern watches.

CW: Saying that was their stated preference?

MC: Modern watches still make up the biggest preference group

CW: Look at neo vintage!!!

MC: Yeah, neat right?

CW: Does that line up with the results from last time?

MC: I never asked this question last time. I just asked about modern vs vintage. This was from last time:

MC: So modern as a proportion grew a bit. I guess new collectors?

CW: Got it. I imagine that interest in neo-vintage has grown, but that’s just a guess. Did you ask about favorite brands again? How did those results shake out?

MC: Favorite brands:

And here are the results from the last survey:

MC: Cartier moved up a lot. Pretty crazy how much [higher] Grand Seiko / Seiko is. This is a new chart for me. Super interesting.

MC: This charts out the minimum sizes and maximum sizes someone might buy. So commercially speaking, obviously the further away from the red and blue peaks the better.

CW: 42.5 is a pretty low ceiling. IWC and panerai are horrified by this chart, lol.

CW: Seems like all the survey respondents want smaller. And very few people moving in the opposite direction. But I think what you said is right. It reflects the market. Even IWC two years ago made the big pilot more of a shmedium pilot

MC: Well, glad brands are coming to their senses a little

CW: Last time you did this did you hear from any brand execs that they noted the results?

MC: No not really. I knew guys at Grand Seiko so i went over to talk to them. They were very nice about it so I gave them a filtered set of results that showed preferences for just Grand Seiko fans as well

CW: What’d they think?

MC: They found it pretty interesting and it seemed like they took it on board. Since these last 12 months they’ve released a few smaller things. They have a good looking 34mm quartz, a much expanded 37mm range and also a 36.5mm piece, too.

CW: You’re out here fighting the good fight.

MC: I try but really for me the main takeaways are:

1. The body dysmorphia (this is a great word for it that I have to thank you for)

2. Different sizes for different people. I’m not advocating for everything to get smaller, I’m advocating for a wider variety of sizes. Preferences very clearly change based on both physical size and also perception of size.

CW: That’s one thing I forgot to ask in the beginning but this is a pretty big undertaking. I wonder why you feel compelled to do the survey. How did this start?

MC: I took on this survey because when I have chats in the store with my clients, the vast majority of them say they have small wrists and I found that very strange. Men don’t typically say they have small anything.

CW: Haha that’s true I didn’t think of it in that context. You put guys’ misperception of their own wrist as the top reason. Why is that so important to you?

MC: Hm, I think it’s more because that’s where the idea to do this survey came from. I had those conversations about having a small wrist (that I still have today!) and so I wanted to investigate it further.

CW: It’s an interesting thing because if brands are considering this type of thing they’re probably just thinking about actual measured wrist size and not guys’ perception of their own wrists.

MC: I actually wonder if brands think about it at all because to them, stuff is selling just fine so why bother. But I do think there is an audience that they’re probably missing out on.

On a personal note, it was also healthy because I got enough data to find out what average wrist sizes really are and I realized I really DO have a small wrist, I’m a bit below average.

CW: *in my best psychologist voice* And how did this realization make you feel?

MC: Well, it made me much more accepting of brands not making sizes that would fit me specifically. If they made only watches that fit me but not larger people, it wouldn’t be commercially viable.

And in the same way, it made me realize that it’s a very similar situation to selling clothing. You stock multiple sizes of a shirt because people come in all shapes and sizes

CW: Yeah it doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult to make a watch across different sizes

MC: Actually there are some technical limitations: watches used to have movements that would comfortably fit into a 36mm case. Then there was a fashion/design trend for large watches kicked off by Panerai and all of a sudden the movements were comically small in the cases. So lots of people as part of the upsizing trend made larger movements that would fit these new larger cases but you can’t go down in size as a result. You could in theory go back to the older movements but they may have some small disadvantages compared to the newer, larger movements. Power reserve is a really obvious one – you need a larger mainspring barrel to have a longer power reserve. There are also some small upgrades made to movements during the upsizing trend, such as adding quickset dates.

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