After more than a decade, I think it is fair to say that the big watch “fad”, is here to stay. Omega’s Seamaster’s have grown up to Planet Oceans. Rolex has several watches now, the Yatchmaster, the Sea-Dweller, the Datejust, the Day-Date and the Explorer II all in cases larger than 40mm’s. The other watch brands have offerings with bigger cases too.
The 44mm case of the Panerai Luminor is not all that big by today’s standards.
While the trend to large watches is largely credited to Officine Panerai, the trend toward for larger watches has actually been going on for some time. Officine Panerai did redefine what we consider to be large.
The trend of large watches has been derided in forums as a fad. In the first half of the 20th century, smaller watches, meant having to have smaller more intricate mechanism, which meant that they were harder to make and were more expensive. Top watchmakers today still take pride in how intricate a mechanism they can place in a small slim case. Still things like Patek Phillipe’s 36mm Ref. 3940 Perpetual Calendar watch was replaced by the 37mm Ref. 5140, not for any mechanical reasons. But from a practical standpoint, wearing the biggest watch that your wrist can bear makes much more practical sense. A larger watch has a bigger dial, hands and markers making it easier to read time. It can have a thicker stronger case. For mechanical watches, a larger case can house a large movement, which means it can be made more robust and can be given a longer power reserve. For chronographs and watches with pushers or “buttons”, it means easier to access controls.
What is large today, has obtained a different definition from a decade ago. Officine Panerai’s 44mm Luminor is still a large watch, but today you will even find watches which are upwards of 50mm’s. These large watches are nothing new. The original Officine Panerai divers watches had 47mm cases. In 1939 the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, commissioned IWC to build large 55mm watches to be use by it air crews, the IWC Large 52 S.C. Calibre Pilot’s Watch.
These new larger watches are not for everyone. Women can wear an “oversized watch”, one too large for their wrist without looking odd. For men, it is still best to wear what fits your wrist, although today, that would be the largest size the fits your wrist.
I do not see a return to the classic sizes. It is not like wristwatches have been around all that long. The very first commercially available wristwatches, the Cartier Santos-Dumont, were made one hundred years ago in 1911. As technology makes it easier to make things small, smaller slim watches wont have the same sense exclusivity that they used too. I do not see extremely large 50mm+ watches staying around for too long.
I think what we will see is “right-sizing”, people wearing what fits best on their wrist, which is not such a bad proposition overall.