Will The 38mm Watch Trend Catch On?

NWC mag isn’t so sure, for despite the best efforts of Swiss and other watch manufacturers, the collector/investor market has been fed a steady diet of 40mm-45mm sized watches as prestige, statement items, over the last 20 years.

Men – and it primarily men – who fuel the global watch market above two grand, like big watches. They say to the wider world, `I’ve made it, check this baby out.’

Now 38mm, or even 36mm case diameter watches, were the benchmark standard size back in the 70s and 80s. Even in the 90s you would find plenty of takers for a Rolex Oyster 38mm, or a vintage Sub in 38mm. In fact I would be surprised if Rolex does NOT announce a 38mm Sub before Christmas, such is the momentum behind the smaller watch case trend right now.

Even though I don’t think a 38mm Submariner will be a success, Rolex will do it because that’s how the Swiss industry moves, en masse, like a marketing tsunami.

But if you look at the new Omega Seamaster 38mm, with its sandy beach dial and old school sub-second dial at 6 o’clock, you can see that some buyers will see that as a backward step. It’s too wishy-washy, too old fashioned and physically too small.

Might be proved wrong, but time will tell.

If you look at Hamilton’s 38mm Intra-Matic homage to its 60s predecessor, or the Tudor M12500 retro self winding gents dress watch, what you see that manufacturers trying to recapture and repackage the past. Personally, I think you can be inspired, but you have to offer the new, the modern, the novelty – those who want vintage watches in 38mm can find plenty on the pre-owned market.

There’s nothing wrong with the understated Tudor, but I am willing to bet that dealers are selling 100 Black Bays for every M12500. It lacks the visual punch of a modern 21st century wristwatch and it looks…well, basic. Like an old Rotary or Accurist. That ain’t a good thing, trust me.

Thing is, buyers wanted to move on from champagne dials, tiny date windows, small winding crowns that can be difficult for some men to get hold of easily and the slim, lightweight design of 1960s-1980s watches. We moved on, the market advanced.

Buying a watch over £3000 has become an investment decision, and many people buying at £500 or more also have an eye on future values. What that means is that buyers want complications, luxury, design details and branding elements that set their watch apart.

Once you offer a 38mm replica of their Grandad’s watch, you’ve lost the attention of about 80% of your potential market.


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