Has it really been only a decade since I became infatuated with large watches? It seems almost a quaint notion now, but in the years before then I considered my 41mm Omega Seamaster Pro as huge, and enjoyed wearing my Seamaster 120 and Rolex Datejust more than any other watches (and at 37mm and 36mm, respectively).
Blame Sylvester Stallone, I suppose. I happened to catch him in “Daylight” late one night on cable, and really liked that cool watch he was sporting (it probably was the only thing that kept me watching that stink bomb). A little research revealed that he was wearing a Panerai Luminor.
Given that Stallone and I are about the same height (I’m ignoring the fact that his physique is a bit more brawny than mine, although my Pillsbury Doughboy frame does give me a stout wrist), I was certain I could pull off the look. I immediately started checking out Panerai in cities I would visit on my travels, and fell in love with the PAM 188 chronograph.
Now, I had owned quite a few Omegas and Rolexes at that point, several in stainless and gold, but I really wasn’t prepared for the price of that Panerai in plain ol’ stainless steel. Fortunately, my wife recognized it would take a long while for my watch lust to overcome my Scottish frugality, so she bought the watch for me as a gift to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.
[As an aside, the wise watch aficionado will try to discourage having a significant other purchase such an expensive item as a gift. We’re a fickle lot, but a gift from a loved one has an immediate status as “permanent” in one’s collection … oftentimes the only watch in the collection so designated.]
I’ll never forget the sheer size and weight of that watch (which, for the record, was 44mm). Everyone noticed it and I loved the attention. But I eventually tired of the weight and switched to an Italian rubber dive strap (dive straps, for those not familiar with them, have ribs or corrugation in the rubber to allow the watch to stay snug as one’s wetsuit compresses in deeper waters; the bulky strap perfectly complemented the PAM). I found I really liked the strap, both from an aesthetic standpoint (it got even more admiring glances) and comfort (the strap was much more comfortable than the wide stainless bracelet that came with the watch). Of course, it bothered me that the expensive bracelet was gathering dust in my jewelry box (did I mention my Scottish blood?), so I would occasionally – heck, often – put the bracelet back on. Then, I’d grin-and-bear the heft of that watch.
The PAM is almost never worn today (mostly on my wedding anniversary; my wife is too sweet to ask why not more often), but my tiring of it did not discourage me from exploring other large-case watches. I had discovered what is referred to on the watch fora as “boutique divers” – dive watches made by small companies who subcontract most of the parts – and sometimes the entire assembly – to manufacturers in China. They’re able to sell their wares at a much lower price than one would expect to pay for a mainstream Swiss brand such as Omega.
The first to catch my eye was a Deep Blue Master 2000, which I saw in a section of International Watch magazine on dive watches. As a diver for 45 years now, I always have had a weak spot for dive watches, and that Deep Blue attracted me on two levels – it’s sheer size (46mm and almost 300 grams!), and it’s low price (at the time it was like 500 bucks).
It was the whole Panerai experience all over again – the admiring glances (actually, in retrospect, I realize they mostly were curious stares) and the massive heft. It wasn’t long before I found myself tiring of both the weight and the size. But it didn’t matter … I was hooked now on these behemoths and started scouring the horological landscape for others.
In quick succession, I discovered other watches which had “wrist presence” (the euphemistic expression employed by all watch lovers who prefer watches that bear more than a passing resemblance to a satellite dish): Doxa, Helson, Boschett, Zixen, Prometheus, to name just a few. It wasn’t long before I had a collection of almost three dozen watches. Worse, I had sold off most of my “tiny” watches to feed this new addiction, including an original Omega Broad Arrow (at 39mm) and a Seamaster 120 Plongeurs DeLuxe (the watch Jacques Mayol wore in 1981 when he set his 101m free-diving world record).
Yet one “Holy Grail” loomed on the horizon – the Rolex Sea Dweller Deep Sea. At 44mm, it was the largest watch Rolex made and had oodles of “wrist presence.” But it retailed for almost 11 grand, so some room had to be made in the collection – or, rather, some cash had to be accumulated in the bank account.
One after another, my watches disappeared to new owners. As each was purchased, packaged up and shipped off, I had to grudgingly acknowledge that it was not really worn very much, if at all. I just wasn’t ready to admit the reason why most were not worn often.
Finally, in a bit of serendipity, an acquaintance on WatchUSeek let me know he was planning to sell his Deep Sea and would sell it to me for a price that was simply too good to pass up. It took almost two weeks to reach me via USPS Registered Mail (the service that really puts the “snail” in “snail mail” – the Pony Express could traverse the entire western frontier in less time), and I was beside myself with impatience and anticipation. Finally, it arrived and I excitedly tore through the many layers of packaging to reveal this coveted watch, which fit perfectly when I fastened it around my wrist.
Then a strange thing happened. I thought to myself, “This is one big freakin’ watch!” When I stole the occasional glance at it on my wrist, I found myself less admiring its looks and more eschewing its mass. It reached in hours the level of discontent achieved with the PAM 188 only after months of wear.
Finally, I casually mentioned to my wife that I thought the Deep Sea just might be too big for me. “Thank God!” she blurted out, “I didn’t want to say anything, but it just looks ridiculous.”
I was stunned. Not just because she had never expressed so direct an opinion about one of my previous timekeeping leviathans, but because I realized she was right. The Emperor, as the young child had revealed, was not wearing any clothes.
Exactly seven days after I received the highly anticipated Deep Sea, I placed it in the hands of its new owner … and quietly said a prayer of thanks for the mound of cash in front of me that represented the full recoupment of my investment (not, I must say, a common experience up to that point).
The clarity of that quick boom-to-bust experience with the Deep Sea led me to reassess my fascination with large watches and the appropriateness of them on my wrist. I pared my collection down to a few quality watches, all of which were between 40mm and 42mm. The centerpiece of that effort was a watch I had theretofore fastidiously abjured: the Rolex Submariner.
Ironically, I had previously owned three Submariners, beginning with the first in 1981. The last I sold about 10 years later because I felt it was “too large.”
But, in the grip of huge watch mania, I felt the Sub was downright dainty, and only the very manly Deep Sea would satisfy my craving. With the all-too-brief tenure of the Deep Sea, I determined to give the Submariner another look. And, as fortune would have it, a female friend (who has a thing for large men’s watches) had just purchased a new Submariner and, deciding it was just not to her liking, sold it to me at a great price.
The 40mm Submariner (the new squarer-cased 116610LN with the ceramic bezel) brought into stark focus my self-deception on watch sizes. I realized that the central issue was not how I thought a watch looked on someone else’s wrist, but how it looked on mine. And as I pored through photographs of me wearing watches both large and small, I gained the perspective not available to me sitting at a desk or driving in my car … and saw just how appropriate those smaller watches looked on my wrist, and how out-of-place the larger ones appeared to be.
I still look at the big watches on the wrists of others, think they look good on them, and feel a familiar pang of longing. But I’ve learned my lesson. Regardless of whether large watches persist in popularity, I realize that I have found the size that works best for me. And, when I catch myself wondering if a 41mm watch really is “big” enough, I recall how huge my first 41mm SMP was.
To use a metaphor from another eternal size debate, it’s not the size of one’s boat, but the motion in the ocean.