Watchmakers are streamlining some of their timepieces. Smaller models, like those popular in the 1920s to the 60s, are fast becoming a trend.
You would think that as technology pushes the boundaries of watchmaking, with the continuous addition of extra functions via marvellous complications, timepieces would only get bigger.
Well, some of them did – but others have shrunk in size.
These more minute models (with dials measuring 39mm and below) have defied conventions. They can be no larger than a delicate locket or a coin, yet still able to captivate the hearts of watch enthusiasts.
This year, the trend of small watches is BIG – to say the least. The designs hark back to those found between the decades of the 1920s and 60s.
Zenith for example, added smaller versions in 36mm steel cases to its sporty-elegant Defy Skyline collection.
There is even the new Happy Sport and LUC from Chopard, of which measure a mere 25mm and 36.5mm, respectively.
In a society obsessed with the grand and ostentatious, these small watches dared to be discreet – yet they are capable of drawing attention, all the same. Perhaps just consider them as a reminder that sometimes, the smallest things could hold the greatest significance.
Updated To Be Petite
Back in 1971, Zenith unveiled the Defy, a steel sports watch featuring an octagonal case and a fourteen-sided bezel.
The timepiece became an icon – which later served as inspiration for the Defy Skyline, a minimalist model with an integrated bracelet, sporting a simple three-hand design.
This year sees the Zenith expanding the collection by introducing smaller 36mm offerings. Despite having shrunk, the new Defy Skyline 36mm maintains the multifaceted case and bezel with alternating polished and brushed finishes.
“More modest, unisex proportions that perfectly fit those who prefer a smaller fit,” reads the Defy Skyline 36mm description by Zenith.
You just have to disagree though. A unisex, smaller fit? Yes, definitely – no arguments there. But modest? No, a design this gorgeously vibrant is far from being that.
Upping The Ante With A Downsize
In the spirit of the small watches trend, TAG Heuer is also giving a well-loved model a size update – by making it smaller.
The Carrera Date from the 1960s has been released in a 36mm size. That is not the only exciting thing though, the watch now also comes in various vibrant colours.
Again, the aim is to appeal to a broad unisex market. The redesigned case that is thinner and slightly smaller in terms of lug-to-lug dimensions will make this model highly wearable for everyone.
In comparison, the new Carrera Date has been downsized from 43.55mm to 41.6mm. The case is two millimetres thinner than the previous iteration too.
An even subtler change is the crown: having been fine-tuned, it now edges closer to the case.
Small In Size, Big In Spirit
Another watchmaker embracing the trend of small watches is Longines.
In 2022, the Zulu Time was introduced – a collection of 42mm watches in the Spirit line that features a “flyer” GMT. This year, four additional models joined the family. They measure at just 39mm in size.
The new collection includes references with sunray-brushed blue and matte black dials. Paired it with a bidirectional rotating bezel with a ceramic insert available in black, green, blue, and a unique chocolate colour.
There is also a standout two-tone version with a gold bezel and crown, which really captures attention.
To note, the Zulu Time name originates from military terminology. It refers to Greenwich Mean Time (now UTC) and was essential for radio communication among pilots.
Longines had a historical Zulu Time wristwatch from 1925, which inspired the new collection.
Chopard’s L.U.C 1860 is not the result of downsizing, yet it is worthy to be recognised as among the top small watches of this year.
Made of the Chopard’s Lucent Steel alloy, it retains the classic 36.5mm size. Certain design elements have been modernised though. Notably, the case middle now features a brushed finish, giving it a more casual appearance compared to its predecessor.
The salmon-coloured dial is simply hard to miss. It maintains chevron hour markers, Dauphine hands, and a hand-guilloched radiating pattern on the central medallion, reminiscent of the original L.U.C 1860.
There are differences that give the fresh design its own identity though.
The guilloche pattern on the dial emanates from the historical Chopard logo at 12 o’clock in the 2023 version, while the original radiated from the central hands. Additionally, the new L.U.C 1860 omits a date display, resulting in a clean and elegant dial.
But wait, there is even a smaller watch released this year by Chopard. The Happy Sport 25mm is the tiniest of its collection so far. You could even say that with such a case size, it is really a fashion accessory more than anything else.
Visually, it dazzles. The case features polished steel and a choice of four bezels: plain steel, 18k rose gold, or these two metals set with diamonds.
Nevertheless, the highlight of any Chopard Happy Sport watch is the “dancing diamonds”, where five loose diamonds between the dial and crystal move gracefully.
To prevent scratching, these diamonds are surrounded by a thin gold frame, allowing them to move with less friction.
As it is, the two designs emphasise beauty of a smaller form.
You could even say that watches like these – whether from Chopard or Zenith, TAG Heuer and Longines – prove that horology can only be an artform. They represent a quiet elegance, a return to simplicity, and a rekindled love affair with time itself.