A Guide to the Best Watch Case Size for Your Wrist

As if finding the right watch isn’t hard enough, you also have to find the right case diameter to fit the look and your wrist.

A Guide to the Best Watch Case Size for Your Wrist

Just as fashions and styles come and go, so do watch styles and sizes. More than half a century ago, in the 1960s and ’70s, watch cases were predominantly round and more classical in nature, and case sizes were smaller, with women’s watches offered in 28mm to 32mm sizes and men’s watches at about 36mm and 38mm in diameter. But then, that all started to shift, and we began going to larger cases. Watch brands released timepieces up to 36mm and 38mm for women and 42mm and 44mm for men’s watches. Eventually, some brands even unveiled watches as large as 48mm and even oversized behemoths in the 50mm range.

Urwerk UR-120 AKA Spock
Urwerk UR-120 AKA Spock 47mm x 44mm

Now, the shift begins again, as watch brands tone down the big sizes somewhat in an effort to make timepieces more unisex and to appeal to different customers. It is important to note that watch brands aren’t making next year’s watches right now. They are conceiving of and designing timepieces that will make their debut three, four, or even five years down the road. This makes it difficult to judge what the next sizes will be and even more difficult to determine what size watch to buy now. In the end, just like the style of a watch, the size is a truly personal preference. However, here we take a look at some of the most popular case sizes for men and women today.

Case Sizes – 30 mm and Under

Generally, watches that measure 30mm and under are petite timepieces designed for a very small wrist. Some of the best small watches on the market in the “mini” sizes of 26mm and 28mm are created by designer brands like Dior and are geared for women who want something ultra-feminine and dainty. Often, these case sizes feature dials made of gemstone slabs like malachite, tiger eye, or even mother of pearl because the dial can speak volumes about the style. Also, most of these petite watches offer only hour and minute hands. Nothing else, and sometimes, the drawback of watches this small is that it can be difficult to read the time.

Hermès Cape Cod Chaîne d'ancre Glycine
Hermès Cape Cod Chaîne d’Ancre Glycine 23mm x 23mm

Case Sizes – 32mm to 36mm

Watches in the 32mm, 34mm, and 36mm sizes are generally more classic in styling, as it is difficult for brands to chock features and functions into cases this size unless the movement is quartz. However, once we reach 36mm, we do begin to find watches with seconds hands and even dates built into them. Some even offer other features and functions. The 36mm watch is considered a great size for smaller wrists, no matter the gender.

Nomos Glashütte Tangente neomatik blue gold
Nomos Glashütte Tangente neomatik blue gold 35mm
Nomos Glashütte Tangente neomatik blue gold
Nomos Glashütte Tangente neomatik blue gold 35mm

Case Sizes – 37mm to 44mm

There is a very fine distinction that needs to be made here because some people say they will never buy a watch bigger than 42mm. However, the tiny difference between 42mm and 44mm when it comes to looks is relatively slight but incredibly big when it comes to fitting mechanical complications into a watch. For this reason, most watches that are 38 mm tend to still be more classic in looks with some small complications added to them. Once you hit the 40mm size, though, we can start to see more functions incorporated into the watch. Tool watches with chronographs that act as stopwatches or with features like calendars or multiple time zones are often in this case size.  Even more complex watches with jump hour indications, retrograde hands, and more can be found in these sizes. So, if diversity and function are what you are looking for in a watch, you may find yourself in this range. Remember, 2mm in diameter is just about 7/10th of an inch, so we are not talking big differences on the wrist.

MB&F LM2 Palladium
MB&F LM2 Palladium 44 mm

44mm and larger

These sizes are generally reserved for big sporty watches. In the 44mm size, you will still find some classic looks and some complications, but once you hit 46mm and over, you are going to be looking at watches designed to go the distance with you for all of your sporting needs or for some ultra-complicated watch with dozens of features and functions built in. Remember, the more features and functions in a mechanical watch, the more room is needed inside the case for all of the necessary components. Pilot watches, dive watches, and similar tool watches where checking the time at a glance is important will most likely be larger in size. There is no time to squint to read the dial. Generally, an important sports watch is 46mm and larger.

Panerai Submersible S BRABUS Blue Shadow Edition
Panerai Submersible S BRABUS Blue Shadow Edition 47mm

What Watch Case Diameter is Right For You?

Things to keep in mind when picking your watch size include whether or not it is a daily wear watch, a dress watch, a sports watch, or a weekend fun watch. Keep in mind that sometimes the bigger the watch diameter, the thicker the case, too. Do you want a bulky look or a thin look? The lugs (case-to-bracelet attachments) also vary in size. Smaller watches have thinner lugs, while larger watches usually have thicker, more robust lugs. Does this matter to you? Also, you want to be sure that when the watch is on your wrist, it doesn’t look like it is reaching over your wrists. It should not be larger in diameter than your wrist is in width.

In short, deciding the right size often comes down to a few key things: Does it look good on your wrist?  Does it have the functions and features you want? Does it feel good on the wrist? Does it make the statement you want to make? Are you happy with it? That is the real question that begs the answer and determines what you will buy.