The Case for Small Cases

The Case for Small Cases


If you follow me on social media or know me to the slightest degree, it’s no secret that watches hold weight with me. Primarily because one of my grandfather’s pieces got me into it, and partially because I have gone so far down the rabbit hole that there is no point in stopping now. As with most starting out in watches, especially vintage, we are apprehensive to try different things. From the simple virtue of geographics and supply, you can’t just go into a boutique and try anything on (this isn’t news to any of you reading this), so we must draw from inspiration to get us started. Luckily for me, I had memories of my grandfather when choosing the first of my vintage and modern watches.

I always remembered my grandfather wearing small gold watches on an alligator or lizard strap (think classic Patek and Cartier’s in precious metals). Whether it was a dress shirt and slacks for the office, or a denim shirt and ball cap for some morning coffee, he would wear a small gold watch and, by extension, was always the best dressed guy in the room. He always told me, “It’s not about what you wear or what you drive, it’s about how you wear it and how you drive it.” For him, this meant wearing a small Patek Calatrava and pulling up in a car that most people get driven in the back seat of. I loved the idea of this nondescript high-end watch being worn by a guy driving a generally unaffordable car (usually the owner is wearing some 45mm chandelier).

From left to right: Cartier Basculante in yellow gold 23x37mm, Breguet Classique in white gold 32mm, BVLGARI Diagono Chronograph 35mm

I figured, if my grandfather could pull off these small watches in any setting, that’s where I’m going to start. Since then, I never let the words 32mm or 33mm scare me off. Instead, I found the value, like he did.

Most people say the following when they hear a watch is in the mid-to-low 30mm range… “Ah sorry, a bit too small for me.” Well, how do you really know that? Have you put it on? Have you considered the case shape? Lug length? This isn’t too far off from Mark Cho’s watch sizing philosophy. But it’s true. I have watches that measure 32mm and wear just as well (if not better, may I add) than some 38mm-sized watches.

I’m probably shooting myself in the foot, but I have been able to capitalize on a handful of lovely watches for a great price, simply because they are a smaller size. And quite honestly, you should too. At a time when the barrier to entry is so high for the watch market, I challenge you to find value in smaller watches. At the end of the day, if you buy right, you can pass the watch to somebody else should it not work out for you. Heck, I may even be the buyer. However, I promise you that you’ll find endless charm in smaller cases. Toss it on a vintage bracelet, or get a custom strap for it, and I guarantee your level of satisfaction will increase with each wear.

Now, it’s only right to play devil’s advocate. I used to say that I wouldn’t wear anything bigger than 40mm. I had just received my first Rolex from my fiancé (now wife), an Explorer II 16570 and it wears perfect, just as most Rolexes do. Then, I put on an Omega Speedmaster. Now we have a problem: 42mm case and 13+ mm thick watch that was bigger than anything I had ever worn. But to my surprise, this watch also fits perfectly. The lugs hug your wrist elegantly and the thickness isn’t noticeable.

I love being able to show my collection to people because it covers so many different bases. From size, to case shape, to metals… it’s a broad spectrum. This doesn’t mean your collection needs to follow suit, but I am able to preach my point to most friends and family who don’t know much about this hobby. Small or big, you need to try them on and give them a chance. Don’t be shy; it’s about how you wear it.

The whole point of this is to open up your mind. If you only wear small watches, go try on a Speedmaster. If you only wear larger watches, go check out some 33-35mm options from Nomos. Don’t sleep on watches that appeal to you because you feel are too small. In my opinion, there is a reason they are that size, and it’s because they wouldn’t look as good on the wrist in a 40mm case.

This hobby is supposed to be exciting and rewarding, and there is a lot of value left to be discovered. As is the case with most collectors (no pun intended), we can’t own everything so it’s important to find other avenues that make you happy. For me, it just happens to be smaller watches.

Cameron Ross Steiner is an entrepreneur, host of the podcast Collectors Gene Radio, and watch collector from Arizona. Although raised primarily in AZ, he has and continues to spend a lot of his time in New York. Being exposed to cars and watches from an early age, he has always had a passion for collecting.

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