Just as everything else goes when it comes to watches, the way a watch should fit and if a watch is deemed “too big” is indeed subjective, though there is some objectivity in the matter to be aware of. This article will explore the general guidelines for how a watch would fit best on your wrist and when “too big” may not be as big of a problem as many let on.
Terms to Know
Before getting too far into the discussion, there are a few definitions to get out of the way. The watch case is the part that sits atop the wrist. The case diameter is, you guessed it, the distance from one end of the case to another. This measurement is often recorded in millimeters and excludes the crown. Let’s also assume we are only talking about circular dials here — rectangle dials can be a bit tricky.
The lugs are the pieces extending from the top and bottom of the case where the strap or bracelet connect to the watch case. The lug-to-lug measurement is the length from the top of one set of lugs to the bottom of the other. This measurement is perhaps the most critical element to scrutinize when considering how well a watch will fit because it is a more accurate representation of the actual amount of space a watch will take up sitting on the wrist.
General Guidelines for Watch Fit
When it comes to how a watch should fit, there are a few guidelines that are generally agreed upon in the watch community. As alluded to earlier, the lug-to-lug distance gives a realistic idea of how a watch will sit on the wearer’s wrist.
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- Bracelet or Strap Fit
- Case back shape
- Watch Size
- Lug fit
- Watch Shape
Bracelet or Strap Fit
Another aspect of proper fit that may be overlooked is how tight or loose the bracelet is. This may not sound like such a big deal, but there can be consequences for a watch not being “just right” on the wrist. A watch bracelet that is sized too loose means the watch will not be fully secured to the wrist and will be more prone to knocks and bangs on everything around it.
Especially for larger/heavier watches, the constant up and down sliding can start to hurt after too long. In addition to being uncomfortable, a strap or bracelet that is too tight puts an unnecessary amount pressure on the spring bars (the piece that attaches the bracelet/strap to the lugs).
The average wrist size is 7.25 inches, but there is certainly much variation here from 6.25 to 7.75 inches. While wrist size does matter, an individual’s wrist shape is also an important factor. Some people have wrists that are narrow and flat, while others are broader and rounder. A watch with an especially flat caseback may not fit on a curved wrist as comfortably as it would the flatter wrist and as such, some watches have casebacks and lugs which curve downward to more comfortably reflect the curvature of the wrists.
Bear in mind that if you are wearing a NATO strap, this adds an additional thickness to the watch giving it the appearance that it may be larger than it actually is.
As we alluded to a little further up, the case size and shape can plat a large role in how a watch fits. This not only plays into the lug to lug measurement, but also the overall size of the case as well as the shape of the watch and any pushers it may have. In the graphic below, you can trace how a watch progresses from 34-44mm and the subtle changes the 2mm increments can create.
The 34mm Datejust features a slim case and subtle integrated bracelet, but when we jump up to the 36mm Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar, you can see how the pronounced lugs and chronograph pushers make the watch feel much larger. In comparison, the same Perpetual Calendar against the even larger 38mm Vacheron Constantin almost seems equal in size.
Lug Fit on Your Wrist
The lugs should not go beyond the ends of the wearer’s wrist. In other words, there should be no “overhang” of the lugs. It is crucial to consider the lug-to-lug distance in conjunction with the case diameter. A watch with a 42mm case and stubby lugs will wear “smaller” than a 38mm case with extended lugs. Ideally, the entire watch should sit in the middle of the wrist with the top edge of the strap or bracelet also sitting on the top of the wrist.
Bear in mind, there is not a single best case size or perfect lug-to-lug ratio. Every individual wearer will have their own “sweet spot” of watch dimensions that fit them the best. This is where wrist size and shape come into consideration. Larger watches tend to look better on larger wrists, and vice versa.
You can see how case shape begins to play a part in how a watch fits, not only do you want to compare how different sizes and shapes fit on the wrist, but you’ll want to feel how the same case size compares in different shapes.
As seen above, the Panerai Luminor Due at 42mm, seems similar in size to the Rolex Sea-Dweller 4000. This is partially due to the slim case profile of the Luminor Due, but also because of the wide lugs on the Rolex. Case thickness also changes how a watch fits, the Deep-Sea measures 17.7mm thick which makes it feel much larger compared to the 10.5mm thick Luminor Due or even the 15.5mm Sea-Dweller 4000.
Two watches of the same case size can have vastly different feels on the wrist as well. Both of these two watches measure at 40mm diagonally across the case. The Nautilus does measure 8.3mm thick while the Sea-Dweller is 15.5mm thick. However, the Rolex looks much larger on the wrist, due to the thickness but also due to the lugs and integrated bracelet. The Nautilus feels smaller even with the cushion shape and “wings”.
Similar to the Patek Philippe vs. Rolex, another interesting comparison is the 44mm Deep-Sea against a 44mm Hublot Big Bang. Again, each of these watches are both 44mm across the case, but this time the Rolex feels slightly smaller on the wrist from lug to lug. While the Deep-Sea is still the champion on thickness, and you’ll need to judge how that feels for yourself, the integrated lugs of the Hublot extend in a way that doesn’t fit every wrist. The strap starts at an outward angle away from the wrist, unlike the Rolex bracelet which is able to be angled almost straight down and around the wrist. This lug shape can make a watch feel larger than it is and can be more difficult to mold around smaller wrists.
Historical Significance of Case Size
We do want to quickly mention that there is more to the world of horology and watch collecting than simply wearing watches as part of an outfit. Don’t forget that watches were originally not an accessory or expression of personal style, but rather a necessary tool to tell the time. With that in mind, some watches were designed to be legible more than stylish. Take the Breitling Navitimer for example.
The 42mm case of the original Navitimer was considered huge when it was released in the 1950s, but it was purposely oversized with the intention of pilots being able to easily keep track of time while flying. Modern interpretations of this watch are coming in at 46mm and beyond. If you are genuinely enthusiastic about this or any other large watch with historical roots, but your wrist is just too small to pull it off based on the aforementioned “rules”, no one can tell you not to wear it. At the end of the day, this hobby is all about having fun — wear what you like!
Even while taking these factors into consideration, it is challenging to get a true understanding of how a watch will fit on your wrist from looking at all of the measurements and comparing them to your wrist size. Trying the watch on and experiencing it in person is the best way to gauge how well it will fit on you.
WatchBox took this issue head-on with the launch of an AR platform within the WatchBox mobile app. The feature allows users to “try on” the watches we have in inventory to get a better understanding of how they will look on their wrists. Download the app for iOS or for Android.