When a reader of worn&wound sent us a message a few weeks back asking if we would do a guide of watches that were 40mm and under, we thought…wow, that is such a great idea (why didn’t we think of it)! Large watches are everywhere these days, and they simply aren’t for everyone (even the Governator looks dwarved by the U-Boat on his wrist in this pic, sorry Arnie, you’re not Conan anymore). I’ll be honest, my wrists are in the 7” range and some large watches just look silly on me. My basic motto is, if the lugs overhang the side of your wrist, the watch doesn’t fit. But that being said smaller watches, those in the 40mm and below range, not only fit better they often have better proportions than oversized watches. So, regardless of whether you can or cannot pull off a wrist-clock, you might want to consider some smaller watches to add to your collection.
It seems almost impossible to have a guide on affordable watches and not find a place for at least one Seiko 5. Sure, I could have gone with our staples, the SNK809 or SNK803, but I thought something a little different was in order. The SNXF09 has sleek dial design that makes me think more of architecture than watches. The dial has a criss-cross textured like diamond plate steel, black markings and a 24-hour index (useful for the jetsetter). Switch out the bracelet with a preppy striped NATO for a more casual look. As with all Seiko 5’s the F09 features an automatic movement and a hardlex crystal.
We’ve talked about this watch before here, and it’s big brother here, but it had to go in this guide anyway. This is the small case watch option for someone who still wants a sense of mass and bulk in their watch. Its stout and aggressive design gives it a lot of attitude, and the classic pilot styling looks good in any setting. I wear my mine often and highly recommend it. The Maratac features a Miyota 8245 automatic movement and a domed sapphire crystal.
The Everest is a Rolex Explorer homage with a slightly bizarre background story. Sir Hillary ascended Mt. Everest wearing a Rolex Explorer, but also had with him a Smiths watch. The Smiths Everest, which is made by TimeFactors, pays tribute to this fact by making an Explorer with the Smiths name…kind of confusing, but no matter, since it is a gorgeous watch. Explorer homages are far less common than Submariner or GMT Master homages, the Everest being the only one currently on the market (to my knowledge). The watch features a Miyota 9015 automatic movement and a domed acrylic crystal, for a more authentic look.
You can’t go wrong with a classic. The Victorinox Swiss Army brand is one of the most recognizable brands out there and it has a reputation of high quality. This fairly inexpensive offering from the brand has quintessential military looks that date back to the early 20th century and a case design that is both elegant and robust. It’s an everyday kind of watch that can be worn with just about anything. The watch features an automatic movement with day/date (probably an ETA 2678) and a sapphire crystal.
With clearly 60’s styling and an attitude that suggests it looks best with a Martini, the Viewmatic is a watch that just exudes character. The textured black dial and rose gold hands/markers are striking, fun and just a little decadent. But the slightly over the top design is tempered by the 37mm case, which also is more appropriate to a watch with retro looks. The watch features an ETA 2824-2 automatic movement and a sapphire crystal.
I mentioned this watch before here, along side the Junkers Bauhaus, but I thought it would be great to feature in this guide since it is a very unique watch. The watch looks a bit like a marine chronometer, but has a more delicate profile and slightly more antique styling. It’s dressy but not stuffy, making it easy to wear, and it’s one of the few automatic watches in this price range with a power reserve and 24hr dial. It’s 40mm and all dial, giving it great wrist presence. The watch features a Miyota 9100 and a domed Hesalite (acrylic-like) crystal. (check out our in-depth hands-on of this watch here)
At 34mm, this is smallest diameter watch on the list, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in design. Max Bill designed this ultra-iconic watch under the tutelage of the Bauhaus school of design, which is apparent in every precise detail of the dial and case. The use of hair-thin lines for all of the indexes, lume markers every quarter hour and simple sword-hands is an exercise in restraint and purpose. The overall design is so simple it seems obvious, yet so perfectly executed it is impossible to replicate. And if 34mm is too small, they have a 38mm automatic version. The 3700 features a J805.1 (ETA 2801-2) handwound movement and a domed acrylic crystal.
This watch is C Ward’s first venture in COSC certified movements, a certification that ensures an exceptional level of accuracy and precision. The watch itself is sort of a celebration of that achievement by way of a very refined and well-finished case and dial. This is a dress-watch through and through, with a “galvanic” ivory dial and high polished case. The dial lacks numerals or anything unnecessary. The design is very subtle and a bit old-fashioned, but nicely executed and with good proportions; if you want something restrained but with mechanical prowess, this might be the watch for you. The C50 features a COSC ETA 2836-2/Selitta SW220-1 and a sapphire crystal (available for pre-order in april)
I suppose one could call this an entry-level Sinn, since it is the most affordable in their range, but don’t underestimate the fact that this is one hell of a watch. The 556 has an understated look that suggests military or aviator styling while not really fitting into either category. The black dial has no numerical markings and is stripped down to be as legible as possible, featuring only high-contrast white rectangles, which gives the 556 an aggressive edge. If you are looking for a contemporary sport watch that can take stand up to a lot of wear, but isn’t the size of a tank, the 556 is a great place to start. The 556 features a top-grade ETA 2824-2 and sapphire crystals on the front and back.
I couldn’t resist adding this to the guide as the Nomos Club is my current Grail watch. Its looks are a little sporty, but still mature, with Bauhaus inspired details. It’s a dash vintage, but stands out as completely unique. It’s made of the highest quality materials: white silver dial, Horween Shell Cordovan strap and a domed sapphire crystal. And if the looks and components don’t drive it home, the fact that an in-house hand wound movement, called the alpha, powers this jewel of a watch should do the trick.
BONUS: Vintage watches!
Ok, this isn’t a “watch” so much as a giant category of watches… Once upon a time, a 40mm watch would have been considered laughably huge, heck even a 38mm watch would have been called “oversized”. Everything from dress watches to chronographs to dive watches all fit comfortably under the 40mm line, and many had designs that were extremely cool and a bit odd by today’s almost conservative tastes. Now, there are so many out there, from so many brands and in such hugely different states of repair that it is hard to know where to begin. I’d recommend starting from a well known retailer of vintage watches, such as watchestobuy.com who are responsible for the watches on the show Mad Men. One great thing they did is create a section of vintages in the 300-500 range, which seems like a good place to start your collection. If you are feeling lucky, or just like taking risks, there is always ebay…just search “vintage dive watch” or “vintage chronograph” and get ready for hours of pouring through posts. Naturally, you have to accept that these watches will need more care and need to be treated more delicately than a contemporary watch.
By Zach Weiss