[Opinion] We Need To Talk About The Numbers

If you’re anything like me, you’ve come across plenty of sharp watches that get you excited at a glance, only to come to the stat line and be presented with a set of numbers way out of your comfort zone. It’s a crushing feeling, and it can lead to feelings of resentment toward brands that consistently release great designs, but can never quite nail the dimensions. This watch would be perfect, if only… is something we’ve all uttered, and more often than not, it’s related to the case diameter, the case thickness, or the lug to lug length. We generally have a set of rules around these numbers and are quick to rule out anything that deviates from our own acceptable set of parameters. I’m here to tell you that we’ve become a little too quick to dismiss watches that don’t align with our preferred specs. 

Those three numbers tell us a lot, but they don’t tell us everything. If you’re dismissing an otherwise compelling watch out of hand because one or even all of those numbers look a little scary, it’s time to pause and look for some real world, on wrist impressions, or find a way to experience the watch on wrist yourself. It won’t always change your mind, but it certainly will some of the time, and if it’s a watch you feel strongly about, you’ll be glad you did. You might even find yourself questioning your own dimension rules as a result.

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A watch often cited as “wearing better than the numbers would indicate” is the Speedmaster. On paper, it’s a 42mm watch, but it feels more like a 40mm watch. Why is that? The 42mm measurement is taken between the crown and pusher, to the opposite case wall, and indeed it measures 42mm. This is an asymmetric case, of course, and if you take the measurement from the edge of the bezel assembly, you’ll find a measurement of a hair under 40mm. So that 42, while technically correct, isn’t really the full story. Visually, this is closer to a 40mm watch, and further still, its slender case profile has it wearing a bit trimmer than the near 13.5mm thickness would suggest. 

It’s the same story with plenty of watches out there, and beyond that, there are areas of the case that simply aren’t accounted for in these numbers, which can have a big impact on wearability. Look at the MKII Speedmaster, or something like the Linde Werdelin pictured above, both are unusual cases that take a different approach to ergonomics, while both might appear rather large on paper, they still manage a rather pleasant experience in use. They may not be small watches, but they are comfortable, and that’s really the key element we should be asking for: is this a comfortable watch on my wrist? 

Zach Weiss and I recently had the opportunity to sit with Romain Marietta and Julien Tornare of Zenith watches at their exhibit hosted by Phillips here in New York, and the manner in which these three numbers have taken hold among watch enthusiasts hasn’t gone unnoticed by them. Zenith makes a breadth of watches from 36mm to 45mm, accommodating wrists of all sizes, but more importantly, they care about making wearable watches, regardless of size. They shared my concern that some folks are getting a little too driven by this set of numbers without taking into account the full design and purpose of the watch.

It’s easy to get bogged down in minutiae such as this when it comes to watches, it’s a detail obsessive hobby afterall, but we can also miss the forest for the trees. The numbers are important, sure; they provide some context when it comes to new releases, before we have proper wrist shots and videos. However, when we list them in our reviews, it’s to help you form a rough view of the space that watch will occupy on wrist, they are not meant to be indicative of how wearable or unwearable a watch is (that’s generally what the rest of the review is about). There is, no doubt, some correlation there, but it’s not always causation. 

I am certainly guilty of putting a bit too much weight on these numbers, even in the reviews I bring to you. In reality there is so much more that goes into a watch being right for your wrist, and those three numbers don’t tell you anything about how the watch case and lugs are shaped, how much the watch weighs, or whether or not the strap/bracelet has been integrated in a thoughtful manner. There’s also material present on some watch cases that simply aren’t accounted for in those numbers. I’d argue that each of the elements I’ve just listed are equally, if not more important to how a watch will wear than diameter, thickness, and lug to lug measurements. 

I don’t mean to downplay the importance of these measurements, they are a useful tool – but they should not be the defining factor of whether or not a watch will work for you. I say this in light of the release of the Tudor Black Bay Pro, a watch that’s been maligned for its thickness. Yes, it’s a thick watch, and yes, it’s also very wearable and dare I say comfortable in use. It’s not perfect, and it won’t be for everyone’s wrist (much more on this one coming in a review underway), but the thickness should not be the sole factor eliminating it from consideration for many of you reading this. 

We’ll continue to give you the numbers, but don’t let them limit your line of sight when it comes to the watches you enjoy. You might be surprised at just how wearable some watches with wild numbers can be.

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Blake is a Wisconsin native who’s spent the past decade covering the people, products, and brands that make the watch world a little more interesting. Blake enjoys the practical elements that watches bring to everyday life, from modern Seikos to vintage Rolex. He is an avid writer and photographer with a penchant for classic cars, non-fiction literature, and home-built mechanical keyboards.
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