For far too many years, the Swiss watch industry has been notoriously traditional when it comes to the association of watch size and design, and its targeted gender demographic. With few exceptions (Rolex, in particular), anything 39mm and over was labeled as a man’s watch, and anything under was primarily for women. To make matters worse, countless “women’s watches” were shrunken versions of watches designed for men, haphazardly bejeweled with diamonds or other precious stones.
Thankfully times are changing, and much as the Swiss are the type to latch onto tradition, the general market continues to move toward smaller case sizes, and the language of “his and hers” is slowly falling by the wayside. These days, there are a good number of timepieces on the market that are simply unisex. That is, big enough to not seem disproportionately small on a man’s wrist, and not overbearing as the thankfully now dead “boyfriend watch” look. We’ve narrowed down some of our favourite recent releases that can be worn by anyone, on any occasion.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual 36
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual 36 doesn’t just deserve first rank in this list on account of the fun new colours that launched earlier this year, but rather for its foothold as the quintessential unisex watch. Not so long ago (alright, several decades ago) 36mm was the standard watch diameter for men, but even today it holds its position in the brand’s catalog. Sure, there are much smaller women’s watches also available from the iconic brand, but the 36 is the epitome of versatility. Add a turquoise dial and the brand’s recently updated caliber 3230 automatic movement, and you’ve got a watch destined to last you a lifetime.
Panerai Luminor Due 38
Unlike the Oyster Perpetual, the Luminor Due is very much a modern evolution of Panerai’s design ethos. Once a tool for Italian Navy Frogmen, the Luminor has since evolved into more of a luxury statement piece. Previously offered no smaller than 40mm (and even scarce in those dimensions), scaling down to 38mm oddly suits the Luminor case design. The crown locking mechanism, circle-in-square case design, and multi-layer ‘sandwich’ dial all remain from the original design, but packaged in a way that isn’t nearly as overbearing as the standard 44mm case variants.
Omega Constellation 36
Welcome to the quintessential Neo Vintage. No, that doesn’t refer to the segment of watches too old to be ‘pre-owned’ and too new to be vintage, but rather those that are of vintage origins or inspiration rebooted in a modern interpretation. The original Omega Constellation dates back to the ‘50s, however this new variant that launched earlier this year clearly pays tribute to the latest iteration of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Roman numerals are etched into its sloped bezel, and a lugless case design matches up seamlessly to both its leather strap, steel, or two-tone bracelet options. Especially on the bracelet, this watch delivers way more wrist presence than its 36mm case size would suggest, but not to the point of feeling like the more typical clunky sports watches out there.
Getting back to the “icons” for a moment, the Cartier Tank rivals even the Rolex Oyster Perpetual in terms of both legacy and overall appeal regardless of gender. As part of its claim to fame, over the years the Cartier Tank appeared on the wrist of Princess Diana, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Bob Hope, Cary Grant, and Jackie O, to name a few. In modern guise the Tank Louis Cartier is as close to the original as they come, whereas the Tank Solo in steel delivers a close-to-original aesthetic.
Rado True Square Automatic
Feeling the square vibes of the Cartier but hoping for something a touch more modern? Enter the Rado True Square. Though this piece technically also has a bit of history (Rado was all about the funky case shapes in the ‘70s and ‘80s) its design is simple, sleek, and modern, fitting with the brand’s current design mantra. Rather than steel, gold, or titanium, Rado relies on high tech ceramic for its cases and bracelets, giving them a comfortable and lightweight feel packaged with impeccable scratch resistance. Coming in at 38mm across, once again we have a very subtle daily wear option with some character.
Speaking of character, welcome a brand that watch enthusiasts should pay attention to. Ming, the recent upstart from enthusiast, collector, and photographer Ming Thein, is the type of brand that designers should study before ever considering designing a watch. His attention to detail, proportions, finishes, and textures has created a huge amount of buzz whose first watches surfaced on the market for around the $1,000 mark. In just a few short years, the brand now offers a very limited portfolio of models in the 4,000 to 10,000+ Swiss Franc range, and time after time, their new releases sell out quickly. The 27.01 seen here is the most recent offering in the more approachable end of the price spectrum. The hand-wound piece (using movements manufactured by Schwarz-Etienne) is once again a compact 38mm in diameter and a very slender 6.9mm thick, making for rather perfect dress watch proportions packaged with a dial design that allows for more casual daily wear.
Tudor Black Bay 36
The Tudor Black Bay 36 carries the essence of Tudor’s Black Bay dive watch, stripped of its diving bezel and shrunk down to a more every-wrist friendly size. Tudor has become the value king to many collectors, as its production benefits from a close relation with Rolex (its parent company). Since relaunching stateside within the last decade, business has been booming, to the point that the first North American Tudor Boutique just opened in Yorkdale Mall (of all places) earlier this year.