The Ideal Watch Size Survey Report
Who Am I?
My name is Mark Cho, I am the principal of two men’s clothing brands: The Armoury and Drake’s. I love watches and have been a collector for 15 years. I spent one of my first paychecks on an Omega Chronostop and it all went downhill from there.
I started this survey because I wanted to find out if there are any clear preferences for the size of a watch. The question of “what is the ideal size for a watch” has been thrown around for as long as I can remember. On every watch blog and discussion forum, individuals spar endlessly with comments like “40mm is the only size a man should wear”, “36mm is the only size a gentleman should consider” and so on. However, these are only individual opinions. Are there clear trends if you look at the opinions of a larger population?
I solicited responses via Instagram and mailing lists.
For Instagram, I used a number of accounts. They are as follows:
@markchodotcom – My personal Instagram – 38.7k followers
@thearmouryhk – My Hong Kong shop’s Instagram – 88.3k
@thearmourynyc – My New York shop’s Instagram – 106k
@a_collected_man – High end London based watch dealer – 62.3k
@watchesbysjx – Watch blog – 84.5k
@revolution_watch – Watch magazine – 64.5k
@sjpulvirent – Hodinkee watch Journalist personal account – 33k
@wei_koh_revolution – Watch magazine and mens’ magazine Founder – 31.1k
For mailing lists, I used the e-mail mailing lists of The Armoury Hong Kong and New York, 12k subscribers.
By 2019/05/06, I received 934 responses in total.
I had to discard 10 of the responses. 3 of them were from female respondents, too few to draw meaningful conclusions. The other 7 were people who put suspiciously high wrist size measurements and were well into outlier territory. This write up focuses on the remaining 924 responses.
Analysis of The Main Questions
I made the survey with Survey Monkey, it was made available for responses from August 2018 and remains open today. This analysis covers data collected from August 2018 to early May 2019. There were 15 questions in total. I used the data from almost all the questions except the ones regarding watch lug length, which only had an approximately 30% response rate.
Wrist Size Perception
Question 1: I consider my wrist to be: [Small / Average / Large]
I spend a lot of time in my shops chatting with customers. The conversation often drifts towards watches, an enjoyable common ground that two men can talk about. One of the most common things I hear is: “I have small wrists”. I hear it so often that there must be something more to the situation.
This question was phrased in this way because I wanted to know people’s perception. I purposely left out any mention of measurements. I wanted to confirm or deny what I had noticed in my conversations at my stores: that most men felt their wrists were small. The results are:
Of 924 responses, 51% of men think their wrists are small, 42% average and 7% large. I assumed this should have fit a bell curve but it clearly does not. Men seem to significantly underestimate the size of their wrists relative to a perceived average.
Measured Wrist Size
Question 2: What is your wrist size? (circumference in inches)
I wanted to see men’s perceptions of their wrists vs their actual wrist size.
Wrist Size Average
I have 6” wrists and think of my wrists as small. The data agrees with that, I am below even the small perception average.
For Fig 3. I used a box and whisker chart to see how much overlap there is among the Small, Average and Large Perception groups. The top and bottom edge of the blue squares indicate the 25% and 75% quartile medians. While Large is clearly separated group, Small and Average’s groups have significant overlap. In between lies the actual average of 6.74”.
Despite the strong skew towards small in the Perceived Wrist Size question, the Wrist Size Measurements do not reflect this. Instead, the responses in Fig 2. fit a normal bell curve, as you would expect from a question about size asked to a population.
NB: Regarding the choice of inches for wrist measurement despite watch diameter being measured in mm, I appreciate the irregularity of this approach. I noticed that in conversation, most people would give their wrist measurement in inches to the closest quarter inch, so I used it as the convention for the survey. I rounded up to the nearest 0.25”.
Watch Size Preference
Question 4: What is your ideal watch size in mm?
Question 6: If you were to have a secondary watch, i.e. a sport watch for the weekends, what would the ideal size be?
While these are the marquee questions of the survey, I wanted the question of wrist size perception to be considered first by the survey taker without subconscious bias from measurements, which is why question 4 and 6 came later in the survey.
Average Primary Watch Diameter Preference
Average Secondary Watch Diameter Preference
For Primary Watch Diameter Preference, 36mm and 38mm significantly outrank preference for any other size. 36mm received 25% of responses, 38mm 24%, 39mm 15% and 40mm 14%. I was certainly surprised to see such a result. I expected something more heavily weighted towards 38 to 40mm as that is what is common in the marketplace. In counting responses, I rounded up half mm increments to the next size up. This had a slight effect on 39mm as there were a number of 38.5mm responses that were rounded up.
The chart for secondary watch diameter was less surprising, with 40mm receiving a much larger proportion of responses than any other size. It seems that men do prefer their secondary use watches being larger. It fits a pattern of primary dress watch for work Monday to Friday and secondary watch being for the weekend, hence secondary choice. It is also worth noting that 36 and 38mm place right after 40mm in terms of preference, the implication could be that some men consider a 36-38mm watch as an occasion watch, something that does not receive as frequent use.
Ideal Watch Size and Wrist Size
Do men consider different watch sizes depending on their wrist size?
What these charts show is that men behave according to the logic: a larger wrist equals a preference for a larger watch, regardless of perceived wrist size or measured wrist size. Furthermore, a secondary watch is generally going to be a larger watch, with a difference of about 1.5mm more than the smaller, primary watch, regardless of wrist size.
An unusual proportion of people assume their wrists to be small. I think this is because watches offered on the market today are larger than what people are looking for, leading people to think that it’s not the offering of the manufacturers that is off the mark but themselves being below a perceived size average.
Returning to Fig 4.:
As mentioned earlier, the average for primary watch diameter is 37.77mm and for secondary watch diameter 39.28mm. While this roughly fits current market trends of 38mm and 40mm as all a watch manufacturer’s range might need, I think it is important to consider the distribution of people’s preferences. For primary watch diameter, below the 37.77mm average has a very short tail of distribution. The majority of preferences below the average are 36mm, with less than 36mm only adding up to ~8%. Conversely, above the average of 37.77mm, there is a very long tail, with significant preference for sizes all the way up to 40mm.
There is an important question that I cannot answer with this survey in its current form: At what size will a buyer no longer consider a watch? For instance, I personally have a preference for 36mm and I have walked away from some watches because they were 38mm. I am fine with watches at 35 - 37mm. 38mm is a significant deterrent to purchasing for me. 40mm is a complete no-go. I have bought around 60 watches in my life and only 1, a Speedmaster Alaska Project, was over 40mm.
Using the data, I wanted to explore what might happen if men would compromise and choose something +/- 1mm from their ideal. It would look like this:
The bar for each size represents the size it has been labelled with plus one size below and above. For Primary Watch Diameter, there are two clear peaks at 37 and 39mm whereas 38mm, although being close to the average, is not actually the best choice. For Secondary Watch Diameter, 39mm will clearly capture the largest audience. Given these two charts, I think there is an opportunity for manufacturers to consider both a 37 and a 39mm size. 36 – 38mm are popular sizes and having a smaller case also offers potential unisex appeal. At 39mm, you would not only capture customers with larger wrist sizes but potentially some customers who normally have a 36-38mm preference for their primary watch and wanted to purchase a secondary watch.
Population Profile and Additional Preferences
Some additional charts and graphs for the population:
Issues of race and ethnicity are a minefield. Nonetheless, if you are to assume America has an ethnically diverse set of respondents, then you could conclude that no particular ethnic group dominates the survey.
Potential Issues with the Survey
I am happy to admit that the population of the survey is not necessarily representative of the watch buying market as a whole. Responses came partially from Instagram, which skews towards a younger crowd. In fact, I regret not dividing the age groups into smaller segments, as there is a large difference in spending power for 25-29 vs 30-34 year olds. However, I would point out that for any brand, watch-related or otherwise, to ignore the new generation of customers would be perilous.
Based on the channels the survey used for soliciting for responses, respondents will mostly be people who are interested in myself, my brands or watches in general. With some knowledge of my customers, I would say they are discerning consumers with a strong interest in style and well-made things, such as watches. Certainly, I don’t think this is a bad population for a watch brand to be aware of. After all, The Armoury and Drake’s exist thanks to these people.
I performed this survey as a personal pet project, unattached to any specific watch brand. I believe this survey is better able to pick up the preferences of people who are not able to be satisfied by watches currently offered by brands, such as the preference for 36-38mm. As you can imagine, if you were to perform this survey in say a Panerai store, the results would probably be quite different.
Some people very rightfully brought up in the comments that watches can wear significantly differently depending on not just the diameter across, but the length, the thickness and the shape of the lugs. For instance, I love FP Journe’s 38mm watches despite them being at the very edge of my size preferences. They have a thin case with short, curved lugs so they hug the wrist much better than expected. For the sake of collecting a large amount of data, I had to strike a balance between accessibility and detail. Watch size by diameter is a number that is universally used and understood.
I left a field for comments from survey respondents. Many were very interesting, and some were very sweet, I was really touched by the messages people sent me. Here are some of note:
“some of this is watch dependent - my sea dweller is 43 and given it's a straight up genuine tool i don't mind the size, same with the speedy at 42 but for most other watches, a little less is better”
“What about Apple!”
“Vintage watches are great, but sadly I feel like they’ve become the new frontier for one-up-manship among the filthy-rich. Makes me sad 🙁”
“For me, 40mm is the limit. I love, own and can wear old GMTs and subs. But I will be honest that the 35-37mm range is when I can wear something and forget it’s there. “Forget it’s there” doesn’t mean it has no presence but I think with that size it fits so welI that I get the feeling that it’s literally a part of me already and not an accessory.”
“In exchange for the filled survey... please find me a new Jumbo Extra-Thin at MSRP!”
– if I had that power, it’d have been much easier to get responses.
“The 36mm Rolex has been and always will be the most perfectly proportioned watch, regardless of wrist. Did a 36mm DD look too small on the wrist of Tony Soprano? Nope! The combination of a Datejust and a 40mm sport watch is a perfect 2 watch collection.”
“My primary interest is is the watch itself; design, movement, the overall aesthetic execution and the ethos of the brand (if it strikes a chord with me). Size has become relatively less important to me over the years and I own and wear everything from a 31mm sector dial Zenith to a 47mm Panerai Radiomir because it echoes the original 1936 execution of a Panerai (and with the California Dial). Thank you”
– I like that this respondent also said: “thank you”.
“Can I also get a job at either Drake’s or The Armoury?”
“What is we are younger and my taste can vary depending on thine period of the watch in size and brand. Although I haven’t had many watches since I am not legally allowed to work I have done extensive research.”
– well, good to stay busy!
“It’s also the dial size and not just the case size. For example, most Nomos have minimal bezels so 35 feels like a 37 and a 38 feels like 40. “
“Once I got my Panerai, I realized that size didn’t affect what watch I choose to wear with my clothes. Rather than being part of the “core” ensemble of my daily wear, I use watches as an extra little topping/condiment on my style cake. Ultimately what motivates my choice is what I choose to express with the given timepiece; I wear the Panerai to, hopefully, reflect and appreciate the stoic calm and strength of my beloved dad and I wear my vintage 1965 Seiko Sportmatic to showcase my love of things that stand the test of time. Maybe other people don’t see it the same way but I love how I feel when I wear specific watches, so I guess that’s all that matters in the end! 😅”
– indeed, regarding clothes and things you wear, a wise old friend said to me: “at the very least, these things should make you happy.”
“I regret the fact that most watch makers no longer make small watches. I only have Cartier tanks and Rolexes date just and day date to choose from. Vintage watch’s reliability worries me. I recent bought a 10 years old Grand Seiko from Japan, a 36 mm anniversary version of a classic model that they used to make. Now they have even cancelled that model.”
- I think we all know what model this gentleman is referring to. I hope it comes back, too!
“about large watches, they look dumb and is the equivalent of huge motorbike or hummbie. i do wonder how small are the penis of all the modern day watch designers.”
– I sympathize with the plight of all modern designers, the public is very demanding. Nonetheless, the comment made me lol :D
“I want to buy a few Drakes Ties. “
– Sorry sir, but this is a survey on watch size preferences. I would suggest checking out Drakes.com, though!
“Watches have gotten too big, in my opinion, over the past 10+ years. Also, I'd prefer that manufacturers produce more yellow gold watches, as I don't understand the current affinity for "rose gold." Just my two cents...”
– I thought the gold comment was quite interesting. I own both rose and yellow gold watches and I didn’t expect I would like yellow gold so much.
“I like my watches to be under 40mm and my dress watches smaller than sport. The ideal dress watch is 36mm (think 1601 DJ) while the ideal sport/dive watch is 38-39mm.”
– Thank you for expressing my personal preferences exactly. Cheque’s in the mail.
“While I know this piece is meant to focus on watch sizes, I think, (for future reference, feel free to ignore this) that including some digital watch options would be valid. More and more I’ve seen vintage Casio models becoming a thing among menswear accounts I follow, and I think if they were to get any more popular than their current state we may see a return of some of the vintage pieces of this variety, although that catalog is much smaller and much more niché than that of standard watches.”
– Indeed, digital watches are really a fascinating category of their own.
“I am ethnically from Taiwan. Where’s Taiwan on the country list??”
– SORRY! I used the country defaults for Survey Monkey ☹
1. An unusually large number of people think their wrists are small. This is despite these same people fitting a normal bell curve when they provide their own measurements. I believe this stems from manufacturers offering watches that are larger than what people are looking for and thus distorting their own perception of their wrist size.
2. Watch size preference increases as wrist size increases.
3. There is a trend for owning a smaller primary watch and larger secondary watch.
4. The average Primary Watch Preference is 37.77mm, the curve has a short tail below the average and a long tail above the average. 36mm has significant preference that could be easily overlooked if you were to only pay attention to the average and not the shape of the curve.
5. The average Secondary Watch Preference is 39.28mm. 40mm is the most popular choice for this question by a significant margin.
6. Releasing watches in both 37mm and 39mm versions may be commercially viable. If you were to take people’s preferences and include preferences + and - 1mm from their ideal, you could capture the most interest at these two sizes.
Thank you to everyone who helped me collect responses and who participated in the survey, I really appreciate your efforts. Further questions or comments on the report are welcome. I can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or Instagram DM at @markchodotcom
If you haven’t already, the survey can be taken here - https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/theidealwatchsize