I know the feeling of invincibility that comes from rocking a big, boisterous tool watch. But let’s face it, many of us are stuck behind a desk, traveling, or in meetings on and off camera. An over-44mm, 250g diver is not conducive to comfort, so why wear one every day? Have a look at vintage images of watches and Don Draper in Mad Men wearing a 34mm Omega Seamaster. Even Mafioso Tony Soprano wore a 36mm wrist-babe in gold, not a 46mm monster (but he was one…).

Your extreme adventuring might be limited to streaming Cliffhanger, but even lifting the remote control is better with a smaller watch. And if you’re a specs geek, you’ll notice that divers now get proper depth ratings even in small-cased designs. One of the watches in this story has a polished, elegant case, looking dressy as a heck, with a 300m depth rating. With 2023 technology, you don’t even need to strap on a beast to enjoy extreme aquatic adventures.

Finding Love in 36mm

IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic 36

For a very decent outlay, IWC opens its hangar doors to wannabe pilots with a penchant for smaller watches. I have a medium-sized wrist, and I find the 40mm IWC Pilot’s Watch Mark XX tempting. But the slim chic of the somewhat dressy-looking 36mm version makes for a great everyday watch. With a Sellita SW300-based movement, it might not have the Big Pilot cachet, but does that really matter? All the right clues are here, from the clean-cut case design with distinct side brushing, to a large crown and crisp dial. IWC is still using female imagery on the site, but on this matching Santoni alligator strap, it fits me to a tee, and she’s not having it. While €5,250 is not cheap, this is a great entry into the classy world of IWC pilot’s watches.

Finding Love in 36mm

Longines Legend Diver

Longines is good at following its heritage roots to a perfect extent with less than obvious choices. The quirky and cool Super Compressor-like case of the Legend Diver is a great example, coming in a long-lugged 42mm version with a polished ’60s design. But the big crowns of the 36mm variant will fit most of us better and elicit plenty of questions from your friends as they slip out from your cuff. I have a thing for the rich fumé sand-colored dial with its black rehaut and desert-faded center. For some reason, this long-standing gem is often overlooked in favor of tougher ’60s skin-diver competitors, but its polished case and maximalist inner-bezel dial art make for a suave companion. Discover the €2,650 Legend Diver’s wide range, including several other colorways in the 36mm size here.

Finding love in 36mm

Grand Seiko SBGR325

Okay, you got me; Grand Seiko doesn’t (often) do 36mm watches, but the upcoming SBGR325 is good enough to make it onto this list. After all, 37mm is only 1mm off, and for this ice-blue dial, it might just be worth it. I used to own an earlier version, the SBGR053, and I can speak for its comfort. Actually, despite loving my SBGW283, I want it back, and this doesn’t help at all. The 9S65 caliber is a reliable automatic movement with a 72-hour power reserve and quoted daily deviation of +5/-3 seconds (though it’s usually better). Its chunky 13.3mm case thickness makes it wear more like a 38–39mm piece, and the rounded, discreetly brushed bracelet is one of the best I’ve known, subjectively speaking. Coming in April 2023, the SBGR325 will be €5,800 well spent for Zaratsu-polished, everyday blues.

Finding love in 36mm

Farer Erebus Midnight 36mm

New from Farer, one of my British faves, is a four-part miniseries of 36mm colored chic called the Three Hand Collection. Few small brands place so much emphasis on colors, but that’s not all that’s going on with these dials. For instance, the big-numeral step-dial Discover Red has a different layout, surface finish, and hue than this demure, minimalist vision in glossy dark blue. Inside, there’s an automatic La Joux-Perret G101 movement with a 68-hour power reserve. The G101 helps achieve a 10.4mm dressy slimness, and the minimal oeuvre of the dial speaks to me. Thin indices and skeletonized hands make the gloss blue the star of a formal performance, with small hints of red in the double-digit minute markings. You can get the Erebus Midnight for £895 (or €1,050) from Farer.

Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921

With an odd twist on the cushion case, nothing looks like the jaunty-angled dial of the Historiques American 1921. Its 36.5mm diameter wears quite a bit bigger thanks to the frame-filling dial and bezel-less white gold case. And yes, I’m taken by its charm. A reinterpretation of a model from 1921, its hundred-year-old class still makes it pop. The white gold blows any other 36mm beauty out of the water with its deep luster. And the same goes for its €34,700 price tag. A burgundy calf strap with an Ardillon buckle makes the 7.41mm-slim case sit like a dream but requires you to suit up. Surely, it’s worth it? Now you just have to make sure your ride matches this dramatic driver’s watch.

Tudor Black Bay 36 — the family alternative

We all know that the Rolex Explorer is a great 36mm watch, though perhaps a bit ubiquitous. The Black Bay 36 is a brilliant alternative. For some reason, I find it near perfect but never bought it, probably due to Tudor’s massive focus on the Fifty-Eight. But the crisp dial of the big-index BB36 is perfectly proportioned, and the size works with everything. By writing this, I can feel a strong need to get reacquainted with the BB36 and the clear Rolex-family quality of the soft steel bracelet. The movement might still be a top-grade Sellita SW200-1, but with a COSC rating and Tudor tweaks in this little guy, it doesn’t matter. What you get is perhaps the most exquisite Explorer alternative for less than half the price at €3,180. For me, the Black Bay 36 is good enough to beat the Fifty-Eight at its own game.

Are you man enough to wear a small watch, Fratelli, or are you still 40+? I meant millimeters, so excuse my age pun, but I’m at 50+ (there, I said it), and I have seen the small-cased light. Follow my lead, and you might find small-cased wonders addictive.

Find me and follow me: @thorsvaboe