You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to notice that watches have been getting bigger. For years and years the opposite was true. There was a race to create the world’s thinnest mechanical movement (a contest won by Piaget at the time), but now the victor exists as a curiosity and not as the centre of the horological world.
Cases are regularly being made to be disproportionately large in comparison to the often generic movement they conceal. This is fashion, not practical demand at play; form winning out over function. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does create a problem: a wristwatch must, by definition, be worn on the wrist.
Conventional opinion suggests that if the lugs of the watch extend beyond the extremity of your wrist then the watch is too large. The challenge facing designers the world over is to continue to produce large cases that can be worn by a normal person. But how can they satisfy both demands?
Leather straps are preferable to bracelets given their ‘give’. I have seen some chunky bracelets on some chunkier cases, worn on less than chunky wrists, creating what I like to call ‘The Bermuda Triangle’ effect, where the lateral protrusion of the case lugs and rigidity of the bracelet combine to leave two triangular gaps between either side the wearer’s wrist and timepiece. Simply put, it looks ridiculous.
Although truly enormous cases are more prevalent in ‘fashion’ brands, the solution to the problem might have been devised by the luxury giants. A handful of top brands have installed hinged lugs so that cases that would otherwise overshoot the wrist sit more comfortably in place.
An honourable attempt has been made by Clerc, who have fitted short, stout lugs with a few degrees of flexibility to ensure that the strap, which itself extends practically vertically from the L-shaped lugs, makes flush contact with the wrist as soon as possible.
My favourite execution of this new ‘trend-within-a-trend’ has to be the De Bethune DB27 and DB28 ranges (example pictured above and below), which really embrace the idea of flexibility. The sizeable case is effectively suspended by a pivoting cradle. The lug framework’s point of articulation is the dead centre of the case which means the lugs can move from several centimetres apart to within a couple of centimetres of each other. Basically, this watch could be worn comfortably by anyone. The case may protrude if your wrist is particularly slight, but the wrist will be in flush contact with the entire support mechanism of the watch. This gives the visual and sensual impression of a perfect fit.
Despite the necessity of this innovation it cannot be denied that a certain mistrust seems to surround any novel modification to something as sacrosanct as the case.
Watchmaking is often a slave to the past. But this is a new era – an era of advancement, revolution and genius. It must respond as tastes dictate. And if that means being flexible, then that’s what the industry will have to become.