Why All Watches are Unisex, and Why Tiny is the New Big

Stephanie Soh (left) and Deborah Wong (right) of TickTockBelles wearing Chaykin Wristmon timepieces (Image: TickTockBelles)

During his unveiling at Inter Miami, legendary footballer Lionel Messi wore a bejewelled Patek Philippe Aquanaut Luce Rainbow—a rose gold ladies’ sports watch. At a Lakers-Pacers game in Dec 2023, Timothée Chalamet rocked up wearing a tiny 23mm Cartier Panthère—also definitely in the territory of women’s watches.

Images: Essentially Sports, Chrono24, GQ

If you’re thinking to yourself, cool, nice one Messi and Chalamet!, then you’re going to like this article. Keep reading. On the other hand, if you’re wondering why in the name of manliness these male celebrities are donning ladies’ watches, then you’ve got another thing coming. You’re going to want to read this article because boy are you missing out on (a) one of the biggest watch trends of 2023; and (b) a modern liberation of the way we think about luxury watches for men and women

But don’t take my word for it. Hear firsthand insights from watch collectors Stephanie Soh and Deborah Wong, founders of timepiece appreciation community TickTockBelles. We talk about why all watches are unisex, and why tiny is the next big thing in the world of watches.


All watches are unisex.

The wrist candy trends of male celebrities indicate a larger, more important revelation for not just the watch world, but society at large—all watches are unisex. Or at least, they should be.

It’s becoming increasingly pointless to draw a line between men’s watches and women’s watches. From a watchmaker’s perspective, why pigeonhole your customers into a category that limits them to shop only half of your watch collection? From a consumer’s perspective, why confine yourself based on superficial labels “for men” or “for women” when all that really matters is you strapping a watch onto your wrist and slaying the look?

The good news is that increasingly, watchmakers are trying to make watches unisex—or at least appear this way to consumers. According to Stephanie: “I won’t say it’s every watchmaker, but slowly and surely, they are starting to recognise watches should not be categorised as male or female. They should be genderless”.

Julien Tornare, chief executive of Swiss luxury watchmaker Zenith, has this to say: “Who are we to tell someone a watch is for a man or a woman?” He questions. “This is what the car world used to do, and now it’s in no way like that. Women drive big SUVs. I want the same in watches.”

Tornare’s opinion is echoed by Patrick Pruniaux, chief executive of watch brands Ulysse Nardin and Girard-Perregaux: “All watches are unisex. At the point of sale, our watches are arranged by collection, not gender. For us, it’s not even a debate or discussion.”.

Stephanie’s Ulysse Nardin Freak (Image: TickTockBelles)

It’s all in the wrist.

Instead of gendering watches, the approach is to size them appropriately. Stephanie and Deborah advocate that watches be made in consideration of the fact that people come in all shapes and sizes—and that goes for their wrists too. A huge 43mm watch is not only going to dwarf a petite wrist, but will also probably be uncomfortably bulky for the wearer. On the other hand, perhaps you’re a fan of the oversized look and want a timepiece that sits outside the traditional size range for your gender. It would suck if you found the watch design of your dreams, but that dream is just a little smaller than you had hoped.

Instead of making watches “for men” or “for women”, watchmakers should be making watches for wrist sizes and watch preferences from XS to XL. Malaika Crawford, Style Editor at Hodinkee, calls this “the plea for proportionality”—“It’s not just about small watches for men but proportionally sized watches for ALL.”.

Watches of different case sizes worn on a 17cm wrist: 43mm (A), 46mm (B), 36mm (C), 41mm (D). Image: Prisma Watches

Stephanie has her fair share of conventionally “female” watches that are smaller in case size or are adorned with bling, but she also isn’t afraid to rock big sports watches that are traditionally thought of as men’s watches. 

“There was a period when I went through huge Panerais that were 44mm. My friend said, ‘you’re wearing a clock!’” Stephanie laughs. Panerai is a brand known for large timepieces that hark back to heritage as suppliers of watches for the Italian Navy. After her “wear a clock” phase, she wore slightly smaller watches that were still within the traditional men’s size range—around 40mm or 41mm.

“Today, I think my watches are getting smaller and smaller. Not because I’m becoming more feminine or because I’m looking more at female watches, but just because I think watches now are a little bit more genderless,” Stephanie observes.

Deborah got into the game after Stephanie, and entered the watch world with a different perspective that I would say is updated for modern society. “Because I’m sort of a later collector, I would say that when I started I never really thought about whether it’s a male or a female watch,” Deborah tells me. 

It’s a refreshing perspective. Deborah has a simple, sensible method for selecting a watch: “I just pick up a watch and put it on my wrist. If the case size suits, and if I think that it looks good on my wrist, it’s something that I would like to add to my collection.”.

Deborah’s Audemars Piguet 14790ST 36mm (Image: TickTockBelles)

Deborah’s sweet spot for watch case sizes is between 36mm to 38mm. If you’re wondering, that’s on the larger end for traditional ladies’ sizes. I hesitate to reference such traditional sizes too much because the last thing I want to do is suggest that there are fixed ranges for men and for women. That would be missing the point entirely. It’s not that women can wear men’s watches or that women can wear men’s watches; it’s that these distinctions need not and should not even exist.

“If we are a 21st century brand, this is where we have to work. It’s totally wrong to make a differentiation between men and women. It’s very old-fashioned. I want to ban this,” Zenith’s chief executive Tornare says. To facilitate this, the brand has created over 80% of their watches with cases sizes between 37mm and 41mm—their own “sweet spot” for watch sizes to appeal to both male and female demographics.


How fast can brands pivot?

One watchmaker that’s been paying a lot of attention to wrist sizes is Swiss watch manufacturer MB&F, which stands for Maximilian Büsser & Friends.

“His watches can be big and bulky. But when he designs them, he designs the lug such that it curls very nicely on the wrist—whether it’s a broad or narrow one,” Stephanie explains to me. The lug is that bit that connects a watch strap to the watch case.

On top of making a lug suitable for various sizes, MB&F also asks you to indicate whether you want a short strap, medium length, or a long length. This is unlike most watchmakers that issue a standard strap.

Stephanie’s MB&F Horological Machine No.3 (HM3) (Image: TickTockBelles)

“Some very traditional brands still design the men’s watch first and then make the women’s watch smaller, put it in the quartz movement, put some bling on it, and call it a ladies’ watch,” Stephanie says. In short, shrink it, pink it, and bling it.

“I think this is a very old mindset. Watch brands need to move with the times!” Stephanie asserts. 

One brand paving the way is Tudor, sister company to Rolex. They’ve recently been featuring female models for watches in their sports range, even partnering with New Zealand women’s national rugby team the Black Ferns.


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A post shared by TUDOR Watch OFFICIAL (@tudorwatch)

Admittedly, it’s not always easy for watch brands to introduce a radically new watch concept without losing the essence of who they are. “There is a heritage that certain brands carry with them. As the world changes, how fast can they pivot? How fast can they move with the times?” Deborah questions.

For example, brands like Panerai and IWC have their roots as utility watches—Panerai made watches for the Italian Royal Navy from the 1930s, while IWC has been making pilot’s watches since 1936. How do these brands explain dainty, petite versions of their big “manly” watches with a history like that? I’ll tell you how. You start small.


Tiny watches are big.


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A post shared by WRISTCHECK (@wristcheck)

GQ called tiny watches the biggest trend of 2023. As social trends go, it’s celebrities that tend to pave the way. Remember how I mentioned Timothée Chalamet donning a petite 23mm Cartier Panthère at the beginning of this article? The world has also seen Austin Butler with a small Tank Louis Cartier at the London screening of his movie Elvis, and Ben Affleck with a 25mm Franck Muller Cintrée Curvex watch on the set of Jimmy Kimmel Live!.

“At the end of the day, I think it’s a good thing for media outlets to educate the public that we should stop classifying certain things as male or female,” Deborah says. 

“Let’s just look at it as, okay, I’ve got this wrist size. Do I enjoy wearing a larger case? Or do I enjoy wearing a smaller case?” Deborah says. She uses the word “enjoy” here because everyone has their own preferences they should honour. Some people with larger wrists like petite watches, and some people with smaller wrists like an oversized look. You do you!

When it comes to tiny watches, the watchmakers got the memo. Numerous brands—even those known for big watches—unveiled downsized versions of their timepieces at Watches & Wonders 2023, one of the biggest watch trade shows of the year for watchmakers and watch enthusiasts.

Deborah’s Panerai Radiomir Quaranta, which case size is 40mm (Image: TickTockBelles)

Panerai—yes, the brand whose heritage is steeped in creating watches meant for the Italian military—shrunk their hefty 45mm Panerai Radiomir down to just 40mm with the Radiomir Quaranta (“quaranta” means 40).

Tudor had previously downsized their first dive watch from 41mm to 39mm with the Black Bay 58, a move that Deborah comments “already generated great momentum”. Then in 2023, Tudor took it down to 37mm in the Black Bay 54. “Even some of the guys that I know were absolutely delighted,” Deborah tells me.

Deborah’s Tudor Black Bay 58 Bronze 39mm (Image: TickTockBelles)

Meanwhile, Cartier delivered a miniaturised version of their classic 1912 Baignoire outfitted with an elegant bangle. Is it a watch? Is it jewellery? One thing’s for sure: There are few timepieces more perfect for pairing with fine, dainty bracelets than this tiny watch.


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A post shared by hodinkee (@hodinkee)

“We see some of our male watch collector friends wearing very tiny watches. I won’t call them ladies watches, but they are very tiny watches that were meant for females in the past.” Stephanie shares.

She observes: “Nowadays, men are wearing a tiny watch because they think it looks good on their wrists. Not every man has big huge wrists; some of them have very narrow wrists like us.”.

Stephanie recounts how when they meet up and swap watches, both men and ladies realise they can wear each other’s watches. “When men try on our small size watches, they realise hey, actually it looks good on me. I say, yeah, because our wrists are the same size!”


But what about “bigger is better”?

Stephanie’s Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 (Image: TickTockBelles)

If you’ve gotten this far, you should be convinced by now that the size of a watch is paramount to choosing a watch that fits comfortably and looks good on your wrist. But I had another question for Stephanie and Deborah: What about the watch mechanism? Does a bigger watch mean more space for a better mechanism?

”I have a very strong opinion about that!” Deborah says. “I’ve met a lot of watchmakers and I’ve always expressed this frustration. If you look at the movement of vintage watches from the 1940s to 1970s, why is it that during this time they can make such a thin movement and make it so beautifully? And yet with all the cutting edge technologies that we have today, why is there a need for our watches to get bigger and bigger in order to accommodate the movement?”

Deborah does concede that there are 2 possible reasons: one is cost, and the other is the skill sets of modern watchmakers. But these are just guesses. “I’m not sure. I can’t explain it. I think Vanessa, if or when you speak to watchmakers, I would love to know if you find out the answer!” Deborah laughs. (Watchmakers out there, if you’re reading this and have a response, hit me up.)

So bigger isn’t necessarily better for watches, as vintage watches show us. However, there are certain complications that require larger watches. A watch complication is any feature in a timepiece beyond the simple display of hours and minutes. Think of things like a calendar, chronograph, or moon phase indicator.

“For complications like tourbillon which need more space, size does matter. So then I understand why the cases are so big,” Stephanie explains. Tourbillon is a complication that is designed to improve a watch’s accuracy. We won’t go into the mechanics of how it does that, but you should know that tourbillons are a symbol of horological expertise and luxury and are usually found in more high-end watches. For example, Stephanie shares that brands like Greubel Forsey or Jacob & Co make more (for lack of a better word) complicated complications. Sometimes they even have a double tourbillon mechanism in their watches inside, and there’s no way you can have a small case size with 2 tourbillons in it.


Get a watch as quirky as you.

From top to bottom, left to right: Cartier Panthère, Cartier Baignoire Allongée, and the Cartier Tank (Image: TickTockBelles)

When choosing a watch for you, gender should be the last thing on your last mind. 

“Personally, I don’t find much of a difference between watches in terms of gender. I think what matters is the personality of the person,” Stephanie says. For example, she shares about how they have one female watch collector in their community who loves complications.

“She likes complicated watches and won’t go for simple, two-hand watches,” Stephanie shares. “But then there are some amongst us that—even myself—just like those simple two-hand watches. I don’t even like to change the date. So I like my watch with just two hands, simple, and easy to tell the time with.”

Another lady in their community loves yellow gold and wouldn’t give white gold or rose gold a second look. “Again, it’s personal preference, right?” Deborah says. “If I know yellow gold suits me, I’m gonna go for it. There is no right or wrong.”

We all have our quirks. I think half of my wardrobe comprises shirts, jackets and rompers that have Snoopy on them. Sometimes I shop in the men’s section to get them. And what’s wrong with that? As someone once told me, never let anyone tell you it’s wrong to love hard or be passionate about something.

While watch sizes and watch movements can in some sense be quantified, the appeal of a watch to you is far more difficult to pin down when you consider its inherently individual nature. We all have different personalities and senses of style. I like to think of it like this: We’re all quirky in our own ways, and you should invest in a watch as quirky as you—not a watch whose assigned gender matches yours.


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Ladies, you are the power. 

Deborah’s Cartier Tank Asymetrique 47.15×26.1mm (Image: TickTockBelles)

It helps that female watch enthusiasts not only know more about watches today than they did 20 years ago, but are also earning more and enjoy higher purchasing power. “Amongst our community members, many of us are working, earning our own money, and doing very well. In whichever sectors we are in, we’re like mini bosses—not just at work, but also at home!” Stephanie chuckles. 

“So we kind of know what we want these days. It’s no longer a scenario where there’s a housewife and her husband just buys a watch for her that she has to accept, whatever watch it is,” Stephanie continues. “Now we have the voice and ability to choose what we want in a watch.”.

Not only do women know more about watches these days, but they also have the avenues to gain more knowledge and insight. Stephanie and Deborah say that they created TickTockBelles with the mission to bring women together so that they can share and learn about watch-collecting from each other in a warm, non-threatening environment.

“We have female members coming up to us to thank us because they have tried to go to other watch communities or clubs and found it very threatening there,” Stephanie shares. “I would say more than 90% of watch collectors there were male. So it’s very difficult to ask ‘stupid questions’—sometimes we think the question we ask is very stupid because everybody else seems so knowledgeable.”.

Stephanie and Deborah go on to assure me that in TickTockBelles, there’s no such thing as a stupid question. Anyone can just ask whatever they want if they want to know something.

Speaking of stupid-but-not-really-stupid questions, I decided to ask one of my own. Are there men in TickTockBelles, a female watch appreciation community?

“Yes. A lot!” Steph says immediately, to laughter all around.

Like watches, like watch collectors. When it comes to gender fluidity and acceptance, Stephanie and Deborah walk the talk with their female watch appreciation community. Did you know about half of their Instagram followers are male? They also get requests from men who are the spouses of ladies in the community asking if they can attend their events as their wives’ plus ones. “The role reversal is quite nice to see,” Deborah chuckles.

While anyone can join their community online, TickTockBelles’ in-person events are usually catered to ladies. “We’re very appreciative of the fact that we have a lot of brands that come to us wanting to focus on the ladies. This lets us do a lot of get-togethers just for ladies,” Deborah explains. “Once in a while, we do have brands who wouldn’t mind a hybrid event. Then we also open up the event to male collectors and invite male watch enthusiasts to join.”


It’s a spectrum, not a split.

If you take away nothing else from this article, know this: There is no gender to watches. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Certainly, there are watches better suited for men due to their larger size, and there are watches better suited for women due to their more petite sizes. But to categorise watches neatly into “men’s watches” and “women’s watches” would be an unnecessary and unuseful generalisation.

As Emma Watson said during her speech for the HeForShe campaign in 2014 as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, “it is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals.” Similarly, thinking about watches as a variety of sizes is much more productive than thinking about them as for women or for men. You could fit anywhere along the curve and I guarantee there’s a plethora of watches out there that would suit you. So if you see a brand boxing you into only men’s or women’s watches, know that they’re the ones behind the times. Stay ahead of the curve!


This article is the second part of my chat with Stephanie and Deborah.

Read the first part here: Is The Best Men’s Luxury Watch To Invest In…A Women’s Watch? 

You can also hear from Stephanie and Deborah here: “I Wear My Rolex into the Sea”—4 Watch Collectors on Why You Should Wear Your Luxury Watch

Found this article interesting? Share it with a friend or family member. Whether they’re into watches or not (yet), I’m sure they’ll learn something new!


About the author

Vanessa Nah is a personal finance content writer who pens articles on everything from the ups and downs of alternative investments to the ins and outs of travel insurance. She’s a researcher at heart and leaves no stone unturned when it comes to breaking down complex finance concepts and making them easy to understand for the everyday Singaporean. When Vanessa’s not debunking finance myths, you’ll find her attending dance classes, fingerpicking a guitar, or (most impawtently) fulfilling her life mission to make her one-eyed cat the most spoiled and loved kitty in the world.