Small, mid-sized, oversized, supersized: Similar to televisions and cars, many luxury watch manufacturers have inflated the size of their models over the past few decades. While watches with diameters of 40 mm were considered large until the end of the 1990s, things took a turn in the early 2000s, when we saw luxury watches hitting the 44-mm mark. The watch community at large widely embraced these developments at the time.
This soon led to manufacturers like Panerai, Breitling, and Hublot introducing timepieces that were up to 48 mm in size. Famous wearers of these supersized watches include Hollywood greats like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as NBA star Kobe Bryant. However, if you look at the wrists of most celebrities today, you’ll notice luxury watches have shrunk considerably. It seems the trend toward ever larger timepieces eventually slowed and modesty came back in vogue. That said, numerous manufacturers, including Rolex, still have models in their lineups pushing 50 mm.
XXL watches aren’t anything new, and they can’t even be credited to the likes of Breitling, Rolex, or Panerai. As early as the First World War, watchmakers like A. Lange & Söhne and IWC were converting pocket watches into pilot’s watches with diameters up to 55 mm. At the time, the size of these watches made them legible during treacherous air missions, but modern supersized watches are mostly designed to attract attention.
How big is too big?
The question of how big is too big has long divided opinion among watch enthusiasts. Generally speaking, you can wear whatever you like on your wrist – there’s no objective definition of what’s too large. At the same time, objectively speaking, a 50-mm watch will probably look a bit out of place on a wrist that measures just 16.5 cm around. Of course, you can’t always judge by numbers alone.
A number of factors come into play when it comes to whether a watch suits a given wrist. Some important parameters to consider are the dial size, bezel width, lug width, and the lug-to-lug measurement.
In terms of anatomy, both one’s wrist circumference and wrist shape (i.e., flat or round) impact how a watch fits. A good rule of thumb is that a watch’s lugs should never extend beyond your wrist; everything else is a matter of taste, and bad taste isn’t outlawed. Most watches measuring 45 to 50 mm across won’t be paired with short lugs or a narrow band, which means they probably don’t have a place on narrow wrists. But who knows? Perhaps one of the following three models would suit your wrist to the ground.
Breitling Avenger Hurricane: A 50-mm Tropical Storm
Breitling men’s watches have long been known for their bold looks and massive dimensions. However, under the direction of CEO Georges Kern, the brand has completely changed its tune in recent years. Today, the manufacturer focuses on combining the essence of earlier – and smaller – vintage models with the latest in watchmaking technology. Women’s watches have also moved to the foreground for the brand compared to the oft-cited “pre-Kern era.”
Despite the shift, those with extra large wrists, and those who like to think they have XXL wrists, will still find what they’re looking for at Breitling. If you’re fond of large diameters, be sure to check out the Avenger Hurricane. In addition to a 45-mm version, the brand also makes variants measuring 50 mm, leaving little to be desired in terms of size.
Despite its size, the Breitling Avenger Hurricane is relatively lightweight thanks to its case being made of the brand’s proprietary composite material Breitlight. The bezel, case back, and chronograph push-pieces are also made of this material. According to Breitling, Breitlight is almost six times lighter than steel and over three times lighter than titanium. This means the 50-mm version weighs just 80 g, including its rubber strap. For comparison, a current generation Rolex Submariner on a steel bracelet weighs more than 150 g.
If you want to wear this matte black watch with confidence, then you should have a wrist that measures at least 61 mm, which is equal to the lug-to-lug. Standing almost 17 mm tall, this is by no means a slim timepiece, and it won’t slide easily under a shirt cuff. The lug width is 24 mm, which is significantly larger than the more standard 20 or 22 mm.
The figures for the 48-mm stainless steel Avenger models are only marginally smaller. The lug-to-lug on the Super Avenger Chronograph 48, for example, is still a solid 59 mm, and at 17.7 mm, the case is actually taller than that of the Hurricane! The lug width, on the other hand, remains the same at 24 mm. This timepiece is powered by the in-house automatic caliber B01, which provides the watch with a 70-hour power reserve.
Compared to the watches below, the purchase price for a Breitling Avenger Hurricane is surprisingly low at $7,900.
Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea Challenge: A Challenge for Your Wrist
Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to conquer the heights of Mount Everest in 1953. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were the first to set foot on the Moon in 1969. These two events are inextricably linked to two iconic timepieces: the Rolex Explorer and the Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch, respectively. A feat that is slightly less talked about is the descent to the lowest point on Earth. On January 23, 1960, Belgium-born oceanographer Jacques Piccard and American Don Walsh achieved what was previously considered impossible: They successfully dove over 11,000 m (36,000 ft) underwater into the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench. Strapped to the outside of their Trieste submersible was a Rolex prototype called the Deep Sea Special.
To this day, only a handful of expeditions have made it to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench, including star Hollywood director James Cameron. In March 2012, Cameron was onboard the Deepsea Challenger submersible when it traveled more than 10,908 m (35,700 ft) underwater, falling only slightly shy of Piccard’s depths 52 years earlier. Again, Rolex sent another experimental prototype with the vessel, namely the Deepsea Challenge. It should come as no surprise that the 50 mm wide and 28.5 mm tall watch survived the expedition unscathed, especially considering the watch was unofficially tested to withstand pressures found at depths of 15,000 m (1,500 bar, 49,000 ft).
At the start of November 2022, Rolex shocked many watch fans when they released a normal production model of the Sea-Dweller Deepsea Challenge (ref. 126067). Officially water-resistant to 11,000 m (1,000 bar, 36,000 ft), this watch is Rolex’s first series-produced titanium watch. Like the prototype, the watch has a case diameter of 50 mm. In contrast to its inspiration, however, this watch stands “only” 23 m tall. Rolex reduced the case thickness by slimming down the crystal, which now measures 9.5 mm thick instead of the previous 14.5 mm. Similar to the Breitling Avenger Hurricane, the lug-to-lug measures a hefty 61 mm.
At the heart of this timepiece, you’ll find the in-house caliber 3230. When fully wound, it offers a power reserve up to 70 hours. The Deepsea Challenge is fitted with a fully satin-brushed titanium three-piece link Oyster bracelet. If you are up for the challenge – pun intended – and want to add the Rolex Deepsea Challenge to your collection, be sure to set aside at least $40,000.
Panerai Luminor Equation of Time GMT: 47 mm
Our third example comes from luxury watchmaker Officine Panerai. The Swiss brand with Italian roots was founded in 1860, but was virtually unknown to the general public until the 1990s. Up until 1993, Panerai watches were exclusively designed for the Italian Navy and thus, the models were kept top secret.
This relationship with the Italian military dates back to 1910, when Panerai began researching fluorescent materials that would later be used on depth gauges, compasses, and other naval equipment. The name “Radiomir” is now ascribed to an entire collection, but it actually has its origins as the first term Panerai used for its luminous material. The watchmaker used the radioactive radium-based material until the 1940s, when it was replaced by the tritium-based “Luminor.” The latter term is likewise now used to designate an entire collection.
Panerai is famous for its oversized timepieces in both the Radiomir and Luminor collections. A striking feature of the latter series is the generously-sized crown guard, which both protects the crown from jolts and also presses it firmly into the case to ensure water resistance to 100 m (10 bar, 328 ft). Measuring 47 mm across at the bezel, the Panerai Luminor Equation of Time (PAM00670) isn’t the largest timepiece in the Luminor lineup, but it’s certainly one of the more interesting picks in terms of technology.
The watch’s name, i.e., equation of time, gives away the innovative additional function of the in-house manually winding caliber P.2002/E. The equation of time refers to the difference between the true and mean solar time at any given longitude. This deviation is caused by the earth’s elliptical orbit and tilt.
Panerai relies on a linear display above the 6 o’clock position for the equation of time. You can adjust the display via the date and month correction. You can also keep track of two different time zones with this watch, as well as the remaining power reserve via a display built into the movement and visible through the sapphire crystal case back. The power reserve is an impressive eight days.
At its highest point, this watch measures just over 18 mm tall. The lug-to-lug is slightly north of 57 mm, while the lug width is a generous 26 mm. Bar that final measurement, this timepiece is actually smaller than the two other watches on this list: the Breitling Avenger Hurricane and Rolex Deepsea Challenge. It also gives a smaller impression thanks to its cushion-shaped case. Prices run around the $20,000 mark.
These three giants certainly have some appeal from their sheer size alone. The question of whether XXL watches are still fashionable today is less important than the question of whether the chosen watch fits the specific wrist. You need to decide on a case-by-case basis whether you can pull off one of these behemoths. What is for certain, however, is that you need to have a certain stature to don a supersized watch. So, if you have that trait in common with Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger, and your wrist is a healthy 57 to 61 mm, you shouldn’t have any problems here.
Fun fact: The largest wristwatch to date is a Japanese timepiece called the MUSK MR2129. The model made its debut in 2006 – probably with a bit of a smirk. The case measures 90 mm across and weighs over 700 g. You’d probably need to turn into the Hulk before you could realistically wear this watch.