Are small dive watches the next big thing?

Exploring the resurgence of smaller dive watches.

In recent years, something interesting has been happening in the world of watches – a renewed interest in smaller or midsize dive watches. This shift is embraced by both watchmakers and enthusiasts, signifying a departure from the era of unwieldy timepieces that burden the wrist. Today, the spotlight returns to dive watches that effortlessly combine comfort and style.

The rise of wrist-friendly options

The resurgence of smaller dive watches might seem like a sudden change, but this trend has been quietly developing over the past few years. It has led to a variety of small dive watch options in different price ranges that might have gone unnoticed. Let’s delve into the timeline of this evolving trend. 


In 2017, Blancpain released a Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe with a 38 mm case. During that same year, Rado launched the Captain Cook with a case size of 37 mm. Seiko also introduced the “Mini Turtle,” and in the subsequent years, the Japanese brand has continued to release various dive watches under 40 mm, including vintage reissues of the “62MAS” and modern options such as the Prospex Solar.


In 2018, Oris unveiled the Divers Sixty-Five, which offered a 36 mm case option. Also in 2018, Tudor made its mark with the Black Bay 58, featuring a 39 mm case that took the industry by surprise. These examples serve to illustrate the growing availability of (and interest in) dive watches with smaller dimensions. 

Available on the Revolution Shop: Oris Divers Sixty-Five ‘Cotton Candy’
The Oris Divers Sixty-Five "Cotton Candy" with a 38 mm case

The trend of smaller dive watches has reached a significant point in 2023, creating excitement among classic dive watch enthusiasts. Tudor’s release of a 37 mm dive watch stands out as an unusual move. This is particularly noteworthy because the 39 mm Black Bay 58, introduced in 2018, was already considered small and highly popular due to its size. It’s remarkable that Tudor chose to go even smaller with a 37 mm model. Tudor’s decision could potentially mark a pivotal moment for smaller divers, given the brand’s prominence and popularity.


While the trend of smaller dive watches has made progress, the space is still dominated by plus-sized cases. Smaller, more wearable models remain a rarity – and many enthusiasts worldwide are still taking issue with the regular stream of larger releases,  with the launch of a smaller dive watch being the exception, rather than the rule.

The Captain Cook “Ghost Captain”, by Rado x The Rake & Revolution (Image: Revolution©)
The Rado x The Rake & Revolution Captain Cook “Ghost Captain” with a 37.3 mm case

Why size matters

The dive watch, as we know it today with its rugged, unmistakable rotating bezel, is a specialized tool that emerged in the mid-20th century. Despite being a relatively recent innovation, dive watches have become synonymous with wristwatches. If you were to ask anyone to imagine a watch, the image of a dive watch – especially the Rolex Submariner – would likely come to mind, especially for newcomers.


As a watch enthusiast, there’s a range of things we look for when trying to find the perfect dive watch. Naturally, the first criterion is practicality, which includes factors such as water resistance, legibility, ease of operation, and other crucial details that can determine a dive watch’s success or failure.


The next aspect to consider is its look and feel. While we may take pride in owning an impressive and substantial piece of equipment (think Deepsea Challenge), it’s worth noting that we’re discussing luxury items here. This means that, for most people, the emotions they evoke – their aesthetics and tactile experience – often matter more than how they’ll perform at depth. 

The Oyster Perpetual Deepsea Challenge, waterproof to a depth of 11,000 metres (36,090 feet) (Image: Rolex/JVA Studios)
The Rolex Deepsea Challenge ref. 126067, a massive timepiece with a 50 mm case and a water resistance of 11,000 meters

However, for most watch buyers, appearance and feel are arguably the most critical factors to consider, especially since the majority of them aren’t divers. But what exactly gives a dive watch that perfect feel on the wrist?


Of course there’s no single factor: the curved domed crystal, the jet-black dial with prominent luminescent markers, the oversized crown, and robust lugs. These distinct elements come together to create what is instantly recognisable as a dive watch.

Rolex-Submariner reference 6204 was the very first dive watch to be rated to a depth of 100 metres. The watch had a highly legible dial layout, with hands that like the painted hour hands were filled with Radium. (Image: Antiquorum)
The original Rolex Submariner ref. 6204. Image by Antiquorum.

But there’s something simpler yet vital to discuss – one that plays a substantial role in shaping a dive watch’s overall appearance and tactile experience in contrast to the aforementioned details. Size.


Smaller dive watches tend to be more appealing, in a timeless, classic sense. Much like the ebb and flow of trends, dive watches have undergone a complete transformation in terms of size. Dive watches started small, grew to enormous sizes around the 2000s, and are now returning to more manageable dimensions. Of course, the 47 mm diver has its place, but it is a rare wrist that can actually manage to wear it. 

The Royal Oak Offshore Revolution Limited Edition
The Royal Oak Offshore Revolution Limited Edition

Why did small dive watches fall out of fashion?

The first Rolex dive watch to bear the iconic label “Submariner” on the dial was the ref. 6204, introduced in 1953, and it had a diameter of 37 mm. The inaugural Tudor Submariner, the ref. 7922 from 1954, shared the same 37 mm size. The original Omega Seamaster 300 from 1957 measured 39 mm.


One of the larger dive watches of that era was the Fifty Fathoms, which debuted at a substantial 41 mm width in 1953. It was so big that Blancpain swiftly responded with the Bathyscaphe model, offering case sizes as small as 34.5 mm, like the one pictured below from 1956.

The 34.5 mm Blancpain Bathyscaphe from circa 1956. Image by Wind Vintage.

However, dive watches eventually departed from these sizes, and the standard settled around 40 mm. By the end of the 1950s, Rolex launched its 40 mm Submariner, and for many years, dive watches under 40 mm became uncommon. When brands introduced new models or updated versions, they tended to be equal to or larger than 40 mm. For instance, when Omega introduced its first-generation Seamaster Professional 300m in 1993, it measured 41 mm in width.


So, why did smaller-sized dive watches lose favor? Why were the 36 mm and 39 mm Submariners discontinued in the 1990s? Why was the 36 mm Seamaster 300 Professional discontinued in 2018? Why did brands eventually phase out small dive watches?


First and foremost, across the board, watches increased in size as trends shifted from classical to contemporary. The once-fashionable 33 mm gentlemen’s watches gradually lost their appeal. Consequently, dive watches, being watches after all, also embraced the trend and grew in size.


Second, and perhaps even more crucially, there was a massive surge in the popularity of large, attention-grabbing watches in the 1990s and 2000s. This was the era when timepieces like the Royal Oak Offshore and Big Bang made their mark. Despite their substantial size, they became incredibly fashionable and cool, capturing the attention of collectors and fueling the demand for larger watches. The commercial success of these larger-than-life watches encouraged other manufacturers to follow suit and create larger timepieces.

Big Bang Integral Ceramic in blue
A sleek Hublot Big Bang Integral entirely made from light blue ceramic

Why have small dive watches made a comeback?

When exploring the internet for new watch releases, a consistent trend emerges: comments expressing disappointment with slightly oversized timepieces. Collectors and enthusiasts frequently yearn for smaller versions. So, what’s fueling this renewed interest in smaller dive watches? Let’s delve into the perspectives of both watchmakers and enthusiasts.

Collector’s perspectives

To begin, we’ll consider the viewpoint of watch enthusiasts. There are four compelling reasons why collectors are increasingly drawn to smaller watches.


First and foremost, smaller watches evoke a strong feeling of nostalgia. It feels warm, classy, and romantic, in contrast to bulkier modern watches. People long for this retro sensibility and treasure watches that harken back to a bygone era.


Second, contemporary fashion trends embrace the blending of formal and casual styles, especially after the pandemic. This makes it common and acceptable to wear dive watches in everyday life and various occasions. Smaller dive watches offer a versatile and attractive option that complements different styles, unlike their larger counterparts, which might appear unwieldy with formal attire.

A Canadian Navy issued Tudor ref. 9401/0 non-date Submariner with mismatched dial markers and snowflake hands (Image © Revolution)
The Canadian Navy-issued Tudor Submariner Ref. 9401/0

Third, the growing interest among women in dive watches contributes to the resurgence of interest in mid-sized models.


Finally, and most importantly, smaller watches simply look better on the wrist. According to a survey conducted by watch collector Mark Cho on wrist sizes, the majority of respondents perceived their wrist size as below average or small, creating a distribution diagram skewed towards the left. However, in reality, their wrist sizes follow a normal curve. Mr. Cho explains that people may perceive the watches available on the market as designed for those with average wrist sizes. But sometimes these watches are too big for most people. Collectors might feel like their wrists are smaller than they really are, even though that might not be true.

The Tudor Black Bay 54 worn with formal business attire

Watchmaker’s perspectives

Now, let’s consider the perspectives of watchmakers – why are brands interested in making smaller dive watches?


Well, watch brands are in the business of selling watches, first and foremost. The market always wants something new and exciting, whether it’s fresh ideas or bringing back old ones. After the trend for larger watches, watchmakers may feel the need to introduce smaller items to inject excitement into the market. By offering a smaller size, they can get the attention of collectors and enthusiasts who want something different. 

The Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep comes in either Grade-5 titanium or a new stainless steel alloy - O-MEGASTEEL. Take your pick of dial and bezel colours, bracelet, NATO or rubber straps. (Image: Omega)
The Omega Planet Ocean Ultra Deep 6000 m with a 45.5 mm case

Third, the resurgence of interest in vintage watches has fostered a fascination with vintage-inspired modern watches. To authentically capture the nostalgic appeal, watchmakers must strike the right proportions in the watch case. Creating smaller dive watches is a quick way for brands to evoke the old-school charm and the sentiments of the past.


Lastly, it’s essential for brands to diversify their offerings with multiple sizes for the same model. This allows watchmakers to cater to different markets without the need for extensive redesigning, reducing production costs, and enhancing the appeal of their timepieces.

Are smaller sizes the future of dive watches?

The resurgence of smaller dive watches symbolizes a return to simplicity and prompts us to reconsider our values. It’s a reminder that not everything needs to be oversized and conspicuous to make a statement. In an era where bigger is often equated with better, these modestly sized dive watches underline that true luxury lies in the quiet details, in the precision of execution, and in the emotional connection a timepiece can create.


In the end, the journey of these smaller dive watches reflects the cyclical nature of trends, where the past influences the present, and the present shapes the future. In one way or another, it serves as a testament to the enduring allure of watches that resonate with our hearts and wrists, regardless of their size. As we continue to explore the evolving landscape of watchmaking, one thing remains clear – the timeless charm of smaller dive watches will always find its place in the ever-turning wheel of fashion and taste.


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