Small watches are sexier

In a world where we're sold on being macho, being delicate is classier.

A newsletter exploring men’s style.

Get access to weekly interviews, style tips, brand & product reviews, and ideas for daily living right here 📨 👇🏼

You ever seen those men’s fashion accounts on Instagram? Think they started popping up in the mid-2010s (around the early rise of influencers). The name variations were like slot machines: “High Men’s Fashion” or “Men’s Luxury Fashion” or “Gents Fashion.” “Something something eLiTe men’s fashion.”

All the photos were of buff dudes in suits whose shirts were busting at the seams, tight-crotch pants, driving a Maserati, cigar in hand, wearing some big-faced watch. Kinda like this…

Well, it’s bull shit.

What a tasteless, fake, plastic narrative about what men should look like, one that teaches men to think that being macho is elegant.

There’s nothing elegant about that. Look, no disrespect to big-faced watches. There are many fantastic ones, which you should read all about in my friend Tony’s watch newsletter, Rescapement. We’re teaming up on this piece to riff off our love for small watches, and to highlight four icons who make them look sexy.

Because where elegance is concerned, there’s nothing more elegant than wearing a small watch.

1. Gauthier Borsarello

Tank Louis Cartier

What can we say about this man? He is the designer’s designer, the king of cool. He’s never one to be showy, per se, but he’s a man of taste and believes that dressing the way you want it is true elegance.

Funny enough, Gauthier is a proponent of small watches > big-faced ones. It shows you’re not trying too hard, that you care about what you wear. He talks a lot about this in a great podcast with Handcut Radio. In this shot, he’s rocking the Louis Tank brown strap in gold.

Gauthier’s philosophy on clothing is inspiring. This dude is reshaping what modern luxury in menswear looks like, especially with his work at DeFursac Paris and L’etiquette.

2. Tyler, The Creator

Must de Tank Cartier

I distinctly remember when Tyler, The Creator’s Yonkers song came out in 2011. Of course, there was that music video. Then, he starts the song by rapping “I’m a f**king walking paradox.” A decade later, and not much has changed. His watch choices have followed this M.O.

First, it was an $11 Casio—a Casio, for one of the most successful rappers around? Then, sometime after IGOR became a Grammy-winning album, he leveled up to the Santos de Cartier. Still, this was an understated, elegant choice compared to the boasts about $1m-dollar wrist candy from peers like Drake or Jay-Z.

Then, around the release of his latest album, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, Tyler went vintage. He swapped his modern Santos for a vintage Must de Cartier Tank from the 1970s. Interestingly enough, it’s an affordable gold vermeil watch that Cartier targeted at the mass market back when the brand was struggling to survive.

For Tyler, though, the Must is a perfect mix of the high-low aesthetic he’s perfected. We know he’s also got a taste for the finer things, and as it turns out, the Must isn’t the only Cartier he’s fallen in love with recently. He also copped a vintage Cartier Crash.

Why, the Cartier Crash, you might ask? Well…

3. Kanye (duh)

Cartier Crash

Speaking of walking paradoxes. Before Tyler, The Creator, there was Kanye West and his Cartier Crash, a dressy, misshapen watch first introduced in 1967.

Beyond its contrarian, shape-bending aesthetic, the Crash is an audacious design, so it’s no surprise that Kanye — known for his design eye — was drawn to it. 

It’s hard to deny the Kanye West effect when it comes to the Crash. Back in 2018, before Kanye ever tweeted about the Crash, models like Kanye’s were selling for about $35,000.

Nowadays? In March 2021, an example sold for $210,000, a record for the model.

So yes, the Cartier Crash might be the most hyped watch around right now, due in no small part to Kanye. But it’s representative of something much bigger. Look past the hype and you’ll see an iconic watch that’s been around for 50 years and will be for 50 more — bold, daring, and a bit subversive. That Kanye’s been wearing one for a few years now feels all the more fitting.

More than the Crash, Kanye’s choosing it is about doing you. As Kanye once said, his music is “the code to self-esteem, it’s the code to who you are. If you’re a fan of Kanye West, you’re a fan of yourself.”

Kanye choosing an old, small dress watch is a corollary to this: wear what you want.

4. John F. Kennedy

Omega Ultra Thin

Much like the way Tyler, The Creator opted for an “affordable” Cartier, President John F. Kennedy showed how you don’t need to splurge on a timepiece from the maison to look chic.

On his inauguration day, JFK wore an Omega Ultra Thin that his friend and Senator Grant Stockdale gifted to him in advance of his election. Stockdale had it engraved President of the United States John F. Kennedy, from his friend Grant, on the case back, which was a strong vote of confidence before Kennedy had even been elected.

After receiving the watch, JFK’s wife, Jackie, wrote a letter back to Stockdale, thanking him for gifting her husband the “thinnest, most elegant wristwatch,” which immediately replaced the “chunky watch” she’d previously gifted him for a wedding anniversary (she probably didn’t mind its resemblance to her Cartier Tank, either).

Jackie and JFK lived in a time when subtle and elegant were adjectives befitting of a great watch; big and chunky were smears targeted at a watch unbecoming of a President’s wrist. A chunky watch didn’t grant its wearer confidence any more than a small watch betrayed it.

No, JFK had confidence already. His friend engraving a watch with the nation’s highest office before he’d even won said office, for example, shows a man who portrayed that confidence to everyone he interacted with.