Why is finding mechanical chronographs for small wrists so difficult? Why is finding mechanical chronographs for small wrists so difficult?

Why is finding mechanical chronographs for small wrists so difficult?

Charlotte Harris

I feel like you’re either a chronograph person or you’re not. Some enjoy the sporty, motorsport-inspired design, the arguably cluttered dial with stopwatch complication at the centre and the complexity of the mechanical movement inside – while others simply prefer the more classic time-only displays. Then there’s a select few of us who have the decision made for them regardless of their opinions on the chronograph.

A quick Google of the term “mechanical chronograph” will leave you with what feels like endless options to choose from. Some of the best-known include the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional, the Breitling Navitimer and the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. Other popular models with more affordable price tags attached to them include the Tissot PRX, the Junghans Max Bill Chronoscope and the Longines AviGation Big Eye. All beautiful watches, but they all have one thing they’re limited by: their case size.

tissot prx chronograph blue dial

If you have a smaller-than-average-sized wrist, finding a chronograph that suits it in today’s modern world has become almost impossible. There are a couple of quartz options with 36mm or 37mm cases, but unless you’re into the rose gold-plated, zirconia-decorated cases of Michael Kors and Sekonda watches, you’re going to feel like you’ve been left with nothing.

I have definitely fallen into this category and because of this, I am yet to add a chronograph to my collection – something I’d very much like to do. I have fairly small five-and-a-half-inch wrists and I’ve found that cases around the 36mm mark are what best suit my frame. I know there are many others like me, male and female included, with a penchant for compact-sized mechanical watches. And sadly, it’s those mechanical chronographs that are always the biggest in size…

Big cases for big movements

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore 25th Anniversary ref 26421

There is a reason chronograph watches are rarely found with case diameters of 40mm or less. First and foremost, mechanical chronograph movements are intricate and complex mechanisms that require additional gears, levers and springs dedicated to operating the chronograph functions.

To put it into perspective, IWC’s simple time-and-date Mark XX (which has a 40mm diameter) utilises their 32111 Calibre with a total of 164 components. Meanwhile, their Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41 (which is 41.9mm in diameter, actually) runs their 69385 Calibre with 242 components. That’s a lot more parts for the addition of chronograph complication, and at the end of the day, these components have got to go somewhere. And so, much of the time, mechanical chronographs necessitate a larger case size to accommodate their larger movements.

IWC 2022 55 copy e1651691439712

There’s also the issue of legibility. Chronographs conventionally have at least two or three extra subsidiary dials for showcasing elapsed time measurements. To make the room and to allow the counters to be legible, the dials and consequently cases grow in size.

Finally, there’s also been a notable shift in the last decade or so towards larger, bolder timepieces. Case sizes of 40mm or above have proven to be very popular with the vast majority of watch wearers, and although I feel like sub-40mm case sizes are picking back up, there’s still a lot less choice – especially when it comes to the chronograph. Thankfully, there are a handful of chronographs out there with a case size of 38mm or less. Here are five smaller chronograph alternatives for those of you with smaller wrists.

Omega Speedmaster “Reduced” – 38mm


A smaller chronograph many of you will have likely heard of already is the Omega Speedmaster “Reduced”. It’s typically one of my top recommendations for anyone looking for a luxury, reasonably-sized mechanical chronograph. It sits 38mm wide with a lug-to-lug width of 44.5mm making it particularly compact. Its design does deviate from the original Speedmaster slightly – most notably on the dial which features unique oval-shaped counters – otherwise, it does wear a lot like a Speedmaster and used a host of movements over its production run, but all were essentially an ETA 2892-A2 base with a Dubois Dépraz 2020 chronograph module attached. Price: A$9,275 (with vintage references starting as low as A$4,000).

Zenith Chronomaster Revival El Primero A385 – 37mm

Zenith Chronomaster Revival

Next, we have the Zenith Chronomaster Revival El Primero A385 which sits at a retro 37mm wide with a lug-to-lug of 46.6mm. This is a really handsome watch, and definitely one for lovers of retro design, faithfully replicating the look of Zenith’s A384 model with a tonneau-shaped stainless steel case and tri-compax dial. Inside is the Swiss watchmaker’s famous El Primero high-frequency automatic chronograph calibre, which beats at 5 Hz and features a 50-hour power reserve. Price: A$13,500.

Blancpain Air Command – 36mm

Blancpain Air Command 36mm

One of the smallest mechanical chronographs out there is the Blancpain Air Command and although it’s a higher-end option, it does tick a lot of boxes and delivers the look of the original Air Command almost exactly. Minus the smaller dimensions of 36.2mm, it arrives with the same domed sapphire crystal glass, unidirectional rotating ceramic bezel and bi-compax dial layout. Despite its size, there are no unnecessary diamonds or mother of pearl, just a solid grade 23 titanium or 18ct rose gold pilot’s watch. Price: A$30,600.

Farer Chalcot – 38.5mm

Farer Chalcot Chronograph (1)

Those on the lookout for entry-level mechanical chronographs can’t go far wrong with the Farer Chalcot or the Baltic Bicompax 002 below. The Chalcot is a 38.5mm wide chronograph with a 13mm height and a 43.7mm lug-to-lug. It’s one of the most comfortable mechanical chronographs I’ve had the pleasure of trying on thanks to its ski slope-inspired lugs helping to keep the watch snug on the wrist. The colouring is also very cool with the dial adorned in a mint green gravel-like finish and a fluorescent orange chronograph seconds hand. Price: A$3,245.

Baltic Bicompax 002 – 38mm

baltic bicompax blue gilt silver

With vintage design influencing their entire portfolio, it tracks that a brand like Baltic is good at keeping their watches compactly sized. The Bicompax 002 is the French brand’s smallest chronograph and showcases a 38mm wide stainless steel “step” case with a lug-to-lug of 47mm. It has an Art Deco spirit helped by a rather uncluttered display for a chronograph. You’ll notice there are no numerals added to the small seconds or 30-minute counter and just printed Arabic numerals on the brushed outer ring. This is a manual-winding chronograph powered by the Seagull ST1901 with a 42-hour power reserve. Price: A$1,025, available from the Time+Tide Shop.

We’ve seen that case sizes have been trending downwards more recently, so we’re hopeful we’ll start to see more smaller options of mechanical chronographs in the coming years. In the meantime, our search for the perfect mechanical chronograph for small wrists continues…