A few years ago, the watch industry noticed a trend towards bigger, bolder watches. This, as many things in fashion, was a temporary phase. Just look at what has happened in the last few years.
Watches that come in both 40/41mm and 43/44mm tend to hold more value in the smaller size, the TAG Heuer Aquaracer with ceramic bezels is a case in point. When the Submariner grew from 40 to 41mm, the world noticed, the 40mm subs skyrocketed in price, and the naysayers had a field day. As everyone knows however, different strokes for different folks, and on this idea comes this article.
We are going to look at the most popular luxury watch brands, and their big case offerings.
This is for the people who are looking at 45mm+ options. A couple of notable brands will be left off this list. Rolex is a very traditional brand and its largest main offerings are the Yacht-Master II and Deepsea at 44mm, not quite what we are looking for. Another is TAG Heuer who has two basic 45mm offerings (maybe three depending on how you look at it) but lacks something when compared to some of the other brands we are talking about here. On that introduction, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
The list of watch brands with big case size offerings
Omega is by far one of the most popular brands on the planet. Only Rolex has seen more activity on the preowned marketplaces of the world.
In 2005 during the big watch craze, the Seamaster received a big brother upgrade, the Planet Ocean. This watch is a conundrum to the normal thinking of watch size.
It is here we actually see almost no price difference between the two sizes, well maybe a slight lean to the bigger 45.5mm. Another price point to notice is there is not much difference between the original Planet Oceans (POs) and the old reference numbers to the new ones, once again may be
a slight lean to the newer references. One thing you get with Planet Ocean is choice. There are so many options for you to choose from with dial color, bezel color, strap type, case metal, chronograph, nonchrono, the list goes on and on. If you are looking for a large diameter watch, it’s hard to go wrong with the Planet Ocean.
There are two references that come highly recommended, the 18.104.22.168.03.001 and the 22.214.171.124.01.002.
Omega also has the Seamaster Aqua Terra XXL. This one is massive at 49mm, and with the thin Aqua Terra bezel will look every bit the size. It can also be a bit more versatile with it’s more minimal design. You’re not going to have the options you do with the POs but it has size and design on it’s side. It’s also more difficult to find as there are far fewer on the preowned marketplace. I recommend two main references, the 126.96.36.199.06.001 and for the small seconds subdial, the 188.8.131.52.06.001.
IWC has always had a different influence on them, being from the German speaking East Switzerland as opposed to the French speaking West like the other brands. You can see the German influence in their most popular watch, the Pilot.
In our case the Big Pilot is what we are looking at today. It’s natural for a Pilot to be large. It’s the nature of their job. The Big Pilot is just that, large and legible. The IW5002-01 and IW5004-01 are the two classics, but there is a lot more from this line. If you are looking for a Chronograph, look at the IW3880-07. If the 46mm is too small, look at the 48mm top gun IW5019-01 or -02, the difference is the dial color.
Maybe the military isn’t your thing and you want a cleaner watch. The Portofino may fit the bill. There are two large size dials you can look at, 45mm and 46mm. These are classic heritage watches and in general, counter to what you may think, the 46mm has fewer complications. Most of the 46s are moonphase and small seconds dial. That’s it. A lot of the 45s include power reserve and date as well.
Look at the 46mm IW5448. If you do want the complications, get the 45mm IW5101 or IW5164. These have the power reserve and date, with the 5164 including the moonphase.
While it may not be the most popular, it is one of the most famous, the IWC Portugese. It’s the top of the IWC line, and is not normally know for having the largest case. The standard is 40-44mm, but we are not here for that.
We are here for the IW3902, the Yacht Club. This is the standard bigger case at 45.5mm and has plenty of dial colors and case materials, that you can find a very versatile watch, that just works with everything. However we can’t talk about the Portuguese without talking about the Grand Complication.
It is a big dial, big complication, 6 figure powerhouse from East Switzerland. The IW3374 and IW3776 make a statement, considering you are paying an exotic price for an exotic watch, it has to. For those of you in the middle, they have you covered as well, the IW3972.
The digital month is such a nice feature, and you won’t see it on another analog mechanical watch. Overall IWC does a great job giving the special treatment to large watches.
Of all the old Swiss watch companies, Breitling is one of the very few still independently operating. Now, in the process of doing so, they weren’t holding on to the past. The current lineup does have nods to the yesteryears, but the current Navitimer looks more like the Chronomat of the past than the current Chronomat.
Breitlings long history as a Pilot’s watch means big cases, exactly what we are here for. The most iconic look for the big case Breitling would have to be the Navitimer World, reference number A24322. You could actually include any 46mm Navitimer here, as they all share a similar case, and the only thing you have to look at is which dial you prefer.
The World comes in Black, White, and Blue dial variants. If you prefer the 9/6/3 over the 12/9/6 subdials, the B01 is essentially the same watch. Look at reference number AB01272. You have essentially the same dial colors available, and these come with white subdials in many cases.
Not to be outdone by Omega, the Breitling diver, the Superocean comes in with many different 46mm options, reference here would be the M17368. Though not quite at the level of the PO, the Superocean does it’s own thing, with chronographs also an option. The advantage of the Superocean however, is the 48mm beast, the reference E or V17369. This one gives you the monster size without the odd proportions(a la Ploprof).
It however is still only 300m, which let’s be real, are they ever going diving? Then you have the Superocean Heritage line. There isn’t really a standard reference number here, but there are plenty of options, and if you get one with the bracelet, it is arguably one of the most comfortable.
The dials aren’t as contemporary as the standard Superoceans, hence the name, Heritage. This as well can be had with or without the chronograph. A couple I recommend are the “Black Eye Blue” reference A1332024/c817 for a chronograph, and the bronze/steel AB202033/Q618 if you don’t want it. Breitling has a few more options in large cases, but they just aren’t as numerous, or as fun as these.
Hublot is arguably the king of the big cases. It is a relatively new company and opinion is pretty well split. All I know is they make quality Swiss timepieces, in bold styles, in bold sizes, and with bold materials. This brand is normally not for the faint of heart, however they do make the Classic Fusion. It is exactly what it sounds like, a fusion of classic design and modern bold.
There are so many options It’s hard to know where to start. I recommend the 515 references for many people, you get the large case but it’s their ultra-thin line. It doesn’t stand on your wrist as so many Hublots do. You also have plenty of options without jumping into the crazy colors people have become used to with Hublot. The 515.NX.1270.LR is just a fine-looking, simple piece. The regular Classic fusions also come with a tourbillon option, or just a skeleton dial Aerofusion if that isn’t important to you. There are far more options here as well, such as the green dial/rose gold 521.OX.8980.LR.
The Big Bang however is probably their most exciting line. If you want the classic diver look, The 48mm Big Bang fits that to a T. It’s also larger than the other divers, but it doesn’t carry as many options. 45mm however is one of the standard sizes. In this size you get crazy colors, crazy dials, and crazy materials.
Since rose gold is all the craze right now, you can’t go wrong picking up a rose gold Big Bang. You can get rose gold case only, rose gold bezel only, or both in rose gold. If you want truly wild, check out the 415.NX watches, also known as the Sang Bleu.
The last Hublot on this list is the King Power. These are 48mms of in your face technology. The options aren’t as numerous as the Big Bang, however they are quality.
If you want a GMT or a chronograph, you’re in luck as almost every King Power comes in this form. However not everyone wants that. If not, stick with the Oceanographic. This style is a little extreme, so if these three don’t fit your personality, look to one of the other lines. Finally, they have a Formula 1 partnership (any watch brand worth a grain of sand does).
This is one of the coolest in the King Power lineup. The bezel is designed to mimic a high-performance brake rotor. For GMT, I recommend the rose gold 771.OM.1170.RX. For chronograph, I recommend the King Power Congo 710.CI.1190.NR.CGO11 with the red sapphire crystal. For the Formula 1 edition, I recommend the classic 703.CI.1123.NR.FMO10.
Panerai is a relative newcomer in the luxury watch space, not as young as Hublot, but younger than the big boys. It is arguably one of only two Italian brands that can run with the Swiss.
Just as with other non-Swiss brands, it got its watch start during the World Wars. The very first Panerai watch, is also the best starting point for us, the Radiomir. Originally a Rolex oyster case with Rolex movement, the current Radiomir hasn’t changed much.
Plus, being a military watch, it starts at 45mm. However, for this article, let’s just skip straight to the 47. You won’t get a LOT of variety with Panerai, but you will get a quality watch with a distinct style. If you don’t like the Panerai case, just skip this section altogether. For the rest of you, check out the PAM00720.
This is the classic Radiomir, jumbo-sized, two hands, with Panerai font on the quarters. Simple, Panerai, classic. However, there are three other dials to talk about. Next on the list is the GMT with small seconds, the PAM323. This one comes with 10 days of power reserve. Wind it up on Sunday and good to go for the entire week. If numbers aren’t your thing, Panerai has the special edition S.L.C. (interesting history on this name).
The PAM425 comes with two hands, and big indices on the quarters, 12 being a double. This is probably the classiest Radiomir and can be extremely versatile. Any talk of the oversized Radiomir would be incomplete, however, without mentioning California. This funky dial has Roman and Arabic numerals with indices on the quarters. It is far different from the norm and is definitely a double-take moment. It is the PAM424.
Even though it is THE most popular Panerai, the Luminor has one slight issue for us, the standard is 44mm. We are going to skip over the Luminor for the Luminor 1950. This is the only way for us to get the classic Luminor style, crown protector and all, with a 47mm case.
The standard is going to be the PAM372. This is the classic Luminor, just bigger. The nice thing is you can get the Luminor Destro, you know, for those backwards leftys. The PAM557 has the same style with the crown on the left side of the watch.
For options, in typical Panerai fashion, there isn’t much, however, I recommend you check out the Luminor 1950 Regatta, PAM526. It is a classic Yacht timer but does it in a very clean manner.
Perhaps the highlight of the Panerai range, at least in the author’s eyes, it the Luminor 1950 “Equation of Time”, ESPECIALLY the PAM920, Panerai Luminor 1950 L’Astronomo Tourbillon Moon Phases Equation of Time GMT. This wrist piece is insane, and NOT easily available, and if you find one, it may be worth as much as a small house.
Fortunately, Panerai graced us with the PAM670. Now you can measure the difference between apparent and meantime for the price of a small car instead.
Cartier, yes the French luxury goods company, actually makes a couple fine large dial Swiss timepieces. They aren’t known for big pieces, it just doesn’t normally work with their high lux style.
However, they still graced us with the 46mm Ballon Bleu XL and the Tank XL. First off, the Ballon Bleu is a little different than what we are used to with other brands. Every watch is a precious metal case, except the standard chronograph.
For the wallet-conscious of us, the W6920052 is a black dial/steel case beauty, as well as the least expensive XL. Of course, the Chrono isn’t for everyone, however, few can deny the beauty of rose gold. The white dial W6920054 has a class in spades with two hands and Roman numerals. If the Ballon Blue XL is your thing, and you want the absolute best this line has to offer, look no further than the flying tourbillon.
The W6920001 is the rose gold version, and the W6920021 is the white gold version. Either way, you are looking at watchmaking at a high level.
Due to the nature of it’s design, the Tank is going to be dwarfed by the majority of watches on the list, but the Tank is a classic, so we will go over one that is special, and the largest case they make, the Américaine. It is available in three shades of gold.
It is slightly different in design to the standard Tank, but looks just as fantastic. Not everyone will be a fan of the chronograph version but if you are, I would recommend the white gold version, W2609456, as I think the gold requires a simpler dial. For that we have the W2609356. Rose gold is the hot ticket right now, and Cartier did things right.
Audemars Piguet Watches
This is probably the only one of the Trinity we will talk about. The other two, Vacheron and Patek, are truly traditional companies. They never really gave us anything excessively large.
If they did, it was usually a one-off. Audemars Piguet, however, graced the world with a 48mm version of the famous Royal Oak Offshore. Audemars, is still a more traditional brand, but being one of the most highly regarded brands in the world people take notice of an offering like this, however, limited it may be.
It is only natural to forge partnerships with some massive names. Because of this, the Offshore comes in a wide array of designs. One such partnership produced a truly unique piece, the 16233, Shaquille O’Neal edition. On this one, the 2 and 3 are reversed and highlighted in red to commemorate the famous number he wore.
Another unique piece is the 25863 Terminator 3 edition, with the crown guard in addition to hinged pusher guards, yes pusher guards. I can’t find another watch on the market that has one. The other ones are also Arnold Schwarzenegger’s special editions, and they are more basic styles with special edition colors. You can’t go wrong with any of these watches though, they are an absolute delight.
Other watch companies have given us the big cases, but I felt like what we really needed was to look at the more popular brands out there. This is definitely not the be-all, end-all of bigger watches, but it is a great starting point to getting a high-quality luxury watch that you can find in minutes.
The Blog post was written by Chris the founder of Rockstar Watch