Effects of Design on Look and Fit of Large Watches


Posted by Justin Time on April 28, 1998 at 16:37:54:

Hello TimeZoners,

This article is about the look and fit of large watches. Wrists come in all sizes and shapes. You would think that all watches are designed with this simple fact in mind. Not always. With the ever-growing popularity of over-sized watches and the ubiquitous metal bracelets, you should pay closer attention to the way they look and feel on your wrist if you don’t want your watch to wear you. Below are some tips on what to look for.

While much has already been said about bracelet design, there’s been little discussion on the design of the case and lugs to deal with problems inherent in large watches. Next time you shop for such a watch, do not be obsessed by their dimensions. Instead, pay more attention to the design of the case and lugs. The height, length, angle, and taper of the lugs, as well as the layering and bevels of the case affect the apparent size and the fit of the watch.

To illustrate the good, the bad, and the ugly in case/lug design, I’ll compare several watches by the same company, IWC. This should help avoid the appearance of brand favoritism. While traditional lugs still do wonders for look and fit, there are also unusual lug designs that deserve some attention. So, I’ve also included the Royal Oak by AP and watches by two relatively new companies, XEMEX and Ventura, to round up the list. What goes below is an attempt to analyze, not to denigrate these watches, as they are all my children and I love them all.


The IWC automatic Flieger  (and Doppel) chronograph exemplifies a successful design of the traditional lugs and case on a thick watch. First, the watch thickness is broken up into several THINNER layers. So while the Flieger is quite thick overall (15 mm), only 1/4 of the watch, the bezel and the crystal, sticks up above the lugs. The bottom 1/4 of the watch, the case-back, is hidden under the case. Second, the bezel and case-back are gently beveled on the edges so that all you could see from the side is the case, only half as thick as the watch. Third, the lugs are attached to the MIDDLE of the case, not the bottom, allowing the case-back to partially sinks into the wrist. The long lugs also smoothly extend from the case, their top-side tapering downward to allow the bracelet to follow the contour of the wrist. This design blends the large case with the bracelet, making the case appear not only thinner, but also smaller than its dimensions (15 mm x 39 mm). A tour de force in optical illusion! The trick works less well with a contrasting black leather strap.

By comparison, the IWC PD Compass watch, actually thinner than the Flieger (14 mm vs. 15 mm), appears much thicker. First, the flat lugs of the PD Compass are attached to the bottom of the case. Thus, the watch sits up high above the bracelet, accentuating its thickness. Second, the case and bezel are hardly beveled, leaving the full thickness of the watch for all to see from the side. Third, the lugs are short and flat with no taper. This design sets off the round case against the bracelet. Thus, the 14-mm IWC PD Compass appears thicker on your wrist than the 15-mm IWC Flieger!

Case and lug design can also be used to suggest a thickness that isn’t there. The Ventura V-matic and the Audemars-Piguet Royal Oak use a low lug attachment to their advantage. The Royal Oak single-piece lugs meet the case BELOW its mid-point, making the Royal Oak sit up high thus accentuating the watch thickness and the sporty bezel in spite of the watch ultra-slim profile–only 8 mm! By contrast, the 8.5-mm Xemex Avenue appears considerably thinner, more like a dress watch, because the lugs are attached at the middle the case. Like the Royal Oak, the Ventura V-matic overstates its thickness–intentionally methinks–with short lugs attached to the very bottom of the case: the watch sits up high. The case itself has no bevels or separate bezel. This combination gives this 10.5-mm watch an apparent thickness to balance out its large case (39.3 mm).


As modern watches become more massive, weight and wearing comfort with metal bracelets become more important . The lugs must be designed to allow a good fit without gaps or pinching. Lugs attached low on the case place the bracelet closer to the wrist for a good fit. On the Flieger, the strong taper of the lugs at the top and the gentle taper at the bottom compensates perfectly for the mid-point attachment–you remember that this minimizes apparent thickness–and allow the bracelet to hug the contour of the wrist with nary a gap under the lugs.

The lug design is less successful on the thick IWC PD Titan Chronograph because of poor fit. In an effort to reduce the watch apparent thickness, the lugs are placed above the mid-point of the case, hiding 1/3 of the watch below. From this high position, however, the lugs must bend down at an acute angle, creating large gaps underneath that hinder a good fit. These gaps also reveal the watch entire thickness (14.5 mm), thus defeating the benefit of a high lug position. Placing the lugs at the mid-point of the case and making it thicker, as in the Flieger, would have worked better.

With single-piece lugs, the IWC PD meca-quartz and the AP Royal Oak use strong taper and angular bend respectively to achieve the same objectives. Both watches are also very thin so that the lugs can be attached LOW on the case for a close fit without exaggerating the thickness.


Less common lug designs are jointed or hinged lugs, single-piece or split, as on the IWC Da Vinci and XEMEX Avenue, respectively. Hinged lugs allow a wider range of fit than fixed lugs. For example, the square XEMEX gives a perfect fit for a tiny (5 1/2 inches) as well as a huge wrist (8 1/2 inches). In my small survey, I saw virtually no gaps under the lugs in spite of the watch relatively large size (31 x 34.5 mm; 43 mm with lugs). Few that I talked to, however, agreed on the aesthetics. Opinions on the XEMEX Avenue with its square case and flabby lugs run the gamut from very stylish to grotesque. The XEMEX Offroad with a round case received similar comments. The reception of the hinged, single-piece lugs on the IWC Da Vinci was more uniformly positive, though none ecstatic. But none denied that these hinged lugs gave a superior fit.


Next time you go shopping for watches, please keep in mind the importance of case and lug design on the look and fit of a watch. This design is important with large watches that tend to overwhelm a small wrist, and become heavy with a loose bracelet. Don’t go just by the watch dimensions and weight. They are important, but do check out the case and the lugs design–layering, bevels, position, angle, taper, and pivot. Then try the watch on your wrist. If the case is not properly layered and beveled, and the lugs are placed too low, the watch will sit up and appear to be very thick. Short lugs with little taper also accentuate the size of the case. If the lugs are placed too high or have the wrong taper, the bracelet will fit the wrist poorly and let the watch move around uncomfortably regardless of its weight. A well-designed watch is not difficult to spot now that you know what to look for.

Justin Time