As I look back on 2018, I believe this to be the year when the unisex tool watch became a norm. Nothing convinced me more than when Panerai — a brand for which 47mm cushion cases are standard, and whose tagline still reads “Men’s Luxury Watches” — released a slew of slim 38mm and 42mm models earlier this year. Tudor pushed out the 38mm Black Bay 58; Oris shrunk their pointer-dates to 36mm; Bell & Ross released a number of sub-40mm models; and the list goes on. Along with the shrinking case sizes came an upsurge of the term “unisex.”
It’s a somewhat strange term, “unisex.” Apparently coined to help sell the the increasingly androgynous hairstyles of the 1960s, today the term today occupies the center of myriad debates over equality. The watch industry, however, uses “unisex” quite benignly to indicate what they hope is universal appeal.
Marketing these unisex tool watches banks on men wearing smaller models and women wearing increasingly larger, utility-oriented watches. Lady Gaga (who is 5’2”) taking on ambassadorship of the 41mm Tudor Black Bay diver, or Rosamund Pike sporting an IWC 40mm Mark XVIII pilot’s watch, tells us quite a bit about these shifting norms: a smaller frame need not relegate someone to having to wear a smaller watch, just as having a larger wrist or being a bigger person isn’t necessarily indicative of that person wanting to wear an enormous watch.
I’m overjoyed to have discovered that unisex tool watches can be shared between significant others. My partner and I call these “couple’s watches,” and our co-ownership started when my better half fell in love with, and unabashedly commandeered, my vintage 37mm Chronograph Suisse. Our first brand new couple’s watch was 2017’s 37mm Rado Captain Cook reissue, then the 38mm Seiko SKX013 diver showed up, and more recently an all-steel 36mm Rolex Datejust — truly the grandparent of this entire category.
Sizing straps and bracelets is sometimes a conundrum, and there are those days when a watch is out the door before I get my chance with it, but, those small bothers aside, the two of us are simply delighted to have discovered a common passion for tool watches. I thought the icing was already on the cake, but geeking out about watches together adds a whole new layer of sweetness.
Were money no obstacle, here’s a selection of 2018 models that we’d most certainly have snatched up already.
Panerai Luminor Due 38mm
Panerai puts it like this: “…extremely versatile and suitable for every wrist and situation,” but what they really mean is that the PAM00677 — with its slimmed down rose gold case, white dial with sky-blue markers and matching alligator strap — is their first intentional bid for female clients. Back away from that airy colorway, and we find the exceptionally handsome PAM00908 in rose gold with a radially brushed black dial and the PAM00755 with an anthracite sandwich dial. Surprisingly, the slimmer Due line (from $8,000) brings 100% of the Panerai Luminor vibe, especially since they kept the iconic crown lock system intact.
ORIS Divers Sixty-Five 36mm
Having been a major hit at 40mm and 41mm, the new 36mm Divers Sixty-Five ($1,900) from Oris is a most welcome addition. Robust water resistance, classic 1960s diver style, one of the best bezels out there, and an ultra-fair price, the Divers Sixty-Five is one of those watches that’s easy to justify adding to a couple’s collection.
Damasko DS30 39mm
Damasko’s first and only watch under 40mm came out earlier this year, but diameter is only part of the story. This watch is just under 10mm tall, making it one of the sleekest tool watches available. With hardened steel, striking legibility, and beefed up shock resistance, the DS30 ($1,021) is pure tool, but that doesn’t keep it from being exceptionally stylish.
Tudor Black Bay 58 38mm
Despite Lady Gaga sporting the 41mm Black Bay, the new 38mm may be the best unisex offering in the Tudor lineup. With an in-house movement, 200 meters of water resistance, this classic Tudor diver pretty much stole the show at Baselworld earlier this year. The only problem has been that Tudor can’t keep them in stock. I’m hoping for more colorways and configurations for 2019, so perhaps we can all get our 58 (from $3,250) fix soon enough.
Bell & Ross Racingbird 38.5mm
For 2018, Bell & Ross started shrinking everything in their vintage series (i.e. their round watches). Their 38.5mm case is wafer-thin, finished to perfection, and commands as much attention on-wrist as some of B&R’s largest square models. The Racingbird ($3,200) is a thing of pure imagination, a watch designed to accompany a high-speed plane that only exists as a computer-generated image. If this sporty colorway isn’t your thing, the same form-factor is available with either a stark black and white dial, a military-inspired gilt dial, or the lovely copper dial of the Bellytanker.
Bremont Airco Mach 1 (White) 40mm
Bremont began releasing smaller watches a few years ago, and they keep riffing on those smaller designs. Though a tad larger at 40mm, the short lugs of Bremont’s Trip-Tick case assure a tight fit. This specific model is new for 2018, and the number of Airco models they’ve released recently indicate that Bremont has hit a sweet spot with these unisexy watches. Hardened steel, COSC accuracy (-4/+6 secs/day), and 100 meters of water resistance all add up to a rugged tool watch ($3,895).
Rado Captain Cook MKII 37mm
I remember everyone freaking out when the first Captain Cook reissue came out in 2017 because it was only 37mm. One year later, no one freaked when Rado announced the 37mm Captain Cook MKII ($1,900), a robust diver with super funky 70s aesthetics, 220 meters of water resistance, a beads-of-rice bracelet, and an internally rotating timing bezel. Rado’s back catalog seems ripe for the picking, so we look forward to what they’ve got in store for 2019.
Yema Superman Heritage 39mm
The current popularity in smaller watches has unleashed a number of back-catalog reissues, and few are as interesting as the Yema Superman (from $949). Sporting 300 meters of water resistance, a unique bezel-locking mechanism, an ETA 2825-2 movement, and classic vintage styling, the Superman is a great candidate as a couple’s watch. These haven’t shipped yet, but pre-order is open.