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The 7 Best 38mm Affordable Dress Watches (For Small Wrists)

Posted on June 01 2021

38MM Dress Watches

Watches haven't always been as large as they are today.

Two of the most iconic watches ever - Rolex's Explorer 1 and the Submariner - were both 36mm wide when first released.

By today's standards that is small.

But these watches were rugged designs. The Explorer was inspired by the first summit of Everest and the Submariner was a sporty dive watch. Dress watches were often smaller still.

In the decades since, watches have gradually got bigger.

But not everyone has moved with the times. Speak to older watch collectors - and I do regularly - and they've no time for massive vulgar watches.

They want smaller, refined watches. And do you know what? They're starting to win me over.

Why You Should Choose a Smaller Watch


Arnie and Stallone wear big watches.

It's fine for them. They have big wrists. Do you?

It's not a trick question. The trend in recent years has been for larger watches, but not all of us have large wrists. Would you wear a large size t-shirt because everyone else is?

No. You'd wear a small or medium if that was the best fit.

That's not always the attitude with watches.

Often watches come in one case size. And if that's too big for you? Tough. It's why watch forums and Facebook groups are full of wrist shots of people with watches that dwarf their wrists.

Trust me, I understand.

I have slim wrists and a few watches that really aren't comfortable for me to wear.

Recently I picked up a Bulova Hack. It's 38mm and fits me perfectly. It really piqued my interest in smaller watches. I'd just assumed that 40-42mm was the best size for me. Until I tried a 38mm model.

Bulova Hack 38mm Watch

Now I'm not so sure.

What I do know is that you should wear the size that is most comfortable for you.

That could be the watch that best suits your wrist size and shape. Or it could be a watch that fits comfortably under a shirt cuff. Or maybe a watch that you wear for sport that needs to be unintrusive.

There are many reasons why a smaller watch may be the best option for you.

7 Smaller Affordable Dress Watches


In a previous piece, I argued that dive watches worked great when smaller.

I'd suggest that the same is true with dress watches. They're designed to be worn in more formal environments. That often means with a shirt or suit.

In that scenario, slim watches with a small profile work best. Stylistically they complement smart dress and they're practical.

But that doesn't mean that they have to be non-descript or boring.

Here are my favourite seven affordable 38mm dress watches. I've tried to include a range of styles and a few watches that you may not be familiar with.

Timex Q Falcon Eye Watch

I want to start my list with a bold Timex reissue.

I'm a big fan of watch companies mining their own back catalogues. It's something that Timex regularly does, and the Falcon Eye is from their Q collection.

What does the Q stand for? It's referencing the quartz movement. This watch was originally released in the 1970s when quartz watches were a new innovation.

As you can see, the Timex Falcon Eye is a retro model. It's angular, slightly awkward and colourful. It's 38mm wide too.

Timex has recreated the original watch down to the small details. The bracelet is of the era and the watch has a battery hatch. The colours are great - a bright blue dial with gold accents.

This watch will attract attention. It's slim, practical and oozes vintage charm. And of course, it's sized like a fifty-year-old watch.

Timex Q Reissue Falcon Eye TW2T808007U

  • 38mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • 18mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Quartz movement
  • Acrylic Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance


Dufa Breuer Bauhaus Watch

Rather than being a revived watch design, Dufa is a revived brand.

Dufa was a German watch brand that was around at the time of the Bauhaus art school. The brand has been in and out of business over the years and was relaunched in 2016.

It now specialises in minimalist, Bauhaus watches.

The Breuer is one of the brands mechanical watches and is named after Marcel Breuer. He was a Bauhaus student, architect and designer of two iconic chairs.

It's a slim and subtle watch.

Despite the red, blue, black and cream, this model doesn't look colourful. It's pared-down and utilitarian. It's Germanic.

If you want a piece of art on your wrist when you attend meetings - have a closer look at the Dufa.

Dufa Breuer Automatic Sahara Sand

  • 38mm Diameter
  • 10.3mm Thick
  • 18mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Automatic movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 30M Water Resistance


Luch One Hand Watch

Luch haven't updated this design in half a century. Like the Timex, the reason that this watch is 38mm is because it was created for a different age.

But do you know what really makes me a fan of this model? I like that it doesn't tell the exact time.

By that I mean, this watch gives you the time to the nearest five minutes. It only has one hand. It can't tell you the minutes or seconds.

It's a cracking little watch, made in the Minsk Watch Factory. It's hand-winding and looks like the Soviet-era piece that it is.

You might be surprised how affordable it is too.

This is definitely the left-field option. A hand-winding Eastern European watch with only a single hand. It's a real conversation starter.

Luch 77471760

  • 38mm Diameter
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Chrome Plated Case
  • Handwinding Mechanical movement
  • Mineral Crystal

 


Rotary Havana Datejust Watch

The Rotary Hanava is an affordable homage to the Rolex Day-Date.

The original is the watch worn by President Johnson and the watch that Marylin Monroe gave to JFK.

It’s quite a contrast to the Dufa and Luch. The Day-Date design is a more conservative dress watch.

Rotary's homage is available in a few colours, and I prefer this colourful blue model.

There are some quite gaudy Day-Dates, but this is based on the less ostentatious style of the presidents watch.

I prefer this understated look with the simple stainless steel case. It still has the fluted bezel and prominent day window at 12 o’clock, but it’s more tasteful than some of the other models.

The Havana is a very affordable quartz watch, with a 38mm case.

It doesn’t have high specs or an expensive mechanical movement. It has a simple mineral crystal and a modest 50M of water resistance.

This is a humble piece, available on the high street. A smaller classic Rolex design. It's both inexpensive and easily available.

Rotary Havana GB02660-05

  • 38mm Diameter
  • 9.9mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Quartz movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 


Seiko 5 SNKK87K1 Watch

I was very tempted to include my Seiko 5 SNKE01K1 in this list. But it's 37mm wide and more than a little militaristic. It's definitely worth checking out though if you're into slightly smaller watches.

The piece that I chose instead is also a Seiko 5 model - SNKK87K1. It's a straightforward watch with a basic colour palette.

As part of the Seiko 5 line, you'll be familiar with its DNA. A Japanese automatic with water resistance and a day/date window.

There is nothing flashy about this model. It's a safe choice when compared with the Timex and Dufa. It's more formal and ideal if you don't want your watch to grab attention.

That doesn't mean that it's a boring watch. Far from it. This is an understated design. Beautiful because of its subtly.

Seiko 5 SNKK87K1

  • 38mm Diameter
  • 11mm Thick
  • 18mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Automatic movement
  • Hardlex Crystal
  • 30M Water Resistance


Hamilton American Classic Dress Watch

You will spot the theme again. This Hamilton is known as the American Classic. It's a watch inspired by Hamilton's own watches of the 1960s.

The watch is smooth, spartan and has a strong vintage aesthetic. This is classic watch styling, done the American way.

It's a big jump up specs and price compared to the others on the list. This is a Swiss-made watch, with a Swiss ETA 2892-2 automatic movement.

That quality comes at a price.

But if you're comfortable with that, then this is a great 38mm dress watch. The dial is clean and uncluttered, with simple black markers. It has stick hands and the date window repositioned to 6 o'clock.

The slim bezel means that the dial is actually quite wide for a 38mm watch, so the Hamilton wears quite big.

This bigger name comes with a big price tag, but it still represents good value for money.

Hamilton Intra-Matic H38455151

  • 38mm Diameter
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • ETA 2892-2 Automatic movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance


Vostok Classic Dress Watch

I want to throw one last oddity your way.

This is a quirky watch from Russian brand Vostok. Although better known for their military watches, this is an interesting dressier model.

I'm a fan of symmetry in watch design, but the Vostok Classic doesn't worry about that. The crown is unusually placed at 2 o'clock, there is a sub-second dial at 9 and the lugs are elaborate.

But taken together?

It all works. And again, Vostok has given us a distinctive watch that stands out from the crowd.

Like all Vostok watches, this model benefits from a Russian in-house movement. It's the hand-winding 2403 movement.

It's another conversation starter. You'll not stumble across anyone else wearing a Vostok Classic. So if you like the ornate fonts and the syringe hands, this could be your ideal dress watch.

Vostok Classic 581884

  • 38mm Diameter
  • 11mm Thick
  • 18mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Handwinding movement
  • Acrylic Crystal
  • 30M Water Resistance

 


Conclusion


I have a confession to make.

I have small wrists. It means that I don't suit the same 47mm Panerai watch that Sylvester Stallone wears.

But I've found a solution. I wear smaller watches! Usually, that has meant 40mm wide cases, until recently when I tried 38mm.

And the more I've looked, the more I've found impressive 38mm watches. In this piece, I've shown you seven of the best smaller dress watches.

I'd suggest that you follow some of the links and look at the watches more closely. You'll see that some, like the Luch, are unique and quirky designs.

Others, like the Hamilton, are modern takes on classic designs.

There should be something here for you. Even if it's just enough to set you off on your own search.

As ever, let me know in the comments what you find.

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