The Best Men’s 36mm Watches You Can Buy

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When it comes to wrist watches, case sizes have been on the rise since the late ‘60s. This reached a tipping point in the ‘80s, not least of which was thanks to the bigger-is-better Wall Street set, and continued on as watches came to be more about style or status, and less about telling time. So why are we rounding up the 10 best men’s 36mm watches here? Well, for one thing, it looks as if the watch world is coming to realize that, on so many fronts, the old ways are better. The 36mm case is leading this charge.

Pocket timepieces were the go-to format for men until the original field watches brought timekeepers onto the wrists of guys all over the world. These forefather watches were standardly 36mm. So not only is this a more versatile size, but a return to form—so it’s likely here to stay. Today’s edit is organized by price point, so all budgets and priorities are represented.

Under $10,000

Rolex Explorer

Rolex Explorer

In an industry rife with nostalgia and model reissues, the Rolex Explorer was bound to return to its 36mm case size at some point. The 36 Explorer is still a prime example of beauty in simplicity, and still outrageously legible thanks to the signature wide-font Arabic cardinals and Mercedes hands.

Its short crown keeps the slick silhouette intact, but is easy and satisfying to use, offering just enough resistance. And since this is Rolex, all of the proprietary features are there, from the high-shine Oystersteel and blue lume, to the high-energy movement that goes beyond its COSC certification for accuracy and durability.

IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic 36

IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic 36

The 36 Automatic Pilot’s Watch from IWC achieves a tricky balance, and that’s being classically standard, but still distinct. Part of this has to do with its flawless finishing and almost mirror-like polish that reflects light exquisitely from every angle, and of course, the coveted IWC branding. But also, the design gives just enough complexity without compromising the no-nonsense simplicity that we go to pilot watches for. 

The bezel has soft edges and curves in where it meets the sweeping case, which are connected to a rippling five-link bracelet. This provides an elegant background for the on-template face, which is familiarly equipped with all-Arabic indices and adventure-ready Alpha hands.

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 36

Rolex Oyster Perpetual 36

Is it a sport watch or is it a dress watch? Rolex might be the master of injecting dressy pieces with sporty, often in-house, specs, and adding a sparkle factor to tool watches. The ultimate distillation of this brand philosophy is none other than the Rolex Oyster Perpetual, and the 36mm version is its original and truest size. In addition to its durable and silky Oystersteel body, the vivid, baton-forward dial features non-tarnishing gold markers, ensuring the construction is as timeless as the style. 

It runs on Rolex’s Calibre 3230, a Chronometer that’s been patented to near-impossible dependability. This is largely thanks to the brand’s Chronergy escapement, which provides a ton of power but delicate accuracy.

Under $5,000

Tudor Black Bay 36

Tudor Black Bay 36

With an athletic construction and a refined and style-adaptable aesthetic, the Tudor Black Bay 36 is one of the most effectively designed timepieces for a one-watch collection. On the function front, you’ve got the sapphire crystal for scratch-resistance, 150 meters of water resistance, and the 26-jewel automatic movement—not to mention that smooth-action clasp with a super secure safety catch. 

Meanwhile, the beautifully smooth and lustrous bezel allows you to pair this guy with an evening wear-appropriate leather strap. It goes without saying that the 36mm case helps with this too. Naturally, the Tudor snowflake hands make an appearance.

Oris Diver Sixty-Five 36mm

Oris Diver Sixty-Five 36mm

With the Diver Sixty-Five 36, Oris takes the beloved design of a vintage dive and infuses it with modern dimensionality, for a charming and surprisingly sensible combination. Some self-aware age-old elements, other than the case size, include the flat and wide crown (which also makes it easy to use), the tropical hue of the indices and the hands, and of course, the double-domed crystal that provides an ethereal blur at the dial edges. Still, that crystal is sapphire, while the dial underneath sports lucid and sophisticatedly graduated color, for legibility and visual intrigue. 

Breitling Chronomat Automatic 36

Breitling Chronomat Automatic 36

Breitling’s 36mm Chronomat Automatic is no less monumental-looking than their over-40 offerings, which is rooted in its design: A mix of sleek, contemporary elements and stately, almost artifact-like touches. First, the gradual, almost-uninterrupted silhouette wears more like a thick cuff, taking visual space on your wrist without taking too much physical space. Second, the rounded crown and the brushed cardinals on the bezel have an ancient royal aesthetic that perfectly complement the overall contemporary shine of the watch, seen domintantly in its silky dial and gem-like indices.

Other notable qualities include Breitling’s comfortable and unique one-link Rouleaux bracelet and the cambered shape of the sapphire. It runs on an in-house caliber that’s COSC-certified, indicated by the Chronometer appellate on the face.

Under $2,000

Nomos Club 701

Nomos Club 701

Fun meets sophisticated with the Nomos Club 701. The design takes youthful qualities, like its use of primary red accents and stout fonts, and implements it with the precise German engineering Nomos Glashütte is known for. 

The white dial is silver-plated and galvanized for a steady surface with extra protection, while the sapphire is domed to match the bubbly, high-glisten bezel. Even the durable shell cordovan strap, which is attractively smooth and dense, has red accent stitches for a pop of color. And for the hardcore horology set, this watch runs on a manually-wound caliber, which gives it a delightful tactile experience.

Marathon Arctic MSAR

Marathon Arctic MSAR

As a producer of genuinely professional measurers used in science labs and by military personnel, it’s no surprise that Marathon’s Arctic MSAR has an information-forward composition and a slew of fascinating details and functions. The complex knurling on the crown not only gives it major grippablity, but an industrial touch. The applied indices are marked with an Arabic number for extra legibility, and have an almost pearlescent quality when they aren’t lit up. Speaking of, the Arctic MSAR uses tritium gas tubes to power its Superluminova, meaning it doesn’t need to be charged by light, simply glows on its own when it’s dark, and will do so for at least 25 years. 

Under $500

Lorier Falcon

Lorier Falcon

Talk about your compelling value propositions. The Lorier Falcon is both decorative and clean, with an unadorned silhouette. To really bring home this canonical flight watch look, the broad arrow indices and large cardinals make the dial easy to read at any angle. The star of the show though is Lorier’s impeccable honeycomb dial, which gets the vintage blur treatment from the hesalite crystal. And while hesalite isn’t particularly scratch resistant, it’s impervious to impacts and is as authentic to the mid-century explorer watches as the 36mm case is. It runs on a high-beat Miyota and boasts a Superluminova dial.

Vaer C3 36mm Quartz

Vaer C3 36mm Quartz

Despite its sensible and matter-of-fact approach, or perhaps because of it, the 36mm version of the Vaer C3 is also a handsome watch that can go with basically any casual outfit. The syringe hands not only point to the indices, but the indices point back, giving you a clean read of the time. 

Another quality that helps with this? The made-in-USA Ameriquartz movement. This American innovation adjusts itself at the top of every minute, providing consistently accurate timekeeping. Style-wise, the easy strap-change system lets you mix things up, while the 8.4mm height of the case gives a comfortable and sleek wear.

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