Think of a 29mm watch on your wrist. What does it look like? A dime? A nickel? Now, make it square. Does it look like a postage stamp? How can you read the time on that itty bitty geometric speck? Who would wear such a thing?
Despite the reverence paid to some square and rectangular watches (like the Cartier Tank and Heuer Monaco) by the watch world, the square trend has petered out in recent years, foregone in favor of larger watches, overshadowed by a trend in the bright, busy chronographs and dive watches of the ‘60s and ‘70s. And I must admit, I wanted to try out the NOMOS Tetra at 29.5mm to be provocative. “See, guys,” I would write with a know-it-all grin, “here’s why you should stop being so close-minded about watch size and shape. Our granddads wore them, and those guys had lots of great style.”
There’s only one problem. The square watch, at 29mm, isn’t nearly as small as you’d think.
Back to basic geometry class. In surface area, a 29.5mm square watch is akin to a 34mm circular watch. That’s small relative to the 40-44mm watches many men wear today, but it’s well within a classic sweet spot, 34-39mm, that leaves a little wrist on either side of the case and keeps the watch a subtle accoutrement rather than a hulking centerpiece. More importantly, a 29.5mm square has a diagonal of 41mm — which is equal, obviously, to the diameter of a 41mm watch. And since our eyes tend to guesstimate size based on diagonals, that’s an important figure. About the only way a square watch of this size feels noticeably smaller than its circular brethren is in thickness. The 29.5mm Tetra is 6.15mm; that’s thinner than ultra-thin watches from Christopher Ward, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Bulgari, but you won’t see it labeled as “ultra thin.” It’s just the way square watches tend to be.
That’s the math behind why the mid-sized Tetra is a much better size and fit for me than the 33mm Neomatik version, which seems to be a play by NOMOS to make the watch more popular among men. (The 29.5mm version is also sold in a variety of sherbert-esque colorways, ostensibly for women, and the smallest Tetra is 27mm, with a diagonal equivalent to a 38mm square watch — still not all that small.) The rest of the reason has to do with effect rather than numbers.
A black-and-white square watch with blued hands and a square seconds subdial does in fact look and feel like a vintage watch from the 1940s you might have found in your grandfather’s desk drawer. The Arabic numerals are so trim and perfectly spaced that they seem to be just on the verge of collapsing inward on themselves. There is no bezel. The crown is a toothed nubbin; winding its hand-wound movement every few days feels like another tie back to several generations past. You almost never get this sort of effect and feel from a big circular watch at 40mm; it’s either busy, or wide open. (Some bad examples accomplish both.) And though the riotous colorways and crowded designs of watches in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s have been on trend lately, they also tend to make crummy dress watches.
With the 33mm version of the Tetra, NOMOS added an excellent in-house automatic movement, and sought some of that zeitgeisty variety and contrast, so they added a red second hand and a circular seconds subdial. Unfortunately, they’d gotten it right the first time around. Give me a dress watch that’s thinner, sleeker, simpler and cheaper (by $1,800!) any day.