At one time, all watches were dress watches. Today – especially in the Western world - most men prefer sport watches. The shift in timepiece preferences likely hearkens to an overall shift in what is considered “masculine,” as well as what people feel is acceptable workplace attire. When a man was expected to dress up in a suit, it was logical for him to wear a dress watch. Today things are different and you will often either find men wearing more causal clothing or matching a sports watch with more formal attire.
But nothing matches with formal attire better than a sophisticated dress watch, the best of which we like to call “tuxedo watches.” These pieces are extremely refined and often come in mostly monochromatic colors - ideal for wearing with a tuxedo.
When choosing a nice dress watch, brand pedigree and design elegance are the most important things to look for. You want a clean looking legible dial, with perhaps some decoration, as well as a good brand name to go with it.
A good place to starting looking for a reasonably priced dress watch is Baume & Mercier in their Classima Executives collection. Designed to be “interesting” dress watches these mechanical timepieces aim to enhance your attire and not bore people. The 8689 version of the watch has an “open heart” view to the mechanical escapement and comes in a 42mm wide steel case with black or silver dial. The centre of the dial is decorated and the face is fitted with elegant thin hands and easy to see hour markers.
With a similar look, the Girard-Perregaux 1966 automatic takes this concept to the next level. Based on vintage designs from the 1960's this gorgeous collection makes for a perfect tuxedo watch in its 38mm wide 18k white gold case. The dial is very minimalist but extremely elegant. Thin leaf-shaped hands dance over svelte baton hour markers. Inside the watch is a very handsome in-house made Girard-Perregaux movement and the watch is matched to a thin alligator strap.
Another classic look exists over at Jaeger-LeCoultre with their most basic Master Control watches. The epitome of mid-20th Century watch design, this hard-to-beat timeless piece is an all-purpose dress watch. The Q1392420 watch comes in 18k rose gold, featuring a 40mm wide case with an in-house made automatic movement and presents yet another flavour of elegance on the dial.
If you prefer watches with a bit more functionality then check out Zenith’s Captain Moonphase watch. This extremely handsome piece has an in-house made automatic movement with the time, big date indicator, subsidiary seconds, and moon phase indicator. The elegantly asymmetrical layout on the dial works well with the properly proportioned hands and machine guilloche engraved face. The case is 40mm wide and available in 18k rose gold or steel. This is a great dress watch that remains very masculine in feel.
Influenced by the look of vintage aviator watches, the Longines Master Collection Chronograph is a solid dress watch with a sporty spirit and traditional look. This version has a two-register automatic chronograph in its thick 40mm wide steel case. The deep dial has blued steel hands and ornate-styled Arabic numerals. Handsome, this Longines Master Collection piece is also a good value.
Not all dress watches need to be round. While most are, you can find interesting dressy timepieces that are square, rectangular, or even tonneau (barrel) shaped. One that mixes a few of these shapes together a bit is the IWC Da Vinci. An unusual character in the dress watch world, this fine timepiece is an acquired taste but offers an excellent package. This is what we would consider to be a very bold dress watch. This IW376411 model is the Da Vinci Chronograph and comes in a large 43.1mm wide case in various material and dial styles. The movement is in-house made by IWC and smoothly integrates a full 12 hour chronograph into just two subdials (one has two hands to count both the minutes and hours). Pieces like this prove that not all dress watches need to look the same.