11/17/2022
 4 minutes

Are Dress Watches Here to Stay?

By René Herold
Patek Philippe CalatravaDress-Watches-als-Trend-2-1

Dress watches are an essential part of the world of watches. Even though they don’t garner as much attention as sports and tool watches, every serious watch collector owns at least a few. And recently, the interest in them has been growing significantly. So let’s take a look at what the dress watch trend is all about. 

What is a dress watch? 

Before we dive deeper into the world of dress watches, we should clarify what the term actually means. To put it simply, a dress watch is an elegant watch without a lot of frills, traditionally worn with a suit or other formal outfits

A dress watch should be the epitome of understatement, so forget about elaborate complications and skeletonizations. Dress watches typically only display the time, usually with three hands (with either a central seconds hand or a small seconds hand). Watches with two hands are also common, though, and are called “smoking watches.” Some models have a date display and are referred to as “business watches.” 

The dress watch dials have traditionally had low-key designs in classic colors like white, black, and navy blue. However, the color palette has been growing in recent years, with colors like green and brown becoming popular. Lacquered dials and subdued sunburst dials are both common, whereas embellishments like guilloché are relatively rare. 

The quintessential dress watch – the Patek Philippe Calatrava
The quintessential dress watch – the Patek Philippe Calatrava

Dress watches tend to be rather flat, so that they can slide seamlessly under shirt cuffs. Their diameters are also significantly smaller than those of sports and tool watches. A typical dress watch will measure between 34 and 40 mm, though of course there are exceptions.  

The materials used for dress watches are usually rather conservative. You’ll often find precious metals such as gold and platinum, though stainless steel is also a frequent choice. Surfaces are thoroughly polished to give watches a high-class shine. Straps made of high-quality alligator or calfskin leather emphasize the classic look of these watches. For dress watches with a sportier look, bracelets made of gold or stainless steel are also common. 

It must be said that, due to the way they’re constructed, dress watches are significantly less robust than tool watches. Moisture in particular poses a threat to these watches, since they’re usually only splash-proof. Pushes and shoves also have the potential to damage the delicate mechanics of a dress watch. 

Dress Watches: Latest trend or timeless classic? 

Trends come and go. What’s all the rage today might be forgotten by tomorrow. Dress watches are no exception, but unlike some trends in the watch world (think of the oversized watches of the 1990s and 2000s) they were never really in danger of dying out. Ever since Louis Cartier invented the dress watch segment over 100 years ago with the Cartier Tank, these timepieces have been an important part of the watch world. 

A dress watch classic since 1917 – the Cartier Tank

Of course there will always be changes in the finer details of watches, like which case design, dial color, or numeral type is more popular at any given moment. But when it comes to dress watches, the basics will always remain constant – namely, elegance and an understated design. When you look at it this way, dress watches are absolutely a timeless classic that are here to stay, a type of watch that will always be worn and loved by millions of watch enthusiasts. 

So then why have we been hearing so much lately about how dress watches are the new thing? This is where we come back to the current cultural moment. Traditionalists may still be of the opinion that you can only wear a dress watch with a suit and tie, but younger watch fans don’t care much for these conventions. If they like a watch, they’ll wear it – even if that means wearing a dress watch with a t-shirt and flip-flops. All this means that dress watches are gaining in visibility and thus are more on the minds of watch fans. 

Another reason for the recent hype is the fact that gold watches are in fashion at the moment. As mentioned above, gold is a very common material for the cases of dress watches. So it only makes sense that dress watches are making their way onto the wrists of fashion-conscious people. 

Two hands, flawless finish, and a flat case – the classic sports watch AP Royal Oak also passes as a dress watch
Two hands, flawless finish, and a flat case – the classic sports watch AP Royal Oak also passes as a dress watch

Finally, we should mention that the line between a dress watch and a sports watch is relatively fluid. While the Royal Oak by Audemars Piguet and the Patek Philippe Nautilus both made a splash in the market as luxury sports watches, today they can easily be worn as dress watches. Or take the Rolex Day-Date and its younger sibling the Datejust. Despite their sporty aesthetic, the two watches belong to the top ranks of dress watches. 

Summary  

Dress watches can’t be considered a trend in the strict sense of the word. They’re true classics in the world of watches –they’ve always been around, and they won’t disappear so easily. But recently, dress watches have become more visible, thanks to a new generation of watch wearers who are much more relaxed about when they wear different types of watches. And that’s a good thing. 


About the Author

René Herold

My name is René Herold, and I first discovered Chrono24 in a job listing. Admittedly, I didn't really care about watches before coming to Chrono24. However, after a few …

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