Oct 27, 2016
 4 minutes

The Dress Watch – A quick guide for a very important kind of timepiece

By Tom Mulraney
Glashütte Original Senator Excellence
Glashütte Original Senator Excellence, Image: © Bert Buijsrogge

The humble dress watch: Could there be a more understated, yet essential element in a true gentleman’s wardrobe? I don’t think so. Worn appropriately, a dress watch can transform a man from an uncivilized buffoon into a sophisticated, suave dinner guest – or at least give that impression. Let’s see your oversized, 50-mm chronograph do that!

However, we seem to have lost our appreciation for the elegant simplicity of the dress watch. There was a time not so long ago, when the thought of wearing something larger than 42 mm on your wrist was laughable at best and mortifying at worst. After all, a good dress watch is meant to complement your outfit, not overpower it. Back then, they were just called watches and their sole purpose was to tell the time and look good while doing it.

Over time, the idea of bigger is better seems to have leeched into the refined world of watchmaking. It is now a regular occurrence to see hapless individuals wearing gaudy oversized chunks of metal on their wrists with nicely tailored suits (the horror!). Don’t get me wrong, oversized watches have their place, it’s just not on your wrist when you’re wearing a suit or (gasp) top and tails.

Patek Philippe Calatrava
Patek Philippe Calatrava, Image: Auctionata

When you consider what goes into making a good dress watch, it’s not hard to see why they can be the ultimate male accessory. The list of requirements isn’t particularly long; the less complicated, the better. You want something relatively small, but still masculine – think between 36 mm and 40 mm. Strictly speaking, the dial should be a fairly sombre-looking black or white, but shades of grey are also acceptable. Blue is definitely tempting and if done right, can look downright outstanding, but beware of the increased risk of clashing with the other elements of your outfit. The strap, of course, should be leather – this is not up for debate. I recommend alligator, if you can afford it.

Let’s face it, as helpful as the above is (you’re welcome), I’m sure what you’re really after is a few suggestions to help you on your way to finding the perfect dress watch. Well good news, you’ve come to the right place. Here are four options to suit pretty much any wrist for any occasion.

Patek Calatrava Ref. 5196

First on our list is a watch that needs no introduction at all: the Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 5196. This is possibly one of my favorite dress watches of all time. Elegant, refined, the Ref. 5196 revels in its simplicity. At just 37 mm, it won’t take up much real estate on your wrist, but trust me when I say people will be swooning all over you to get a closer look at this beauty.

Bought new or pre-owned, the Calatrava Ref. 5196 is sure to be a hit at any special event you attend and will never, ever go out of style.

Glashütte Original Senator Excellence

Glashütte Original Senator Excellence
Glashütte Original Senator Excellence in red gold, Image: © Bert Buijsrogge

Another great alternative is the Senator Excellence series from German watchmaker Glashütte Original. Slightly louder than the Calatrava on the wrist, thanks to its larger size (40 mm) and distinctive flamed-blue hands, the Senator Excellence lets people know you mean business without being aggressive. It’s a time-only piece with a central seconds hand and classic Roman numeral dial. Powered by a beautifully finished automatic movement boasting a 4-day power reserve, the Senator Excellence truly looks its best – in my opinion at least – dressed in red gold.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Ultra-Thin

It’s pretty much impossible to write a list of great dress watches without including at least one Jaeger-LeCoultre. In the spirit of keeping it simple, we’ve gone with the Master Grande Ultra-Thin. It’s another time-only beauty that, as its name suggests, is very thin – just 8.6 mm, in fact.

This is no shrinking violet that will just disappear away under your cuff though. At 40 mm, it’s at the upper end of our size scale and the flat design means it wears even bigger. Grab one in steel for under $10k and you will have a superb dress watch for life.

NOMOS Zürich

The last brand on our list is somewhat of a newcomer – relatively speaking, of course (the other three can trace their heritage back for centuries). In spite of that fact, the German watchmaker NOMOS has resisted the urge to go big or go home. Known for their minimalist style combined with exceptional quality, the NOMOS Zürich is probably one of the best dress watches around for the money. Plus, the company is still somewhat under the radar, so you won’t see every guy in the room wearing one at the next corporate gala you attend. At 39.7 mm, it’s a smidge smaller than the JLC, but it’s also a little fatter at 9.5 mm. Best of all, the offers probably the best value for money in the whole watch industry.

Hopefully these suggestions will help get you started on your dress watch journey. Remember, a good dress watch should elevate the profile of the wearer without becoming a focal point of the outfit. In other words, it should just work. Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.

Discover more elegant watches here:

Top 10 Classic Watches


About the Author

Tom Mulraney

Growing up in Australia in the 1980s and 90s, there wasn’t much of a watch scene. There was only one authorized retailer of high-end watches in the city I lived in …

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