You could be forgiven in 2019 for not really having a solid idea of what a “dress watch” really is anymore. More than ever, we live life casually. Business casual dress codes (sometimes loosely implemented) have dominated our workplaces for years. Even traditionally formal affairs like weddings have been toned down as Americans embrace an easygoing way of life. But dress watches still have a place.
Aficionados and those with an eye for traditional style will always have an appreciation for a finely made watch meant to be worn only when the occasion really calls for it. Of course, there’s something fun and pleasantly subversive about sporting a watch made to be worn with a suit with a much more casual ensemble in less formal situations, but we leave you, the reader, to make that call for yourself. With a limit of $15,000, here are our favorite dress watches at the moment.
PP Calatrava YG
The Patek Philippe Calatrava in yellow gold is about as traditional as it gets for a dress watch. Straight lugs, hobnail finishing on the bezel, and stark white dial are the design highlights of one of Patek’s signature dress watches. It’s small, hand wound, and immediately identifiable as something truly special. The Calatrava has some in many variations over the years, but nothing can match the traditional old world watchmaking of the 5120J.
The Rolex Datejust is what many people think of when they hear the word “watch.” Classic and refined, but also robust and full of wrist presence, the Datejust is never the wrong choice. The real draw here is the incredible variety. You can have your bezel smooth, fluted in white gold, or engine turned. Cases come in steel, two-tone, and solid precious metals. Enjoy diamond markers? The Datejust has you covered. And while plenty of vintage examples look great on leather straps, to really finish the look you’ll want to seek out a Datejust on an Oyster or Jubilee bracelet (the fluted bezel is a great match for the more formal Jubilee bracelet).
ALS Saxonia Thin WG
When you first get into watches, you might have the experience of discovering a brand like A. Lange & Sohne and being mystified that a watch, something you can impulse buy in the checkout line of a pharmacy, could be this expensive. Once you dig in, though, and realize how finely made it is, and how rare it is, and the incredible history behind it, you begin to see the value proposition of a watch in the five figures. It’s a strange phenomenon, indeed. This Saxonia Thin in white gold is Lange at their best. A formal timepiece reduced to its essence, every piece of which has been fussed over to an insane degree. The movement, of course, is the star of the show, every micron hand finished to perfection. The fact that this watch can be had for the street price of a mass produced Rolex is one of the incredible curiosities of the current high end watch landscape.
Like the Datejust, the Cartier Tank is an icon in the realm of the refined dress watch. It’s available in a dizzying variety of configurations, with quartz and mechanical movements and every metal you can imagine. There are no shortage of options when it comes to the classic rectangular watch. Regardless of the specific model you choose, the Tank is all about the dramatic art deco inspired design that has proven to be timeless. In an age where the oversized sports watch often has center stage, wearing the comparatively diminutive and chic Tank makes quite a statement.
JLC Master Control Gold
This Jaeger LeCoultre Master Control in rose gold is about as old school Swiss fine watchmaking as it gets. The design is understated but brilliantly executed. At just under 40 milimeters it’s a perfect size for a modern dress watch. A close examination under a loupe will reveal the work of actual human beings who are experts at the fine art of finishing a watch. JLC’s movements are among the most revered in the world. They are often referred to as the “watchmaker’s watchmaker” because of their history of supplying other high end manufactures with impeccable calibers. The performance of their master series complements the exceptional beauty on display through the exhibition case back. This is truly an heirloom quality piece that will never go out of style.
Piaget Polo S
Piaget is a brand that sometimes gets forgotten in the current modern watch landscape. But if you’re after a classic dress watch, it’s a brand that’s worth checking out on the vintage market. That said, the Piaget Polo S is a modern watch that leans sporty. So what’s it doing on this list? Well, like many watches in the Piaget stable, it uses an ultra thin movement. Which is a staple of any solid dress watch. And while it takes some cues from other integrated bracelet luxury sports watches like the Nautilus and Royal Oak. The soft lines of the Polo S give it a dressier vibe. It might not be a traditional choice for a dress watch, but no one is going to look at you funny if you wear this with a suit to a formal affair.
Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Moon
If you’re the type of watch guy that absolutely must have something that nobody else is likely to be sporting on their wrist, Jaquet Droz is a brand to check out. Although they’re part of the Swatch Group, production is quite limited. They use a design language that is unique, and maybe a bit of an acquired taste. This example, part of their Grande Seconde line, which uses – you guessed it – a large sub-seconds register south of the dial. It also incorporates a moon phase, a classic dress watch complication. We’ll forgive the Grande Seconde Moon for being on the large size for modern dress watch. The proportions here just further the dramatic impact of the unique design and dial layout. Top top is off, it has a lot of wrist presence.
Speaking of wrist presence, IWC’s Portuguese line has long offered watch lovers a distinctly masculine and bold take on the dress watch. The earliest IWC Portuguese watches were made with pocket watch movements, so they have a long history of being oversized. It’s the rare dress watch whose 40mm plus dimensions can be considered historically appropriate. This one is not merely upsized to modern tastes. These days, the Portuguese is a natural home to IWC’s range of watches. It has extended power reserves. Plus, this one doesn’t disappoint in that regard with a tank that will give you a full 7 days of service. This is definitely on the more casual end of the dress watch spectrum. However, the thin hands and gem-like hour markers lend the Portuguese an heir of refinement.
Omega DeVille Tresor RG
OMEGA is a brand that is really known for its modern sports watch line up. Truly, its the way those watches use cutting edge mechanical watchmaking technology. The DeVille line is a little lower profile these days, but it represents a classic dress watch design along with all the great movement tech OMEGA has become known form. Unlike the bulk of their sporty watches, the DeVille Tresor uses a hand wound movement. However, it maintains the co-axial escapement found in your Sea Masters and Planet Oceans. It’s even METAS certified like its sports watch siblings. So you know that in addition to looking great in setting that calls for more traditional style, it has the same antimagnetic properties and timekeeping standards of other watches in the Omega lineup.
This Breguet Classique is a dress watch for someone who is obsessed with finishing. It’s hard to think of another timepiece that offers the range of finishing techniques found here executed to such a high standard. The dial is two toned, and features an incredible engine turned center section complemented with a finely brushed outer ring. The hands are heat blued in the traditional Breguet layout. The movement is largely hand finished with dramatic anglage work and a solid gold rotor. This watch is conservative in the best and truest sense of the word. It’s making is itself a tribute to horological history.