The rules of dressing are being rewritten. Suits now pair as acceptably with sneakers as they do with oxfords and high-end pieces mix with low without the batting of an eye. The same sentiment applies when it comes to timepieces. Wearing a dress watch now is not a result of sartorially-oppressive norms, it is a means of self-expression and freedom of choice. Defined by their pared-down designs and sleek slim cases, dress watches are not just for the Mad Men-style suit-and-tie set anymore, but make a cool style statement with everything from a Prada suit to a Yeezy sweatshirt.
What makes a dress watch still relevant today? For one, a watch is still one of the most acceptable ways for men to wear jewelry. Then, there’s versatility: Pairing a classic watch with the latest streetwear adds luxury to the cool factor. A classic watch will anchor your otherwise of-the-moment look and you can wear it with anything from your Rag & Bone flannel shirt to a Tom Ford suit. Finally, if you take care of your watch, it’s an investment piece that will last for decades.
What exactly is a dress watch and how does it differ from a sports watch? Sport watches are large, sit boldly on the wrist, have chronograph functions or diving bezels, and are made for outdoor activities. A sport watch’s style tends to take over your outfit and limits your choices of what to wear with it. A dress watch, on the other hand, is characterized by a simple, pared down design. It whispers rather than shouts and enhances what you are wearing rather than dictating your style.
Dress watches have a slim profile, so that they can slip easily under a shirt cuff. Look for a refined metal case with a leather or alligator strap. Steer clear of metal bracelet watches, as they are generally more bulky and are less versatile. Beyond these simple rules, there are plenty of timepieces that are subtle, and sophisticated and won’t go out of style. A dress watch is an investment; if you take good care of it, it will last a lifetime. Metals of choice for a dress watch are yellow, rose or white gold and platinum. Leave titanium and black-coated cases for weekend wear. Stainless steel dress watches are emerging as a lower-priced alternative, but if you have the money, it’s best to invest in a precious metal. Your watch will last for years and retain its value.
Audemars Piguet 18K Classic Watch; Van Cleef & Arpels Classique Watch; Vacheron Constantin Vintage Watch
A dress watch only displays the time, without additional functions that would interfere with the sleek, clean look of the dial. Less may be more when looking for a dress watch, but that doesn’t have to mean boring. There are a range of case shapes and metal colors to express your personal style and still look great for office or weekend wear.
Round cases are the most classic enduring style. Size-wise, look for a case diameter of 42mm or less — if you have slim wrists, 40mm should be your maximum width. Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Chopard, Van Cleef & Arpels, Audemars Piguet and Rolex’s Cellini all have many models to choose from, mostly with a round case shape. It’s hip to be square if you’re looking for something a little different.
If you like the look of a rectangular or square watch, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Cartier are two of the best brands to choose from.
Looking for a first-time dress watch that is a little more wallet-friendly? Go for a high-quality Swiss brand like Longines, Omega or Baume & Mercier. They all offer dress watches in their collections at lower prices. Watches made outside of Switzerland or Germany won’t measure up and likely won’t last very long.