Among the broad range of watch styles to choose from, a few types of popular watches always grab our attention: dress, field, and dive watches. Let’s look at why we love these pervasive and prized timepieces.
Watch Styles’ Elegance of Dress Watches
If you’ve been given a watch as a gift for a life event, say graduation or a big new job, chances are pretty good that it was a dress watch. Because dress watches are about so much more than dressing up. A dress watch embraces the expectation of a promising future in which a display of refinement on your wrist is only fitting. Many feel a dress ensemble simply isn’t truly complete until you’ve slipped on an elegant dress watch.
What Makes a Good Dress Watch?
There’s no simple answer. Watch styles like dress watches have some of the loosest definitions when compared to others like chronographs and field watches, which tend to stay more in their own lanes with regard to how you can wear them. We see lots of other watches filling in for dress watches. For example, you can easily fit a dive watch with an alligator strap to go dressy with a fine suit. James Bond rarely even bothered to swap out his Oyster bracelet when going black tie with his divers.
But if you want to keep things classic and traditional, which is what fine dress watches do, there are a few aspects to look for.
- They’re simple. Dress watches don’t overload with complications, multiple subdials, extra windows, or pronounced indices. Things that cry out for attention, which we absolutely love on other timepieces, are best left off of a dress watch. Examples of this classic approach to understated elegance are too many to list but think of iconic favorites like the Patek Philippe Calatrava, Jaeger LeCoultre Master Control, and the A Lange & Sohne Saxonia.
- They’re on the small side. When the Calatrava was introduced back in the 1930s, it was just 31mm in diameter. Sure, most watches were smaller back then, but the diminutive size set a precedent. Today’s Calatrava’s are in the 35mm to 40mm range, the latter being the unofficial ceiling for dress-watch size. Anything over 40mm and you’re inviting attention, the exact opposite of what a good dress watch intends.
- They’re made from precious metals. Usually, anyway, most often in yellow gold, white gold, or rose gold. While you can find lots of exceptions in stainless steel, from lower-end Grand Seiko’s to higher-end Omega watches, gold is really the way to go with a dress watch.
And keep in mind that dress watches aren’t just for dress occasions. Not at all! Pretty much any dress watch also works wonderfully with jeans and a t-shirt.
Field Watches: Military Style Goes Metro
Field watches are also called military watches, originally created for use on battlefields over a century ago. But today’s field watches, while they still embody that rugged heritage, are much more at home at upscale bistros, modern offices, and on relaxed weekends spent strolling farmers’ markets. A few key features of field watches include:
- They’re built tough. While some more modern incarnations go with titanium, carbon fiber, or PVD coating, a traditional field watch has a stainless steel case. They’re made tough enough to take any knocks one might encounter in the heat of battle, even though your combat might only be a fight against rush hour traffic. More than twice as hard as white gold and platinum, stainless steel is highly resistant to scratches, dings, and dents. Field watches pair well with leather for a dressier look but generally feel more at home on a canvas strap.
- They’re easy to read. Most field watches feature black dials with white numerals and markings. Olive drab, also known as military green, is also widely used as the dial color. The high-contrast design is for easy visibility at a glance, as is the generous lume and glare-proof crystals we usually see on field watches.
You’re spoiled for choices when it comes to field watches, with nice offerings in every price range. Some iconic favorites include the Hamilton Khaki Field, a well-crafted classic that truly embodies the original military spirit. The Timex Expedition Scout is a great low-budget option, while the Tudor Heritage Ranger is a popular choice on the higher end.
Watch Styles: Diving into Divers
Dive watches have been around for nearly a century, starting with the water-resistant Rolex Oyster we met in 1927. But it wasn’t until the 1950s that divers went mainstream when the Rolex Submariner, Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, and Zodiac Sea Wolf all competing for the emerging scuba-diving market.
- They’re made for underwater use. So, obviously, they’re water-resistant, usually up to at least 100 meters. Dive watches have rotating bezels, originally used to gauge oxygen tanks, though computers do those calculations today. They have corrosion-resistant cases of stainless steel or titanium, and plenty of lume for visibility underwater. Most also have screw-down crowns to keep the water out.
- They’re style statements. Most people who wear dive watches aren’t going gonzo with plunges into the ocean depths. So dive style is adaptable to a number of occasions on land. Most dive watches are medium-sized and lend themselves to a wide span of attires, from super casual, to business casual, and up to business dress. But don’t take it too far. Unless you’re James Bond, never pair a dive watch with a tuxedo.
With close to 100 years of dive watches to choose from, your options are almost innumerable. There are some serious classics in this category, such as the Omega Seamaster, Tudor Black Bay, and Rolex Deepsea. Splurge on gorgeous pieces like the Hublot Oceanographic or a Patek Philippe Nautilus. You can also do well with affordable options like the Orient Mako II or something reliable from Seiko’s line of dive watches.
Conclusion of Watch Styles
So which will you choose? A dress watch for more formal times? A field watch to go casual cool or a dive watch for something sporty? Why not just go with all three!