Of all the watches for men out there, dress watches can often seem the most elusive. Why? They’re designed to exude sophistication in a simplified way, all about the art of subtlety drawing attention without appearing to seek it. That’s not so simple! So, let’s make things easier and look at the basic steps for selecting the perfect dress watch.
1: Size Up the Wearer
Whether it’s taking a long (heck, maybe even hard) look at yourself or sizing up someone you know, you need to consider the wearer. Think about:
- Age. So, the newly-graduating teen won’t sport something your great aunt would cherish. No, that Gen Z gal is probably going to best fit something in a favorite color and maybe go with a bracelet strap. Think elegant and gold for aunty.
- Lifestyle: Does the person go to a lot of work functions or will this be more a dress-casual lifestyle addition? Will the watch need to go to a formal affair or are we talking more about getting into a day-to-day run-around mode?
- Colors of the Closet. People have their favorite fashion colors. Many love basic blues and blacks, a mix of greys in the suits. One friend goes bold with big red outfits while another favors Latin-inspired color mixes. Ask, “Will this watch fit in with the wardrobe I’ve seen?”
2: Realize the Desired Design
With dress watches, as with most timepieces, you can veer off into a variety of shapes, sizes, and finishes. But be wary not to stray so far from the dress watch’s original intention of a fine understatement. Best to stay close to traditional dress watch elements and put together something of a mental amalgam as you check out dress-watch designs. Look for:
- The Case: The majority of dress watches go the round route. It’s simple, elegant, with a minimalist vibe (no extra metal needed, thank you very much). A rectangle watch takes you into the vintage territory, harkening back to the early days of the 20th century when Cartier Tank rectangular watches were the rage. Today, you’ll find some nice rectangular watch options from Hamilton and Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Square watches also go retro, but more to the 1970s, when the Heuer Monaco was claiming fame alongside Steve McQueen’s racing exploits. Today, an homage follows with contemporary TAG Heuer Monaco watches.
- Size: Keep in mind you want it slim enough to slip under a dress shirt with cuffs. No need to go big with the diameter, 37mm is the sweet spot.
- The Dial: The traditional dial route lies along with no-frills faces with clear indices and maybe a day/date window. Roman numerals are elegant choices, but small Arabic numbers can work.
- The Strap: Leather, always leather; don’t let that chronograph-wearing oyster-bracelet-fan in the next cubicle tell you a single thing about going off of leather with dress watches! Okay, oyster bracelets work in some cases, but you can’t go wrong with leather.
3: Understand the Brands
A good brand name isn’t always everything, but it’s usually something. Brands matter and it’s worth taking an overview look.
- The Top Tier: Here you have statement-makers like Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, and Patek Philippe. Upper-end offerings include the IWC, Cartier, Junghans, or TAG Heuer.
- Mid-Range of Possibilities: Hamilton is a great choice with their accessible Hamilton Jazzmaster collection. Frederique Constant has a nice dress watch collection for under $1,000, the Frederique Constant Classics. Seiko boasts upper offerings, like the Cocktail Time collection. Meanwhile, Tissot offers Swiss quality that often costs less than its watchmaking neighbors.
- Affordability Refined: Orient is a champion in the realm of nice-looking and reliable dress watches at super low prices with its Bambino line. In this range, look at longtime brands for reliability – think Timex, Casio, and Seiko.
4: Deep Dive on Features
While somewhat less sexy than checking out watch styles, a few features bear a look. Watch aficionados will emphatically tell you it’s the first thing to consider, but most of us are looking at things like style, wearability, and brand before checking out what’s under the hood. But do take note of:
- Movement: Best case, you opt for Swiss automatic movement but will take trusted Japanese movement for a good price tag. While winding can be a fuss, the mechanical movement just meshes so well with a classic dress watch.
- To Sub-Dial or Not: Generally, no. The sub-dials are best left on pilot watches and their kind. But, then again, some great dress watches such as the Rolex Cellini really do wonders with well-designed sub-dials.
- The Smartwatch Route: An increasingly popular way to go is to get a dress watch that looks traditional but keeps you online.
- Full-On Connect: Falling just short of what the latest Apple Watch can do, these timepieces get you the most of smartwatch tech with fast in-case processing and sizable data storage. The Skagen Falster 2 is an elegant way to utilize the full power of Google Assistant via WearOS.
- Hybrid Watches: Options like a Montblanc Timewalker have Bluetooth connections to smartphones for calls, texts, and calendar events. Slip-on a TAG Heuer Connected or a Hybrid Manufacturer by Frederique Constant and nobody will know you’re secretly checking emails.
5: Chart the Imagined Life of the Watch
You took a good hard look at yourself (or someone in your life) when sizing up the wearer. Now, consider the person you will be (or maybe hope to be). Just make a mental thumbnail sketch of where this watch will be going, the events it will see, the people it will meet and the thresholds it will cross.
After this glimpse into the future, you may have some realizations, and steps 3 through 4 probably merit some further musing as you scroll through Instagram images. Then, the top few watches will rise through the overload and should leave you with that ideal dress watch.