“As this list demonstrated, you don’t have to spend $8,000 for a JLC to have a real dress watch on your wrist. Of course, you will have to make some compromises, but in the end, even for just $500, you can get your hands on some very nice watches.”
Shortlist of the best dress watches under $500:
- Junghans Max Bill Quartz
- Vario Empire Tuxedo
- Baltic HMS 002
- Vintage Orient Star
- Frederique Constant Slimline
- Breda Virgil
- Tissot Everytime Swissmatic
- Timex Marlin Hand Wound
- Timex Marlin California Dial
- Orient Bambino
Unlike a chronograph or a dive watch, the parameters of what makes a good dress watch aren’t so easily defined. There isn’t a certain certification or a set of complications that makes a dress watch a dress watch.
That being said, there are certain things to look out for when deciding on a dress piece. First, just think of, when and where you will be wearing this watch the most. Usually, this would be in a formal environment with you being dressed in formal attire, like a suit or even a tuxedo. Dress watches should be able to fit under the tightest sleeve cuff, therefore making it beneficial for them to be rather thin and slim. Dress watches should also be as understated as possible. They don’t have to be boring, but it’s important for the watch to pair well with your wardrobe, assuming you went for a simple three-piece suit, not for the most extravagant flannel piece you were able to find.
Now, this was very vague, let’s sum it up quickly before we continue with the actual list. A men’s dress watch should measure between 34mm and 39mm in diameter and somewhere around 10mm in height. But as mentioned before, this is just a recommendation, if you like your dress watch to be bigger in size, go for it! Also, something to add would be that, with people dressing more casually nowadays, the need for a real dress watch is slowly fading away. But this is good news! Because now you can wear your favorite 34mm, yellow gold dress watches even with your more casual outfits, and no one will give you strange looks. I think this is a great development and love the thought of being able to wear whatever I like, whenever I like.
So, whether you enjoy wearing your dress watch behind in the board room where you actually have to wear a watch that suits your formal attire, or you just want to get one for when you are going out in a pair of chinos and a casual shirt, I got you. I’ve rounded up ten of my favorite dressy timepieces on this list of the best dress watches that can be bought for $500 or less. And as always, I’m trying to include some not-so-well-known brands, so that even the most knowledgeable enthusiast will still get to see something new. But enough with all the talking, let’s get started!
Junghans Max Bill Quartz ($495)
Starting off with a watch from the German brand Junghans. Introducing the Junghans Max Bill Quartz. The iconic Max Bill line by Junghans had its debut in the 1960s and ever since then, stayed almost untouched. The name of the line is a tribute to the famous designer and architect, Max Bill, who was trained in the famous Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany. It was there, where he learned to create minimal, modern works that manage to be as refreshing today as they were at their inception.
The Junghans Max Bill Quartz features a very modest-sized case that measures around 38mm in diameter and 8.5mm in height, making this a perfect fit for every formal occasion. Inside the watch beats a Swiss-made ETA 955.112 quartz movement. The beautiful minimalistic white dial features big numeral hour markers, simply designed hands, and a date window that fits in perfectly with the whole aesthetic.
For a price of just $495, you get a beautifully designed, German-made, and well-proportioned watch which will make a perfect pick for a dress watch.
Specifications: Price: $495, Case Size: 38mm, Thickness: 8.5mm, Lug-to-Lug: 40mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: Splash resistant, Movement: Swiss made ETA 955.112 quartz movement, Power Reserve: Quartz, Crystal: Domed Plexiglas
Vario Empire Tuxedo ($348)
Next up is a watch from a brand that I recently discovered during my research for this article. I’m talking about the brand Vario and their Empire Tuxedo timepiece. Founded back in 2016, Vario initially started as an online store specializing in selling watch straps. But the Singapore-based company quickly started to design and produce their own watches with the goal to offer great classic designs and mechanical movements at very modest price points.
And the Vario Empire Tuxedo is no exception to that. When doing my research for this article I stumbled across a picture of this watch and immediately knew that I had to include it into this list. To this day I wonder why I didn’t hear of them sooner, given their price points and their approach to design. Speaking of the design, the Vario Empire Tuxedo takes its design inspiration from one of the greatest periods of the Art Deco era. And this is immediately noticeable when looking at the watch.
The black dial features polished, vintage-styled numerals, a beautiful guilloche-styled circle in the center, and very classy-looking hands. The 38mm case once more substantiates the past heritage and the overall classic look that Vario was going for with this piece. The polished case made from stainless steel houses an automatic Seiko NH38A movement. Topping off the whole package is a sapphire crystal.
Vario hit the ball out of the park with this one. For the price of $348, you are getting a very classy design, automatic movement, and nice proportions. I think that says it all.
Specifications: Price: $348, Case Size: 38mm, Thickness: 11.5mm, Lug-to-Lug: 46mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Automatic Seiko NH38A movement, Power Reserve: 41h, Crystal: Sapphire
Baltic HMS 002 ($410)
The Baltic HMS 002 was one of the first watches released by the Baltic brand. Baltic is based in France and even has a showroom in Paris, which, considering it’s a microbrand, is quite impressive. But far more impressive is the story behind Baltic and how it all started. Inspired by the watch collection of his past father, the founder of Baltic, Etienne Malec, decided to create his own watch brand. He came up with the name Baltic as a tribute to the birthplace of his father, which was in north Poland, on the shores of the Baltic Sea. What a great story.
The Baltic HMS 002 is made in a timeless design that takes its inspiration from the 1940s. Therefore, the modest case size of just 38mm should not come as a surprise to you. Speaking of the case, it’s made from 316L stainless steel and houses an automatic Miyota 821A movement inside. The movement provides 42 hours of power reserve and features a hacking seconds functionality. Coming back to the timeless design, this is not only noticeable in the size of the case, but also in the way the deal was made. The dial was inspired by the Art Deco era (sounds familiar?) and features a stepped circular brushed chapter ring, flying above a sandy matte dial. This looks stunning when exposed to light.
As you can see, the Baltic HMS 002 is an absolute winner. And it even gets better. All of this can be had for just $410, meaning you will get a lot of bang for your buck if you decide to pick one up from Baltics website.
Specifications: Price: $410, Case Size: 38mm, Thickness: 12mm, Lug-to-Lug: 47mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Automatic Miyota 821A movement, Power Reserve: 42h, Crystal: Hesalite
Vintage Orient Star ($500)
The first-ever vintage watchmaking it onto one of my lists. Usually, I try to avoid them, not because I don’t like vintage watches, but it’s just easier to buy a new watch from an official retailer, especially when you are not very experienced in the vintage market.
But for this Orient Star from the 1960s, I had to make an exception. This Orient Star is hand-made and features an 18k gold plated case, measuring 34mm in diameter. Adding to the overall classy look is a sublime, crisp white dial with applied hour indexes, made from gold. Completing the dial are the golden hour, minute, and second hands, the golden Orient Star Logo, and the minimalistic second’s markers. Inside the gold-plated case beats a Japanese hand-wound movement.
For me, this watch is a perfect example of a classic dress watch. A very conservative case size, golden details, and a black alligator strap make this watch a very nice choice when looking for a watch to wear to your next board meeting. You can get this watch for around $500 on Chrono24 or eBay. Just as a warning, if this is one of the first watches that you are looking at and you don’t have experience with vintage watches, I would advise against this model. Instead, go for a new watch with similar looks. But for everyone else, this is one stunning piece and will look great on your wrist.
Specifications: Price: $500, Case Size: 34mm, Thickness: n/a, Lug-to-Lug: n/a, Lug Width: n/a, Water Resistance: n/a, Movement: Hand-wound Japanese movement, Power Reserve: n/a, Crystal: Acrylic
Frederique Constant Slimline ($500)
Curtain up for the next watch on this list. The Frederique Constant Slimline. Frederique Constant was established in 1988 by Aletta Bax and Peter Stas with the goal, to produce high-quality, swiss-made watches at fair prices. This is something I really admire and is a refreshing change in the watch industry.
And the Frederique Constant Slimline is no exception to that. Featuring a 38mm case, which measures 5mm in height, the watch has ideal proportions for a dress watch. But in order for them to achieve such a thin profile, Frederique Constant had to make a big compromise. The movement. They opted for a Quartz movement, instead of a mechanical, enabling them to produce a watch with these proportions, at a very modest price point. Complementing the polished stainless-steel case is a white dial with applied hour indexes, hour- and minute hand, and a date window. No clue why they included the date, I think the watch would look even better without one.
In my opinion, this is a perfect dress watch. Classic and understated design, nice proportions, and a price tag of just around $500. Please be aware that Frederique Constant no longer sells or produces this model, so you will have to find one on Chrono24, eBay, or other grey market dealers. But as of June 2021, there are plenty, and you shouldn’t have a problem finding one.
Specifications: Price: Around $500, Case Size: 38mm, Thickness: 5mm, Lug-to-Lug: n/a, Lug Width: n/a, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Quartz, Power Reserve: Quartz, Crystal: Sapphire
Breda Virgil ($120)
Moving on to a watch which is one of those watches that just looks a lot more expensive than it actually is. I’m talking about the Breda Virgil. The brand Breda was founded back in 2009 and is known to mainly produce watches that look good. They aren’t particularly interested in creating mechanically advanced timepieces. And this is completely fine, considering their watches sell for an average of around $100.
The Breda Virgil features a gold-plated, 26mm rectangular case, making this a perfect choice when you are looking for a watch that has the same looks as the Cartier Tank or the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso. The design of the watch is kept very clean and simple, featuring only two vintage inspired hands, applied hour indexes and simple branding. Inside the case beats a Japanese Miyota Quartz movement.
For a price of $120, you just can’t go wrong with this one. If you like the design and don’t mind the quartz movement, go for it. You can get one on Breda’s website.
Specifications: Price: $120, Case Size: Rectangular 26mm, Thickness: n/a, Lug-to-Lug: n/a, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Japanese-Made Miyota Quartz movement, Power Reserve: Quartz, Crystal: n/a
Tissot Everytime Swissmatic ($500)
Next up is the Tissot Everytime Swissmatic. The Swiss watchmaker is known to deliver high-quality mechanical timepieces at very modest price points. This can be seen throughout their lineup of watches, making this a very attractive brand to look at when trying to buy a watch with a limited budget.
And the Everytime Swissmatic is no exception in that lineup. The watch features the automatic Tissot in-house SWISSMATIC movement, which is housed in a 40mm, PVD-gold-plated stainless-steel case. With a height of 11.6mm, the watch barely makes it into the dress category and would by many even be considered to be an everyday piece. And Tissot thinks that too. How would I know that? The name Everytime describes the purpose of the watch quite perfectly. But because of the simplistic design, the size, and the classy alligator strap it comes with, I still think that the Tissot Everytime makes for a great dress watch.
If you agree with my assessment and want one for yourself, you can head over to Tissot’s website and purchase one for around $500.
Specifications: Price: $500, Case Size: 40mm, Thickness: 11.6mm, Lug-to-Lug: n/a, Lug Width: 21mm, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Automatic Tissot in-house SWISSMATIC movement, Power Reserve: 72h, Crystal: Sapphire
Timex Marlin Hand Wound ($199)
Continuing with the Timex Marlin Hand Wound. Usually, you wouldn’t directly think of Timex when thinking about buying a dressier timepiece. But why not? The US-based company has some pretty attractive dress watches in their collection.
And of that is the Timex Marlin Hand Wound. Close your eyes and try to imagine a classic-looking and modest proportioned dress watch. The watch you just imagined probably closely resembles the Marlin Hand Wound. The watch features a 34mm 316L stainless steel case, which houses a Timex hand-wound movement. The hand-wound movement in combination with the vintage-inspired dial, numerals, and hands, further strengthen the impression of wearing a watch that dates back to the 1960s. The Marlin Hand Wound is presented on a black alligator leather strap, which complements the dial and the case perfectly.
This is a watch that I can fully stand by. I go even further and say that I really love it. Getting a great-looking, vintage-inspired watch that is powered by a hand-wound movement, for just $199 is incredible. Timex really hit the ball out of the park with this one. The only issue some people may have is the 34mm case, which could indeed look a bit too small on bigger wrists. But if you are like me and have slimmer wrists, this watch is made for you.
Specifications: Price: $199, Case Size: 34mm, Thickness: 10mm, Lug-to-Lug: 41mm, Lug Width: 18mm, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Hand Wound Timex movement, Power Reserve: n/a, Crystal: Acrylic
Timex Marlin California Dial ($249)
Heads up, another Timex is coming your way. Priced just a little bit higher than its predecessor, the Timex Marlin California Dial has quite the unique look to it.
This watch takes inspiration from the 1930s and this is noticeable throughout the whole aesthetic of the watch. The dial is kind of unique as it displays half of the dial in Roman numerals and half in Arabic numerals. This is what we call a California dial. Adding to the uniqueness of the watch is the sunburst salmon-colored dial. Ticking inside the vintage-inspired 40mm case is a tried and true automatic Timex movement with an exhibition case back. The see-through case back is made from sapphire glass and lets you see the beating heart of your watch. The stainless-steel case and the salmon dial are complemented by a classic brown natural leather strap and a domed acrylic crystal.
I have to admit, I have a weakness for salmon dial watches. The combination of black numerals or indexes with the washed-out orange color is just something that I really appreciate. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you, that I love almost everything about this watch. The design is fabulous. The movement is great. The case proportions are nice. And I didn’t get around to tell you the best part of this story. Ready? You can get this watch for only $249. I mean if that isn’t a good deal then I don’t know what is.
Specifications: Price: $249, Case Size: 40mm, Thickness: 13mm, Lug-to-Lug: 41mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: Automatic Timex movement, Power Reserve: 40h, Crystal: Acrylic
Orient Bambino Arabic Numerals ($360)
And now, our last contender on this list. The Orient Bambino with Arabic numerals. Orient as a brand is well known in the circle of watch enthusiasts and continuously delivers on their promise to produce high quality watches with modest price tags.
The watch has a 40.5mm case, which measures 12mm in height and 47mm from lug-to-lug. Speaking of the case, Bambino really delivered on that matter. The gold-colored stainless-steel case is beautifully polished and fits perfectly into the narrative of a dress watch. The case is complemented by a crisp white dial, which features Arabic numerals and simple, classic-looking hands. The Orient Bambino The see-through case back displays the caliber F6724, an automatic movement.
For a price of $360, you get a lot of watch for your buck. And yes the 40.5mm case size is a little bit too big for the average dress watch, but the looks and the price tag of the watch make up for that.
Specifications: Price: $360, Case Size: 40.5mm, Thickness: 12mm, Lug-to-Lug: 47mm, Lug Width: 21mm, Water Resistance: 30 meters, Movement: Automatic F6724 movement, Power Reserve: 40h, Crystal: Domed Mineral
As this list demonstrated, you don’t have to spend $8,000 for a JLC to have a real dress watch on your wrist. Of course, you will have to make some compromises, but in the end, even for just $500, you can get your hands on some very nice watches.