Classy, classic, and understated. If I had only three words to describe the perfect dress watch, those would be the most appropriate ones.
What is a Dress Watch?
It’s time to suit up! Unlike a chronograph or a dive watch, the parameters of what makes a great 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. But usually, dress watches are meant to be worn with more formal attire like a suit, a tux, or just any other formal outfit that you have in mind. Therefore, dress watches tend to be understated in design and proportions, to fit in better with the sophisticated look of the outfit. That being said, the requirement for formal attire in offices around the world slowly starts to get looser, making the original idea of a dress watch more and more obsolete. But this doesn’t mean the end of the classy, understated, and moderate proportioned watch. With the dress code getting looser and looser, the dress watch can now be worn with everything you like. Combine the watch with just a pair of chinos and a casual white shirt, and almost every dress piece will look stunning on your wrist.
What to look for in a Dress Watch
But let’s assume you want a real dress piece. What should you look out for? Well, 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 business 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 they should be rather thin and slim. As mentioned above, 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 could find.
Now, this was very vague, let’s look at what specs you should look for when deciding on a dress watch. A men’s dress watch should measure between 34mm and 39mm in diameter and somewhere around 10mm in height. This ensures the watch slip under the tightest of sleeves, therefore fitting in perfectly with your attire. But as mentioned before, this is just a recommendation, if you like your dress watch to be bigger in size, go for it! I also included one dress watch that measures slightly more, just to make sure that we cover everything from the slimmest to the widest of wrists.
So, whether you enjoy wearing your dress watch 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 five of the best dress pieces that are currently available on the market. But enough with all the talking, let’s get started!
Cartier Tank Solo
Starting this list is a watch, that is famous for its understated design, French flair, and its unique case shape. Of course, I’m talking about the Cartier Tank Solo. I think there is no need in telling you that Cartier is one of the world’s most well-known luxury brands. With their prestigious reputation, Cartier manages to cater to a broad spectrum of luxury-loving people that are willing to pay good money for having one of the sought-after accessories with the iconic Cartier on it. But with all those rings and earrings, many forget that Cartier actually has one of the longest-lasting watch-making traditions in the whole watch industry. Cartier as a brand was founded back in 1847, by a French guy named Louis-François Cartier, which in 1904 went on to design and produce the first-ever wristwatch for men. Then in 1917, Cartier introduced the Cartier Tank, which almost immediately gained the attention and respect of the sophisticated gentlemen out there.
Skipping forward to 2021, the Cartier Tank is still going strong and is considered to be one of the most iconic watches on the planet. So naturally, I had to include one of the Tank’s most popular versions, the Tank Solo, into this list. Also, compared to other dress watches, the Cartier Tank Solo is rather affordable and should lie within your budget.
The Cartier Tank Solo features a Swiss-made Quartz movement, which Cartier makes in-house. The movement is housed in a well-proportioned stainless-steel case, which was polished to the highest Cartier standards. The rectangular case measures 34.8 mm x 27.4 mm in diameter and an amazing 5.55mm in height. Since very clearly, this is a dress watch, you shouldn’t go swimming with it, which is made clear by the 30 meters of water resistance. The stainless-steel case is complemented by the classic white opaline dial, black Roman numerals, blued-steel sword-shaped hands, and the iconic Cartier Logo just below the 12 o’clock position. If I only had one word to describe the watch, it would be Classy. Or Stunning? Or Beautiful? Screw that, you will probably need more than just one single word to describe a watch with that kind of history. But since I want to keep it short, just know that this watch is worth every penny of the $2,610, that you will have to pay when deciding to pick one up.
Specifications: Price: $2,610, Case Size: 34.8mm x 27.4mm, Thickness: 5.55mm, Lug-to-Lug: 34.8mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 30m, Movement: In-house Quartz movement, Power Reserve: Quartz, Crystal: Sapphire
Zenith Elite Classic
The next watch on this list is the Zenith Elite Classic. Zenith, the brand behind this piece of art, has a long-lasting tradition of manufacturing timepieces and movements, with their El Primero movement being the most famous of their creations. But let’s start from the beginning, in the year 1865. It was at that time, a Swiss guy named Georges Favre-Jacot, decided to found a watch manufacturing company. Due to Georges’s heritage, the company was registered in a small swiss village with the sounding name Le Locle. After its foundation, Zenith quickly earned the reputation of making the most precise timepieces at that time. And that didn’t change much over the span of the next few decades, as Zenith went on to win many more competitions, achieving the impressive record of more than 2,300 prizes for their timepieces.
After the introduction of their famous El Primero chronograph movement in 1969, and the Quartz crisis in the 1970s, Zenith, in 1994, decided to introduce a new caliber into their portfolio. The ultrathin, time-only Elite movement. This straightforward movement started off strong, with the trade press awarding it the title of Best Movement of the Year when presented at Baselworld in 1994. Skipping forward a few years (20, to be exact) to 2014, when Zenith announced that from now on, their new entry-level Elite timepieces would be powered by fully assembled calibers, purchased from Swiss movement maker Sellita and that it would discontinue production of in-house Elite movements. This led to a big wave of shock and disagreement among watch enthusiasts and Zenith fans. But fortunately, this didn’t go on for a long time. Only a few months later, in 2015, Zenith launched its new in-house manufactured automatic mechanical movement, the Elite 6150, announcing that they would reintroduce the in-house Elite line.
5 years later, in 2020, Zenith launched the Zenith Elite Classic, which is the latest piece of the Elite-line, and the watch I’m going to talk about today. Equipped with the new automatic Elite 670 SK movement, the watch now provides 50 hours of power reserve. The movement is housed inside of an elegant, rose gold case, which measures 40.5mm in diameter and 9.1 in thickness. Featuring a combination of brushed lugs and a polished bezel, the case is complemented by the real star of the show. The dial. The silverish dial features a stamped radial sunray pattern, which brings in a sense of depth and giving the watch a dynamic look. It is combined with faceted and tapered applied indexes, dauphine hands, and an unusual place date window on the 6 o’clock position.
Priced at $14,000, this watch certainly isn’t cheap. But with the amount of quality and care that goes into a watch from Zenith, I’m confident to say, that this watch is worth your money. By the way, if you are looking to buy more affordable dress watches, I wrote an article about dress watches under $500 and one featuring dress watches under $1,000.
Specifications: Price: $14,000, Case Size: 40.5mm, Thickness: 9.1mm, Lug-to-Lug: n/a, Lug Width: n/a, Water Resistance: 50m, Movement: Automatic Elite 670 SK movement, Power Reserve: 50 hours, Crystal: Sapphire
Continuing with the Piaget Altiplano. Known for their sophisticated and elegant watches, the Swiss watch manufacturer was founded back in 1874, in a small Swiss village named La Côte-aux-Fées. The founder of Piaget, Georges-Édouard Piaget, started his first watch workshop when he was only 19 years old. Over the past 147 years, this simple workshop evolved into the prestigious Piaget brand that we know today.
The Piaget Altiplano pays tribute to the first Piaget ultra-thin watches from 1957, keeping the overall look and size more or less the same over the past 60 years. And I have to say, this is something that I find very impressive. Committing to the original design for over 60 years and staying true to their heritage is very admirable. And this heritage can be seen very clearly in the modern Piaget Altiplano, starting with the modest case proportions, which measure 38mm in diameter and an astonishing 6.4mm in thickness. Speaking of which, the case is made entirely from 18kt. rose gold, which in combination with the black alligator strap, looks amazing. Complementing the classy case is a crisp white dial, which features simple hour markers, an hour, and a minute hand, and a small Swiss Made inscribing on the 6 o’clock position. And that’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. In fact, if the word understated would be a dial, there is no doubt that this would be it. And honestly, I love it. The Piaget Altiplano is the definition of a pure dress watch with little to no unnecessary distractions on the dial.
And for those of you that think that this watch couldn’t be more committed to the past, just wait until you hear about the movement. The rose gold case, beats the Piaget 430P movement, which is hand-wound, only 2.1mm (!) thick, and provides around 43 hours of power reserve.
Hand-wound movement, elegant case proportions, and a strong connection to its past. These are some of the reasons which make the Piaget Altiplano one of the greatest dress watches that you can buy today. Admittedly, with a price tag of CHF 15,800 (Approx. $17,200), the watch can’t be considered affordable, but I still think that this watch is worth every penny.
Specifications: Price: CHF 15,800 (Approx. $17,200), Case Size: 38mm, Thickness: 6.4mm, Lug-to-Lug: n/a, Lug Width: n/a, Water Resistance: 30m, Movement: Hand-wound Piaget 430P movement, Power Reserve: 43 hours, Crystal: Sapphire
Patek Philippe Calatrava 5196J
The next watch on this list can easily be considered as one of the most influential and one of the most iconic dress watches, that was ever made. Curtains up for the Patek Philippe Calatrava 5196J. Patek first introduced the Calatrava back in 1932, with the first model having the reference number “96”. Yes, you are reading this right. A two-digit reference number. That something you won’t see today, where some reference numbers are so long, that they even outrank the barcodes of my local supermarket. But as cool and as nostalgic this may seem, the story behind the Patek Philippe Calatrava didn’t start that way. See, back in the 1930s, Patek wasn’t this big watch manufacturer it is today, and they certainly didn’t have the funds of today. In the early part of the 20th century, Patek, Philippe & Cie (as the company was formally known), had some financial problems. Long story short, the solution to their financial problems came in the form of brothers Jean and Charles Henri Stern, who purchased a controlling interest in the company in 1932 and went on to create the Calatrava Ref. 96, which catered to a broader range of potential customers.
Paying tribute to the very first of its kind, the modern Patek Philippe Calatrava took a lot of the design features of the Ref. 96 and slightly modernized them. But as with the Piaget Altiplano, the heritage of the watch can still be clearly seen. Most of foremost on the dial. The dial made from silvery opaline, features gold applied hour markers, polished Dauphine hands, and a small second’s hands display, just above the 6 o’clock position. If you compare the latest 5196J to the first Ref. 96, you can see the resemblance very clearly.
Do you know what I mean? Cool right? Anyway, there is one thing left that shouldn’t be missed. The movement. The watch is powered by the hand-wound 215PS caliber, which keeps the time very accurate and provides at least 44 hours of power reserve.
With its refined design and awesome movement, the Patek Philippe Calatrava definitely is one of my holy grail watches and I intend to own it one day. Considering the price of CHF 20,800 (Approx. $22,600), this may take a while. But hey, the longer you wait, the more you want to get it, right?
Specifications: Price: CHF 20,800 (Approx. $22,600), Case Size: 37mm, Thickness: 7.68mm, Lug-to-Lug: 46mm, Lug Width: 21mm, Water Resistance: 30m, Movement: Hand-wound 215PS movement, Power Reserve: 44 hours, Crystal: Sapphire
Vacheron Constantin Patrimony
Moving from one Holy Trinity brand to another. From Patek Philippe to Vacheron Constantin and their Patrimony watch. The story of the Vacheron Patrimony starts in 2004 when Vacheron launched the first of its kind. Actually, to be precise, the story of the Patrimony starts way before that. In the 1950s, most watchmakers made it a point of honor to keep pace with advances in aeronautics, underwater exploration, or car racing. But not Vacheron Constantin, they stuck to their concept and carried on with creating elegant timepieces for the sophisticated gentleman. Their commitment resulted in two different, yet very similar watches. Reference 6187 and reference 6179. Both featuring a round case, a slim bezel, short lugs, and a flat dial, with the only difference being that the 6187 had large central second hands, while the 6179 had a small seconds display. Now you may ask yourself, but why are you telling me this? Well, remember when I said that the story of the modern Patrimony actually started in the 1950s? That’s because the Patrimony of today is basically a combination of the two mentioned watches.
And this heritage can be clearly seen when we look at the overall design of the Patrimony. The watch features an 18kt white gold case, which measures 36mm in diameter and 8.1mm in thickness. Even though the 8.1mm can’t compete with the 6.4mm thickness of the Piaget Altiplano, the proportions are still very good and wearable. And compared to the Altiplano, the Patrimony only measures 36mm in diameter, which makes it even easier to wear with formal attire. Complementing the white gold case is the crisp white dial, which features applied indexes, a circular-grained minute-counter, baton hands, and a date window at 6 o’clock.
The open caseback of the Patrimony reveals the automatic caliber 2450 Q6/3 and its beautifully decorated rotor. The movement was compiled out of 196 different parts and provides 40 hours of power reserve.
Priced at $25,900, the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony is a proud part of the Holy Trinity and thanks to its refined design and movements, definitely deserve a spot on this list.
Specifications: Price: $25,900, Case Size: 36mm, Thickness: 8.1mm, Lug-to-Lug: n/a, Lug Width: 18mm, Water Resistance: 30m, Movement: Automatic 2450 Q6/movement, Power Reserve: 40 hours, Crystal: Sapphire