Which is the best dress watch?

Twenty classical-style watches that look perfect with black tie dress. Men’s dress watches are generally fairly minimalist, with just hour, minute and second functions, perhaps a date window, uncluttered dials, an overall sense of balance, and thin enough to slip under a shirt cuff. This means a thickness of max 10 mm or just over (under 7 mm brings you into the realm of ultra-thin), and a diameter of around 39 mm. It should have (in my opinion) a black leather strap, or perhaps a Milanaise bracelet. Here are my top 10 dress watches for 2014.

Size is something that has changed over time: in the 1950s, men’s watches were often just 34 mm in diameter, but later this size went up to about 39 mm, and then even larger, to 42 mm and beyond. For most people, above 39 mm the watch begins to look and feel a bit outsize on the wrist, with the lugs projecting visually wider than the wrist itself.
In this article, the watches are ordered according to how closely they adhere to my own personal idea on what a dress watch should look like, with the low-cost options at the end.

1. Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Ultra Thin 1907


At just 4.1 mm thickness, with a movement just 1.85 mm thick, this is truly exceptionally thin, a design based on a 1907 Jaeger-LeCoultre pocket watch. Hand-wound, the Calibre 849 movement provides 35 hours power reserve, and has 123 components. The 39 mm case is in pink gold, white dial, dauphine hands, strap in alligator leather. The minimalist design reflects Max Bill’s work for Junghans, and the dial has a remarkable balance and perfection. No date window, no second hand, just the two dauphine hour and minute hands, dots for the minutes, batons for the hours. Price about €15,000 ($18,600), reference 1292520. www.jaeger-lecoultre.com









2. Patek Philippe Calatrava 5227

Not because it’s Patek Philippe. Not because it costs around €30,000. But the Calatrava 5227 is perfection in a dress watch. 39 mm width, 9.24 mm thick, with a beautiful cream-lacquered dial that highlights the dauphin hands with a triangular section that catches the light differently, the slender second hand, the date window, and the applied trapezoidal hour indices. The dial embodies the Bauhaus dictum of “form follows function,” and you really feel that nothing could be added, and that the only thing that could be removed is the date window, but this is a matter of taste. The caseback has a dust cover with an invisible hinge: when open, you can see the Patek Philippe Calibre 324 SC movement with its gold oscillating weight, a total of 213 parts, and a power reserve that in the specifications curiously ranges from a minimum of 35 to a maximum of 45 hours. The cover is also ideal for an engraved dedication inside. The watch is available in white, yellow and red gold. www.patek.com



3. Vacheron Constantin Patrimony

This watch is as perfect as they come for a dress watch, 40 mm in diameter, 8.53 mm thick, with case in pink, yellow or white gold, reference 85180, and dial and strap colour changing according to the type of gold. The classic is the white gold version with black dial; all three have the Calibre 2450 Q6 automatic movement with 196 components and 40 hours power reserve. www.vacheron-constantin.com


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4. Omega De Ville Trésor

This is a watch whose origins date back to the late 1940s, and you can still see some of that functional minimalism in the contemporary version, which however now houses a mechanical movement with some of Omega’s latest anti-magnetic innovations. The dial has all the features of a prestige piece, slightly domed, with the hour indices curved to match, clou de Paris texturing on the opaline silvery dial, and case in Omega’s patent Sedna (pink) gold, yellow gold or white gold, 40 mm in diameter and 10.6 mm thick. Inside is the hand-wound Omega Master Co-Axial Calibre 8511 movement, with silicon balance spring and the brand’s anti-magnetic characteristics that leave it unaffected by fields greater even than 15,000 gauss. The sapphire caseback provides a view of the movement. Reference 432., price about €11,200. www.omegawatches.com




5. Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Contemporaine Ultra-Thin Calibre 1731

This is so beautiful and so perfect that you only notice that the watch has an added complication at a second glance. With a 41 mm diameter case that is just 8.09 mm thick, and a movement 3.9 mm thick, the fact that Vacheron Constantin have succeeded in incorporating a striking mechanism is incredible. You just have to push up the slide on the left-hand side of the case, and the watch chimes the hours, quarters and minutes, on two gongs. The manually-wound Calibre 1731 movement – both watch and movement have this number in reference to the date of birth of Jean-Marc Vacheron who founded the brand in 1755 – has 265 components, and a power reserve of 65 hours. But more important for the subject of this article on dress watches is the perfection of the dial, magnificent in its clarity, delicately cambered, with minute beads and baton hour indices. Reference 30110/000R-9793, price about €270,000. www.vacheron-constantin.com







6. H. Moser & Cie Venturer

This watch celebrates founder Heinrich Moser, born in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, and his journey to St. Petersburg in 1826. He had heard that there were opportunities for a watchmaker there. His journey, by horse, train, and sledge over ice was truly an adventure. The Venturer collection is based on classic design with elements of 1920s Bauhaus minimalism, with the curved 1960s style watchglasses. The characteristically understated, discreet design of the dial was enhanced by the decision to place the power reserve indicator not on the dial but on the movement side of the watch, visible through the caseback. The case is 39 mm in diameter and 12.5 mm in thickness. The dial is subtly curved, and likewise the hands. The watch is powered by the in-house Calibre HMC 327 movement, providing 72 hours power reserve. It has the stop (hacking) seconds function, which stops the movement of the second hand when the crown is pulled out so that you can synchronise it with a time signal. Several colour variants of the watch are available, red gold with silver-tone dial, red gold with slate grey dial, and red gold with smoky red dial. The brand makes a total of about a thousand watches a year, and so all its pieces have a sense of rarity. Price about €14,700. www.h-moser.com






7. Longines Conquest Heritage 1954-2014

The Conquest range was first introduced in 1954, and in 2014 Longines celebrated the 60th anniversary with a selection of models based on the first Conquest watches. They are available in steel, yellow gold and pink gold, with caseback decorated with a medallion in gold and enamel. The dial looks modern even today, perfect in the sunburst silvered version, though it also has a distinctly 1950s look reinforced by the relatively small size. The watch has an automatic L633 movement, made by ETA (2824/2), with a 38-hour power reserve. The case is 35 mm in width and about 10/11 mm thick. The steel version (reference L1.611.4.75.2, limited edition of 600) retails at about €1,160, the gold versions (rose gold and yellow gold, each a limited edition of 60) at about €3,710. www.longines.com




8. Blancpain Villeret 8-Day

This watch, presented in 2014, is at the top end of the size spectrum of dress watches, at 42 mm diameter and 11.25 mm thickness. The star of the show is the grand feu enamel dial, enhanced by the narrow bezel, with enamel-painted numerals, and a secret signature, the JB initials just visible in white-on-white between the IV and V, and between VII and VIII. The JB also appears in the logo above the Blancpain letters, and on the second-hand counterweight. The JB stands for Jehan-Jacques Blancpain who founded the brand in 1735 in Villeret, on the upstairs floor of his house. It is probably the oldest watch brand in the world.
The Calibre 1335 movement can be seen through the sapphire display caseback, with a honeycomb pattern on the oscillating weight that automatically rewinds the watch. An eight-day power reserve means 192 hours. Reference 6630-3631-558, price approximately €27,000. www.blancpain.com




9. IWC Porfino Automatic

This is IWC’s version of the dress watch, much loved for its classic looks and reliability, in a case 40 mm in diameter and 9.5 mm thick. The Calibre 35110 movement provides a 42-hour power reserve. The watch has a solid caseback with an engraving of Portofino, the Italian village on the Ligurian coast that gave its name to the collection. It is available in a number of versions, red gold, white gold, diamond-set bezel, and stainless steel, and the latter can have leather straps or a Milanese mesh bracelet. The reference is IW356501, changing according to the finish. Price about €4,000. http://www.iwc.com/




10. Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic 1958

1958 was International Geophysical Year, and Jaeger-LeCoultre created a robust, high precision watch to accompany the scientific explorations organised on that occasion. It was also a method of celebrating their 125th anniversary. In 2004, the brand presented the timepiece in two new editions, in steel, pink gold, and in platinum. The case is 38.5 mm in diameter, 11.3 mm thick, and it houses the Calibre 898/1 automatic movement with 201 components, power reserve 43 hours. It has a soft iron inner case that protects the movement from magnetism. As this also hides the movement, the caseback is solid. The steel version costs about €8,00 ($9,800), the red gold version about €17,00 ($20,800) and the platinum version about €26,200 ($32,200). The platinum version has the most minimalist dial with just two Arabic numerals. http://www.jaeger-lecoultre.com/

Robert Downey Jr. wearing the Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic at the premier of "The Judge" during the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival on 4 September  2014 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo courtesy of Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Robert Downey Jr. wearing the Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic at the premier of “The Judge” during the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival on 4 September 2014 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo courtesy of Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic 1958 - Pink Gold

Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic® 1958 - Pink Gold


11. A. Lange & Söhne 1815

This watch is A. Lange & Söhne’s tribute to Ferdinand A. Lange, who was born in 1815, visited Switzerland, and in 1845, when the silver mines of Glashütte began to run out, he had the idea of setting up a watch industry in the town. The inheritance of that enterprising man can be seen in the many brands now operating together in Glashütte, such as A. Lange & Söhne, Glashütte Original, Nomos and others. The 1815 has Arabic numerals, railtrack minute scale, and small seconds on a subdial at 6 o’clock. The case is in several variants, 40 or 38.5 mm in diameter, 8.8 mm thick, in pink, yellow or white gold. The view through the sapphire caseback is beautiful, revealing the balance of the manually-wound Calibre L051.1 movement with 188 components. Power reserve 55 hours. Price about €22,00 for the yellow and pink gold versions, about €23,000 for the white gold version. www.alange-soehne.com





12. Piaget Altiplano

The 2014 version of the Altiplano is the 900P, a record-breaker for thinness at 3.65 mm, but too busy (in my opinion) to be a classic dress watch. The Piaget Altiplano Date is closer to the classic dress watch appearance, with a relatively wide bezel, date window at 9 o’clock, and baton hour indices. The case is 40 mm in diameter, 6.36 mm thick, and the automatic movement, Calibre 1205P, inside was at that time the world’s thinnest automatic movement at 3 mm. It has 221 components, and a 44-hour power reserve. Available in white gold and rose gold, with sapphire caseback. Price about €16,500. www.piaget.com

G0A38130piaget061 1205 P

13. Ballon Bleu de Cartier extra-flat

The distinguishing features of this watch are the crown set with a sapphire cabochon protected by a metal arch, the guilloché dial, the Roman numerals indented by the curve of the crown, and a rounded watchglass that magnifies the dial for even greater clarity. This extra-flat model is 40 mm in diameter and 6.9 mm thick, with a manual, in-house Calibre 430 MC movement. Case and hands in pink gold, grey or white dial, grey alligator strap. www.cartier.com




14. Bulgari Octo Finissimo

This splendid watch combines the original Gerald Genta octagonal inspiration with a very modern case design with 110 facets, and an uncluttered dial, with just the numerals 12 and 6, and applied baton indices for the other hours. Inside there is the extra-thin Finissimo calibre, developed and made in-house, a hand-wound movement just 2.23 mm thick. The case itself is 40 mm in width and 5 mm thick. The power reserve, about 70 hours, is shown by an indicator on the back of the watch. The sapphire caseback displays the movement. The watch is in platinum, reference BGO40BPLXT, price about €21,300. www.bulgari.com



The movement, with the power reserve indicator

The movement, with the power reserve indicator

15. Van Cleef & Arpels Pierre Arpels Platine

The Pierre Arpels watch is part of the brand’s heritage. It was made specially for Pierre in 1949, and he specifically wanted a watch whose case was a perfect circle. Instead of the double lugs, there is just a single lug for each strap, and so the watch seems to be suspended in space. It had to be thin so that he could wear it under his shirt cuff. For years, it was a watch for him alone. A few duplicates were made for family and friends, and it was only put into production in 1971 as the PA 49. The 2014 version of the watch is the Pierre Arpels Platine, with platinum case 38 mm in diameter, black lacquered dial with the characteristic honeycomb motif (recalling the front of a black tie shirt) in the centre, and crown set with a diamond. Reference VCARO4HV00, price €23,200 inclusive of VAT. www.vancleefarpels.com


The original sketch of the watch

The original sketch of the watch


16. Tourby Art Deco Silvered Dial

This watch is one of the many pieces by Tourby based on a period inspiration, and this Art Deco design has an attractively vintage appearance. The silver dial has applied hour indices to increase three-dimensionality, and gold-plated steel hands, enclosed by a domed sapphire watchglass. The case is fairly large at 43 mm, but lugs are short and so it should be comfortable even if you have a small wrist. The thickness of 9.5 mm enables it to slip easily under a shirt cuff. The sapphire caseback displays the Tourby Calibre 74.3 movement, based on the ETA Unitas movement, with power reserve of 52-58 hours. Price €1,700. More info from www.tourbywatches.com





17. Stowa Antea 365 A10

This is a watch 36.5 mm in diameter and 8.1 mm thick, with Bauhaus-type minimalist dial, blued hour and minute hands, a centre-sweep second hand, and a small date window at 6 o’clock. Steel case, black leather strap. The positive features are the legibility of the dial, the sapphire caseback, and of course the price; the lugs on the other hand are distinctly unattractive. But it’s a mechanical watch with a Swiss Soprod A-10 automatic movement providing 42 hours power reserve, assembled in Germany, at €870 (inclusive of VAT) and available online at www.stowa.de. Other versions available include one with an attractive Milanese strap in stainless steel (€915).





18. Archimede Klassic 39 Automatic

At €545 with black leather strap and €675 with Milanaise strap, the Klassik 39 by Archimede is a low-cost option for a dress watch. Stainless steel case 39 mm in diameter and 9.9 mm thick, sapphire crystal, caseback with display crystal, and an automatic Sellita SW200-1 movement. Available online from www.archimede-watches.com





19. Alpina Alpiner Automatic AL-525

Automatic, three hands and date function, case diameter 41.5 mm, 10.8 mm thick, sunray dial, stainless steel case, leather strap. The back of the case is solid, with an engraving of an Alpina logo depicting three mountains, Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger. Inside is a Sellita SW 200 movement. Price about €1,130. alpina-watches.com



20. Sinn 1746 Classic

This is an attractive piece with its narrow bezel that gives the 42-mm-diameter watch an even larger feel visually, reinforced by the position of the Roman numerals right at the edge of the dial. The case is 9.5 mm thick. A transparent caseback reveals the ETA 2892-A2 automatic movement, which has the stop seconds (hacking seconds) function. The case is in stainless steel, with water resistance rated at 100 metres, making it a watch perfect for everyday use. Price €1,590 inclusive of VAT, available online from www.sinn.de




9 thoughts on “Which is the best dress watch?

  1. I think you did a great job considering the subjective nature of “Best of, or Top 20” lists. Some real beauties here, the Calatrava, the Patrimony and one of my favorites, the Lange. The list does get a bit more contentious towards the bottom.
    I do believe that the one omission that can’t be overlooked is the JLC Reverso. It’s a classic.

  2. IMHO, a few glaring omissions from the list are some of the works from the independents like Philippe Dufour Simplicity or a Laurent Ferrier Galet Micro Rotor.

    Another notable powerhouse maker of dress watches that is missing from the list is the house of Chopard L.U.C.

  3. Proper dress watches are two handers, perhaps with a small seconds subdial. Dates are for business wear. Max Bill and Nomos are notably missing.

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