Caars, washing machines, electric drills and so forth have to comply with certain rules and regulations before they are put onto the market. For watches, this is not the case. For some categories, such as diver’s and pilot’s watches, there are some standards, but a brand can decide whether to comply or not. The only judge in watches is the market. For a category such as dress watches, there are some traditional rules, but everyone has their own opinion what looks good with a dinner jacket and what doesn’t. The situation is very similar to black tie and white tie, for which there is a rigid formal code, rules that can be bent, adapted or brashly flaunted by stars on the red carpet.
So for this selection, I have chosen watches that have one important characteristic: slim enough to slip under a shirt cuff. The other features are more linked to personal interpretation: a very discreet appearance, with no date window, just two or three hands, no excess colour or decoration, and a simple leather strap. So I haven’t included some ultra-thin watches by Bulgari, for example, which are beautiful timepieces but with a bit too much “Italian flash” to be counted as a dress watch. In my opinion, of course. The need for thinness means that hand-wound movements are more frequently used: this fits very well with the current trend of renewed interest in manually-wound movements. This selection is arranged in increasing price order. Originally posted on 7 December 2014, updated 10 August 2018.
1. Christopher Ward C5 Malvern 595
The C5 Malvern 595 by Christopher Ward has is a stainless steel case 39 mm in diameter, just 5.95 mm thick. The dial is suitably minimalist, and purists may object to the fairly large brand name, but it is positioned on the left, so covered by the shirt cuff nearly all the time. The display caseback reveals the ETA 7001 hand-wound movement, just 2.5 mm in thickness. The C5 Malvern 595 costs €745 with leather strap. It is also available with milanaise bracelet, €850. More at the Christopher Ward website.
2. Stowa Antea Klassik KS
Stowa is a brand that have a lot of history, and they have been making the Antea since 1937. It is a Bauhaus-inspired design with a silver-coated dial printed with black numerals, and with blued steel hands. Its steel case is relatively small, 35.5 mm in diameter and 6.9 mm thick. The display caseback reveals the hand-wound Peseux 7001 movement. Price €1,020. More at the Stowa website.
3. Sinn 1746 Heimat
Sinn celebrates its roots in Frankfurt with the 1746 Heimat, a tribute to the city. The rhodium-coated dial has a decoration based on the diamond pattern typical of Frankfurt’s cider glasses. The case is 42 mm in diameter and 9.4 mm thick, in stainless steel. Differently to the other watches in this article, the 1746 Heimat has a water-resistance rating of 10 bar instead of the standard 3 bar, and this means that it could even be used for surface swimming. The movement is the self-winding ETA 2892-A2. Price €1,890. Further information from the Sinn website.
4. Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Small Second
The Master Ultra Thin Small Second by Jaeger-LeCoultre is in stainless steel, 38.5 mm in diameter and 7.58 mm. The silvered dial has differentiated types of sunburst engraving that creates lovely reflections and a velvety appearance. The movement is self-winding, designed and built by Jaeger-LeCoultre, visible through the sapphire caseback. The watch is reference 1278420, and it costs €7,350. More at the Jaeger-LeCoultre website.
5. Van Cleef & Arpels Pierre Arpels
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 versions shown here has a white gold case, 38 mm in diameter and 5.79 mm thick. The white lacquer dial is distinctive for the central section with honeycomb motif, which recalls the front of a black tie shirt. Reference VCARO3GI00, price €14,500. More at the Van Cleef & Arpels website.
6. Piaget Altiplano 38mm
Piaget are specialists in ultra-thin watches, but the Altiplano 38 mm is perhaps the closest to the dress watch aesthetic, with its minimalist dial with just hour and minute hands. It is 6 mm thick, powered by the 430P movement which provides a power reserve of 43 hours. The black alligator strap has a white gold buckle. Reference G0A29112, price €17,100. More at the Piaget website.
7. Breguet Classique 5157
The Classique 5157 is immediately recognizable as a watch by Breguet, with its hand-engraved guilloché dial, Breguet hands and Roman numerals. It is the slimmest watch in this group at 5.4 mm, with a moderate diameter of 38 mm. From the front it looks like an antique timepiece, but the movement, visible through the display caseback, incorporates the latest advances in watchmaking technology, with a balance spring in silicon for greater isochronism and anti-magnetic properties. The watch has a black alligator strap. This timepiece, new for 2018, costs €17,600. More at the Breguet website.
8. A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin
The Saxonia Thin was presented in 2018 and it is the slimmest watch by A. Lange & Söhne to date. The dial is coated with copper-blue goldstone, a sort of aventurine glass based on ancient Murano techniques. It creates a lovely speckled effect resembling stars in the night sky. So there is some extra colour in this piece, the deep blue of the dial and the midnight blue alligator strap, but there are some deep blue dinner jackets so for me it’s OK as a dress watch. The piece shown here is 40 mm in diameter with a thickness of 5.9 mm. Lange also make it in the size 39 mm, 6.2 mm thick. Inside, the Calibre L093.1 movement is hand-wound and just 2.9 mm in thickness, with all the Lange characteristics such as three-quarter plate finished with Glashütte stripes, a few screwed gold chatons, whiplash balance regulation and hand-engraving. It provides 72 hours power reserve. Price €20,800. More at the A. Lange & Söhne website.
9. Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse 5738R
The Golden Ellipse by Patek Philippe is, like the Pierre Arpels, a touch indiosyncratic, with its unusual case that combines rectangular and elliptical forms, but its slimness and simplicity put it squarely into the dress watch category. Its name is not based on the metal used for the case, but for its geometry that reflects the Golden Mean. The piece is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with two new models, this piece in rose gold, and a limited-edition platinum version with blue dial. The case is 34.5 x 39.5 mm in size, 5.9 mm thick, with a black alligator strap. Inside, the self-winding Calibre 240 is hidden by the solid caseback but it is superbly finished nonetheless. Patek Philippe make a pair of matching cufflinks as well. The watch costs €28,450. More at the Patek Philippe website.
10. Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Collection Excellence Platine
Patrimony by Vacheron Constantin is larger than the other dress watches included here, with a platinum case 42 mm in diameter and 7.65 mm in thickness. The dial has all the refinement that you would expect from the brand, with subtly differentiated hour markers, ‘pearl’ minute track and a small seconds subdial. The watch has a dark blue alligator leather strap hand-stitched with silk and platinum thread, and there are no gaps between the strap and the case: presumably it has curved springbars. The hand-wound Calibre 4400 AS provides a power reserve of about 65 hours. The watch is a limited edition of 150 pieces, reference 1110U/000P-B306, price €39,300. Part of a 150-piece limited edition. More at the Vacheron Constantin website.