Unlike a chronograph or a dive watch, the parameters of what make a good dress watch aren’t so easily defined. Truthfully, you can wear pretty much any watch you want with a suit (you can thank James Bond, with his propensity to wear a diver with a tux, for that), but to really elevate your black-tie look, what you want is something thin enough to fit under a sleeve cuff, minimal enough to complement your wardrobe (rather than overpower it) and classic enough to weather finicky changes in style trends.
Again, it’s not so clearly defined. But if you want an idea of what to look for, these 12 watches — spanning in price from under $1,000 to well into five figures — are emblematic of the perfect fancy dress timepiece.
The Intra-Matic is consistently one of our favorite dress watches under $1,000. Essentially a reissue of a Hamilton watch from the ’60s, the Intra-Matic delivers retro-inspired looks by way of a radiant sunburst dial, a thin bezel and case, and a Hamilton’s vintage “H” logo. The Intra-Matic was recently updated with more dial options including this fumé style. Inside beats an ETA 2892-2 automatic movement, and two cases diameters — 42mm and 38mm — are available.
Junghans max bill Automatic
The Bauhaus design school in Germany, which just marked the 100th anniversary of its founding, is one of the most influential forces in watch design. And the designer for which the Junghans Max Bill is named is one of its most famous students. With a solid Swiss movement inside, the Junghans Max Bill Automatic has a simple but distinctive dial design under a mineral crystal and a steel case that slips easily under a cuff at 38mm wide and 10mm thin.
The Ophion 786 is dressily styled with cutout Roman numeral hour markers and a 39mm-wide case that is just over 10mm thick. The classic design of the watch is based on early Breguet pocket watches from the late 1700s and features a CNC guilloche dial and other distinctive traits. Even the Technotime (now owned by Soprod) movement inside, with an exclusive Ophion bridge design and hand-hammered finish, is intended to reference the same era. These are features that often command a higher price tag, making the Ophion 786 easy to recommend.
Nomos Orion 38 White
The Orion is one of the watches that helped put Nomos on the map back in the ’90s, and it’s as handsome today as it was when it first debuted. What has changed in this version is a bump in size to 38mm from the original’s 35mm, giving it a bit more appeal to men with larger wrists. Driving the watch is Nomos’s Alpha caliber, the company’s first in-house effort and a manually wound movement.
Cartier Tank Solo XL
One of the most iconic watches of all time, the Cartier Tank is almost like a tuxedo for the wrist. While the Tank comes in a number of versions, the Tank Solo XL is a particularly classic look, has an automatic Cartier 1847 MC movement inside, and is the brand’s most affordable mechanical watch for men. Don’t be confused by the “XL” moniker — this is still a modest-wearing watch at 31mm wide, about 41mm in length, and under 8mm thick.
Citizen Eco Drive One
The Citizen Eco Drive One is an outlier among the mechanical watches on this list, and it is an unexpectedly high-end product from the Japanese brand. It is the world’s thinnest light-powered watch at an incredible 2.98mm and features the brand’s own metal and ceramic composite called cermet for the bezel which, together with the sapphire crystal, makes for a scratch-resistant facade. This is not only a dressy and hassle-free watch, but it is technically and visually interesting.
Grand Seiko Elegance SBGK005
Grand Seiko has become more than the cult favorite of watch collectors it once was and now enjoys great mainstream enthusiasm. Loved for high levels of finishing and refinement, their watches offer remarkable value, even at luxury prices. The beautiful new Grand Seiko Elegance SBGK005 model highlighted here, with its slim case in steel, gorgeous dial, power reserve indicator and manual-winding movement, is a good representative of Grand Seiko’s range.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master debuted 25 years ago, and with it came the brand’s “1,000 Hour Control” test, where each watch was tested for 1,000 hours for accuracy and durability before being delivered to customers. It’s just one reason why the Jaeger-LeCoultre is stealthily such a great watch; the rest comes down to details like the slim 38.5mm case, the expert finishing on the JLC Caliber 896 inside and the radiant dial.
The Slim d’Hermés features elegant numerals in the place of more traditional hour markers, which are the work of French graphic designer Philippe Apeloig, done exclusively for Hermés. Apart from being elegant and unique, the watch features an in-house ultra-thin movement from Hermés and comes in a sleek 39.5mm case.
Parmigiani Fluerier Tonda 1950
Though not so well-known outside watch circles, Parmigiani Fleurier makes some incredible high-end watches. The Tonda 1950 is one of the brand’s simpler designs, featuring a 40mm stainless steel case and an opaline-finished dial, with an in-house automatic movement that’s just 2.6mm thick.
A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin
German watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne is likely on many a watch fanatic’s bucket list of brands to own, due to the fantastic fit and finish of its watches. When in 2016 it announced it’s most affordable piece to date, the Saxonia Thin 37mm, the barrier to entry just got a little easier to clear. The watch case itself is incredibly thin (and comes in either rose or white gold) and features a minimal dial, two hands and an exhibition case back to show off the incredible movement finishing inside.
Vacheron Constantin Patrimony
An impressive representative from one of the Swiss “Big Three,” the Patrimony packs a gorgeous 2.8mm-thick hand-wound movement bearing the Hallmark of Geneva, proof of its superior finishing. This is housed in a 42mm white gold case with a transparent case back, so you can gawk at the aforementioned movement.
Our idea that dress watches need be luxury items is way off. These five fit our new definition: watches that jive with both formal wear and greasy fast food binges. Read the Story