If you’re a watch fan, you’ve certainly spotted the rising interest in dress watches. But what exactly is a dress watch? What are some of the most popular choices, and are they a good investment? Time to discover the vast world of dress watches and learn what makes them so special.
What is a dress watch?
First, let’s review what a dress watch is and why they’re so popular. I wrote a more detailed article about the hype behind dress watches earlier this year, but I’ll lay down the fundamentals again here:
- Dress watches are smaller than other watch types
- They usually have a slim case made of precious metal
- They only show the time
- They come on a leather strap
As such, they’re ideal for formal occasions and slip under your cuff effortlessly. While the traditional definition is something purists like to hold on to, the lines have blurred somewhat over the years. Nowadays, a dress watch is generally considered a refined watch that looks the part with elegant attire. In reality, that often translates into a classic timepiece on a leather strap.
Why are dress watches so popular?
So why should you own a dress watch? Well, firstly, there are plenty of style options available, so you won’t have any trouble finding both new and pre-owned from an endless list of brands. Vintage pieces, especially pre-owned ones, capture the essence of traditional watchmaking. Secondly, these watches are often fairly affordable compared to their sports and tool watch counterparts. So, a dress watch from one of the big names like Omega, Cartier, and Jaeger-LeCoultre doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Thirdly, people are gravitating more and more toward smaller timepieces, and classic dress watches play into this trend perfectly.
What’s more, if you buy a modern reinterpretation of a watch from a bygone era or the original vintage piece, you’re also getting a piece of the golden age of mechanical watchmaking. And if you choose a vintage dress watch, chances are you’ll be inheriting a personal story from the previous owner or owners, which you will add to as well. Lastly, fashion has changed tremendously over time; we’re not bound by traditional definitions or limitations. That is to say, you don’t need a suit to wear a dress watch. If you prefer that, it’s fine, but there’s nothing stopping you from wearing a stylish dress watch with more casual clothing.
Some Brands and Models to Look Into
The above applies to dress watches for men and women. Trends are universal in that sense. So, without further ado, let’s look at some great brands that offer amazing dress watches.
1. Cartier – The Number One Brand
Cartier is an obvious choice. The different Cartier Tank collections are fantastic examples of dress watches that have found favor with a wide audience. Nowadays, a Cartier fits just about any style as long as you can make it work for you. The Tank Louis Cartier, Tank Française and Tank Must are three models that spring to mind, but don’t overlook the Cartier Santos or Ballon Bleu. And if you dive into the vintage Cartier realm, you’ll find some absolute gems that won’t cost a fortune.
2. Jaeger-LeCoultre – The Iconic Reverso
The second brand is Jaeger-LeCoultre, renowned for the Reverso that celebrates the Art Deco movement. Interestingly, the Reverso was originally designed as a sports watch for polo players in the 1930s. The case can be flipped over, protecting the watch dial from getting damaged on the pitch. Nearly a century later, the Reverso has evolved into a fashion icon and is widely recognized as a staple in the dress watch category. However, Jaeger-LeCoultre doesn’t stop there. For those who prefer more conventional, round watches, the Master series offers an array of options. Given the brand’s rich history, there is an abundance of choices to explore.
3. Patek Philippe – The Master of Dress Watches
Another outstanding brand is Patek Philippe. While most people will associate Patek with the Nautilus, Aquanaut, and their highly complicated timepieces, the Calatrava is seen as the archetypical dress watch, with the ref. 5227 from the current collection being a particular highlight. But dig deeper into the manufacturer’s portfolio, and you’ll find more dress watch goodness for both men and women. From vintage Calatrava models to the Ellipse and complicated references, Patek Philippe has so many great dress watches.
4. Omega – Vintage Models Abound
If you’re looking for something more affordable, Omega should be on your radar. The current collection has dress watches in the Constellation and De Ville collections. But add “vintage” to your search request, keep the early Seamasters in mind, and you’ll be spoiled for choice. Vintage Omega Constellations are considered some of the most beautiful and significant traditional watches out there. And the sporty Seamaster might seem like a true dive watch now, but if you check out the Seamasters from the 1950s and 60s, you’ll get a great vintage dress-style watch.
These are just a few of the many names you can search for when it comes to great dress watches. But don’t forget brands like Tissot, which had their own Calatrava, or Longines. If you don’t mind spending a bit more, consider dress watches from Vacheron Constantin, Breguet, Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, and A. Lange & Söhne.
Investing in Dress Watches
When it comes to investing in dress watches, you really need to know what you’re getting into. A brand that pops up time and time again when it comes to solid investments is Rolex. As most of you will know, Rolex offers great dress watches with the Day-Date and the Datejust. While some traditionalists debate whether they are “classic” dress watches per se, they definitely are by today’s standards. But they’re not the models you’ll make a profit on. The Datejust is, however, one of the most affordable Rolexes and a good entry-level model.
The Day-Date is a lot more expensive as it only comes in premium materials, but you can find traditional Day-Dates at a fraction of the price of precious-metal sports models like the Daytona and Submariner. Delving into the rich history of the Datejust and Day-Date models, you’ll discover exceptional versions featuring distinctive dials that are highly coveted by collectors. The famous funky-colored Stella dials and unique stone dials are my recommendations.
Complicated dress watches from Patek Philippe are great investments, but they don’t come cheap; some of them are among the most expensive watches ever sold at auction. This is definitely expert territory where you’ll need a lot of disposable income. The same goes for exclusive pieces from brands like Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin.
Additionally, you can opt for one of the many unique Cartier timepieces. But you have to realize that there are plenty of classic watch collectors out there; so before you even think about investing in a Cartier, learn about the brand’s history and why people are paying so much for a vintage Tank or Crash. You’ll find that the answer is almost always scarcity, meaning it won’t be easy to get your hands on one. Just like it’s tough to get your hands on one of the timepieces from the Privé collection that are developed in limited numbers specifically for collectors. But it’s also where the best Cartier pieces are!
More Affordable Investments
If you would love to own a classic dress watch, with the added bonus that it might increase in value over time, go for a Grand Seiko or King Seiko from the 1960s. Both brands were conceived to create some of the greatest watches of their time. And as such, they are truly amazing timepieces. The good news is that you’ll still be able to find classic Grand Seiko and King Seiko models at manageable prices, and with the growing appreciation for Grand Seiko and the reintroduction of the King Seiko brand, there’s a chance that the classic pieces will also go up in price over time.
Investing in Small Brands
Lastly, you have the opportunity to invest in dress watches from niche independent brands that specialize in producing limited quantities, catering to the desires of watch enthusiasts. I’m thinking of exclusive manufacturers like F.P. Journe, Philippe Dufour, Laurent Ferrier, Czapek, and H. Moser & Cie. All these brands create some amazing haute horlogerie timepieces that are very popular among a growing group of fans.
As always, there are no guarantees when it comes to investing in watches, and even more so when it comes to dress watches. However, this very aspect makes scoring an affordable timepiece from one of the renowned brands all the more exciting. Take the time to do your homework and immerse yourself in the world of timeless dress watches. As time passes, you may discover that your watch has appreciated in value. And remember, the true joy lies in wearing and enjoying your watch. Happy hunting!