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 ten watches — spanning in price from $1,000 to $20,000 — 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. Inside beats an ETA 2892-2 automatic movement, and two cases diameters — 42mm and 38mm — are available.
Sinn 1736 St I 4N
Junghans, Braun and Nomos are generally what come to mind with the words “German minimalist watch,” but Sinn — maker of ultra-tough divers, chronographs and pilot’s watches — has shown it can dress up with the elegant 1736. It comes in at a fairly small 36mm in diameter and 9mm thick and features a sunburst dial with gold-toned indices and hands.
Longines Heritage 1945
Longines continues to flex its design skills with its excellent Heritage series. The latest edition is the the Heritage 1945. Based on a dress watch from the ’40s known as the Calatrava, the new 1945 boasts incredible finishing touches like blued hands and a convex, brushed-copper dial in an elegantly-sculpted 40mm stainless steel case.
Nomos Orion 38 Weiß
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.
Grand Seiko SBGW253
In honor of Grand Seiko becoming an independent brand, it relaunched its very first watch. The SBGW253 comes in stainless steel (though the original was gold); aside from that change and a slight bump in case size, it’s almost identical to the original. It comes with Seiko’s Caliber 9S64, which is accurate to an impressive -3/+5 seconds per day.
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 is the only watch on this list with numerals in the place of more traditional hour markers. They’re the work of French graphic designer Philippe Apeloig, done exclusively for Hermés. Apart from being 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 the Swiss “Big Three,” packing a gorgeous 2.8mm-thick handwound movement bearing the Hallmark of Geneva, proof of its superior finishing. That’s housed in a 42mm white gold case with a transparent caseback, so you can gawk at the aforemntioned movement.
The Best Dress Watches Under $1,000
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