This week we continue our little series of essential watches within a certain style. The last two articles about iconic chronographs and dive watches sparked a whole lot of discussion among you, the Fratelli, so we’re moving on to dress watches today. While dress watches are certainly not the most popular amongst watch fans, they hold a certain venerable place in our beloved watch universe. A dress watch is an appropriate timepiece for a special occasion or a classy statement that fits a great and stylish outfit. Either way, it’s time to look at eight of the most iconic dress watches that we think should be part of any watch collection.
Can you quickly come up with a list of eight genre-defining dress watches? The first three or four are easy, of course, and I’m sure you will find them on this list. But after a few of the obvious choices, there is much room for debate. As always, this list is an overview of what we consider iconic watches in the genre. What makes an essential dress watch for you is, obviously, quite personal. But we have tried to come up with a selection that covers the realm of dress watches as we see them today. As with the previous two lists, there is one rule that we like to keep in mind: these watches should still be in production today. On top of that, we are looking for clean dress watches without a string of complications. So let’s not waste any more time and jump straight into it.
Patek Philippe Calatrava
The Calatrava is the first watch that comes up in the minds of most watch enthusiasts when talking about dress watches. Currently, Patek Philippe has a varied collection of Calatrava models, but it’s the 5227 that represents everything you could ever want from a dress watch. Its style dates back to the first Calatrava models from the 1930s while remaining incredibly relevant in today’s world. Patek offers the 5227 in three different versions that all feature a 39mm case measuring 9.24mm thick. The yellow gold and rose gold versions both come with an ivory lacquered dial and the white gold version features a black dial. The 5227 houses the brand’s self-winding caliber 324 S C with a date function and a central sweeping seconds hand. The Patek Philippe Calatrava 5227 is available for €38,200.
A second watch that immediately comes to mind is the Cartier Tank. This true icon of the industry represents watch royalty. Obviously, it starts with the unapologetic case shape that was revolutionary when it was introduced in 1917. Combine that with the beautifully designed dial and its Roman numerals, the instantly-recognizable crown, the simple but effective hands, and that majestic Cartier logo, and what you get is an expression of style, taste, and a subtle statement of luxury and status, as Lex explained beautifully. Cartier offers a wide array of different Tank models to fit various budgets. In true dress-watch tradition, a yellow gold Tank Louis Cartier would be perfect. But if your budget doesn’t stretch that far, there are a string of stainless steel models that are the perfect stylish dress watch.
While the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso might not have started out as a dress watch, it is a stylish statement that has become the perfect archetype today. Most of you will know that Jaeger-LeCoultre originally created the Reverso as a sports watch for polo players in the early 1930s. Not only was it a brilliant Art Deco style statement, but with a reversible case that protected the crystal during play, it also provided a great functional benefit. While this feature might have lost its original purpose, it still adds a ton of character to the already striking design. There are also quite a lot of Reverso models to choose from. The manual-winding Reverso Classique models in steel for €6,700 or pink gold for €17,100 are two great options, as Daan explained. But my favorite is the stylish Reverso Tribute Small Seconds. For just €9,600, that is my perfect dress watch.
Another pick that we just couldn’t leave off of this list is one of the brilliant Breguet Classique models. As most of you will know, the brand’s Classique collection contains quite a few striking timepieces. My favorite is the Classique 5157 with its 38mm case. It is available in rose gold, yellow gold, or white gold, and it measures only 5.4mm thick. Add the stunning silvered-gold guilloché dial, and you end up with the most classy statement imaginable. Without a doubt, the rose gold version you see here is my favorite of the three. If you flip the watch around, you are greeted by the self-winding caliber 502.3, which is a feast for the eyes with its 22-karat gold off-center rotor. The movement operates at 21,600vph and has 45 hours of power reserve. All in all, the Classique 5157 is a stunning dress watch that is available for €19,000 in yellow gold and €20,100 in white or rose gold.
While the Rolex Day-Date might not be a dress watch in the eyes of some purists, it definitely does belong on this list. The Day-Date has the grandeur to fit every formal situation perfectly and, some would argue, most informal situations too. What I adore about the Rolex Day-Date is that, along with the Datejust, its design is the least affected by the updates that took place ever since its introduction in 1956. If you compare the first Day-Date ref. 6511 and the current ref. 128238, you see pretty much exactly the same watch. Sure, the markers and hands have been updated in style, but you are looking at two watches that are indisputably similar. Currently, Rolex offers the Day-Date in 36mm and 40mm in different materials and configurations. My personal favorite is always going to be a 36mm in yellow gold as it has enough presence without being too present. Get it with a white dial and gold stick markers as it was introduced earlier this year, and you will have a stunner of a dress watch for €32,400.
Blancpain Villeret Ultraplate
If the Rolex Day-Date is too far away from the purist’s definition of a dress watch, the Blancpain Villeret Ultraplate 6005 embodies that classic definition to the fullest. Here we have a round-shaped gold case, a slim profile, two hands, no date, and no seconds hand. The Villeret Ultraplate is available in rose gold and stainless steel. The latter makes it a great option for people that do not want to pay crazy money for their dress watch. Both versions come with a 39.7mm case that measures 7.45mm thick. In combination with the opaline dial and the Roman numerals, it makes for a very nice classically styled watch. If you turn the watch around, you can enjoy the in-house manual-winding caliber 11A4B, which is just 2.8mm thick and provides 95 hours of power reserve. Both versions come with the choice of a leather strap or a bracelet in the same metal as the case. If you stick to the purist’s choice of a leather strap, the stainless steel version will be €10,440, and the rose gold version will be €20,330.
A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1
Another great option as well as one of my personal favorites is the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1. Ever since the Lange 1 debuted in 1994, it has impressed watch fans all over the globe with its combination of impeccable style and technological prowess. What I absolutely love about the Lange 1 is that it hasn’t aged a day in almost three decades. With the outsize date and a brilliantly innovative dial, the Lange 1 is a genius piece of typical German design. Currently, A. Lange & Söhne offers a wide collection of Lange 1 models in different sizes and materials and with different complications. If we zoom in on the regular Lange 1, it comes with a 38.5mm case that is 9.8mm thick. It is available in rose gold, yellow gold, and white gold. The Lange 1 is powered by the in-house caliber L121.1, which offers 72 hours of power reserve. For €38,700, you will buy a unique and stylish watch that is among the absolute best.
Grand Seiko SBGW291/293
It’s hard to deny the impact of Grand Seiko’s quest for watchmaking excellence that started in the 1960s. The 44GS case is, without a doubt, the best example of the brand’s design brilliance. Most of the current 44GS-style models come with a bracelet, but Grand Seiko still makes a few that are crazy-good-looking dress watches that come with a leather strap. The brand-new SBGW291 with silver sunburst dial is paired with a gray alligator strap. The SGBW293 comes with a brown sunray dial and a chestnut alligator strap. Both watches feature a 36.5mm stainless steel case that is 11.6mm thick. It houses the manually wound caliber 9S64 with a 72-hour power reserve. At €5,200, the two models offer a great style and watchmaking brilliance, closing out this list of eight iconic dress watches.
But wait, we aren’t done just yet because I can’t deny the impact of the Cartier Santos. I usually only pick one watch per brand. But if you’ll alow me, I need to pick two Cartier models today. When it comes to the Santos, there are also different options available. The regular Santos is a great option in rose gold with a nice gray leather strap, but it is the Santos Dumont you see here that is the most elegant choice. The Santos Dumont comes in steel, rose gold, and two-tone with a steel case and a rose gold bezel. First off, the watch maintains the iconic square bezel. Secondly, the 33.9 × 46.6mm case is slightly thinner at 7.5mm compared to the 8.83mm of the regular Santos. Inside the case, Cartier equips the Santos Dumont with the manual-winding ultra-thin caliber 430 MC. It is based on the Piaget 430P and delivers 36 hours of power reserve. The watch comes in at €6,200 in steel, €8,750 in two-tone, and €16,300 in rose gold.
There you have it — a list of the nine most iconic dress watches. These are all watches that we feel should be part of your collection at some point. But I say this with a smile because there are plenty of classics that could have been on this list. I certainly realize that this list is by no means complete. Should the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin be on here? Or maybe a Chopard L.U.C? How about a Piaget Altiplano or an Omega Constellation Globemaster? Depending on your preferences as an enthusiast/collector, there are several watches that could have made the cut. That’s why I pass the question to you…
What is your favorite dress watch of all time? Let us know in the comments section, and tell us the reasons why!