A watch is as much a part of a well-dressed man’s attire as his shoes or tie. It should complete the ensemble without drawing attention to itself: always in style, with any choice of formal or casual wear, suffering none of the vagaries of fashion. It should look as appropriate now as it would have 20 years ago or two decades from now.
Not surprisingly, the style and design codes of the dress watch haven’t been altered to any great extent over the last few decades — or for that matter, the last century.
In short, the ideal dress watch should be timeless. And while it’s not a requirement for it to be mechanical, the five selected below all are.
The Patek Philippe Calatrava (reference 5196) is arguably the quintessential dress watch. The original Calatrava, the reference or “model number” 96, was created in 1932 when the Stern family, long-time dialmakers, acquired the business. The reference 96 and its current direct descendent were always intended to be simple and elegant, right for any occasion.
First among equals would be the Cartier Tank — as avant garde today as it was a century ago. Although the design has been around for almost as long as the wristwatch itself, the number of watches actually produced has always been small, making the use of the Tank as a dress watch relatively rare.
On equal footing with the Patek Philippe Calatrava is the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony (ref. 81180). Founded in 1736, Vacheron is the oldest continuous name in horology. Although a modern design — the Patrimony was introduced in 2004 — its dimensions and aesthetics have their origin in their watches from the 1950s, proof that good design is never out of style.
A large, simple marked dial with slim baton hands — only hours and minutes — the Patrimony embodies the very definition of frugal elegance in design.
Modern-day Montres Breguet (acquired by the Swatch Group) continues to create watches in the same instantly recognizable style. Breguet’s Classique (ref. 5157) is the modern iteration of the timepiece that Abraham Louis Breguet himself championed: a round case, termed by the man himself a savonette, a patterned silver dial with lacquered Roman numerals, and thin “Breguet style” blued hands.
The final choice is not strictly a “dress watch” for suits and special occasions as some might argue — but hear me out: The Rolex Day-Date, otherwise known as the “Presidential Rolex,” was introduced at the Basel Watch Fair in 1956. It gained that moniker because President Dwight D. Eisenhower wore one and it was thereafter spotted on the wrists of other presidents and world leaders, such as John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Martin Luther King, Boris Yeltsin, and Fidel Castro. It is rumoured that even Mao Tse-Tung wore a Day-Date.
By Andrew Hildreth
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