If you’ve been following the luxury watch space at all over the last decade, you would have no doubt noticed the dominance of steel sports watches. The Royal Oaks, Nautiluses, Aquanauts, Overseas, Daytonas, GMT-Masters, and Submariners of the world have consistently ranked as the most sought-after high-end timepieces, thus earning their hype watch status. However, all trends wax and wane and we’re now noticing a very different type of watch gaining popularity in the market—the dress watch.
Now to be clear, steel sports watches aren’t going anywhere, and you can bet that if and when the big watch brands launch a sleek sporty number, everyone will still be clamoring to get one. Yet, seasoned watch buyers are now also looking at familiar favorites in the form of dressier watches to add to their collections.
In the words of our very own Adrian Taskin, wearing a dress watch with a hoodie is a vibe. A handful of celebrity mega watch collectors like Kevin Hart, Mark Wahlberg, Jay-Z, and Ed Sheeran often pair some seriously complicated and formal Patek Philippe watches with casual outfits.
Of course, dress watches aren’t new; they are the classic and traditional wristwatches that came to prominence at the turn of the 20th century and have continued to be mainstays in all major watch catalogs. While dress watches have long been a staple, they were considered dated and old-fashioned by certain watch-collecting circles in this millennium and often overlooked in favor of tool timepieces and sports watches.
What is a Dress Watch?
Like many terms that pepper the watch industry, the definition of a dress watch isn’t always clear.
The Traditional Definition
For a long time, most agreed that a dress watch included the following design traits:
- A precious metal case in either gold or platinum
- A slim case that you could tuck underneath a shirt cuff; generally more compact in terms of diameter too
- A clean and understated dial, typically with time-only functionality but could also include a subtle date window
- A slim bezel, often smooth but can also include traditional decorative techniques such as a hobnail pattern
- An elegant leather strap
In short, to be considered a dress watch, a timepiece had to be elegant, minimalist, and discreet. A few models that typify this traditional design include:
- Patek Philippe Calatrava
- A. Lange & Sohne Saxonia
- Vacheron Constantin Patrimony
- Breguet Classique
- Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra-Thin
- Cartier Tank
- Piaget Altiplano
- Rolex Cellini Time
- Omega De Ville
- IWC Portofino
Watch: Unboxing an IWC Portofino on Grey Market TV
The Modern Definition
These days, most people use a much broader definition of what makes a dress watch — think dressier watch more so than a strict dress watch. For instance, a dressier watch can have complications, it can be made of materials other than gold or platinum, and it can have a flashier dial. Case shapes are plentiful, ranging from traditional round to Art-Deco rectangular to curvy tonneau.
They’re more formal than sports watches but also not as minimalist as what are considered traditional dress watches. Patek Philippe complications such as Perpetual Calendar, Annual Calendar, and World Time fit the bill, as does Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 models, A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 references, Breguet Classique Complications, and essentially any of the Cartier Collection Privée Cartier Paris (CPCP) pieces. And depending on the design, a metal bracelet works too — a Rolex Day-Date President is definitely a dress watch in our books.
Learn more: How Much Does a Rolex Day-Date Cost?
Are Dress Watches Recession Proof?
Aside from their looks, one appeal of dressier watches is that they tend to be more stable in price. We recently witnessed a dip in prices for hype watches such as the Rolex Daytona, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, and Patek Philippe Nautilus.
Read more: Is There a Watch Market Crash? What is Happening to the Secondary Watch Market
On the other hand, prices for dress watches are typically steady and void of any extreme price hikes and big drops like the sports watch segment. Therefore, dressy watches can be seen as recession-resistant models that could be a safer buy in the long run. Related to that, unlike popular sport models, you can still find incredible deals when shopping for dress watches — some even sell at less than retail on the secondary market.
However, like we always say, don’t buy watches as an investment; buy what you like and you’ll always come out on top in terms of enjoyment.
Watch: Experts Rate RECESSION PROOF Watches on Grey Market TV.
Another benefit of browsing more formal timepieces is that you have a lot more choices. Many high-end brands offer a wide selection of dressy timepieces and complicated watches and may only have a handful of sporty collections. Similarly, premium grey market dealers will have plenty of these classic watches in stock since they don’t go as fast as the popular sports watch models.
Time To Broaden Your Collection?
If you’re looking to add one or more pieces to your watch collection and want something other than the most talked-about hype watches, then perhaps it’s time to check out the wide world of dress watches, complications, and formal timepieces.
Whether vintage, retro, or new, there are so many interesting models to consider. Plus, if you’re wearing a dressy timepiece, it’s less likely these days that someone else in the room will have the same one on their wrist.
Price Guides for Popular Dress Watches:
How Much Does a Cartier Tank Cost?
What is the Price of a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust?
A favorite dress watch of mine is the Patek Elipse series.
Yes, I completely agree! The Patek Golden Ellipse is a stunning dress watch.
AP dress watches don’t garner the respect of other dress watches however they are stunning in MHO
AP dress watches are indeed stunning – do you have a favorite one?
I think a true dress watch has to have old world style with at least some Swiss influence. Great article there.
That’s a great way of defining them — old-world style.