When it comes to men’s watches, sports watches are king. Whether we’re talking dive watches, GMTs, chronographs, field watches, or everyday GADA watches, enthusiasts and casual watch fans alike flip for anything sporty. Larger, casual watches like the Rolex Submariner and Omega Speedmaster are always a hit, as they’re tough, versatile, purpose-built, and look great with everything. Well, almost everything. While we love sports watches just as much as the next guy, they’re not the best choice for a formal event, which is why every guy should have one great dress watch.
The best men’s dress watches are lowkey, subtle timepieces that exude class and sophistication. They are as essential an accessory to getting dressed up as a silk tie or pair of leather oxfords, and your watch box isn’t complete until it has at least one great dress watch in it. Lucky for you, we’ve rounded up 15 of them from across a wide range of price points, so you’ve got no excuse to not have a great dress watch strapped to your wrist during your next fancy night out.
What Is A Dress Watch?
Don’t Stress It Too Much
There are a handful of general rules that dictate what counts as a dress watch. Like other rules concerning formal attire, these guidelines have relaxed a lot over the decades, and even back in the 1960s you had James Bond wearing a Rolex Submariner on a NATO strap with a tuxedo. In other words, don’t feel like your dress watch has to adhere to the following criteria 100 percent.
Complications (Or Lack Thereof): Generally speaking, dress watches are meant to fly under the radar. They’re there to show you the time at a quick glance and nothing else, as it’s typically considered rude to be fiddling with a chronograph or GMT bezel during a posh event. But while time-only models are certainly the most classic style of dress watch (some purists even think a seconds hand is too showboaty), there are plenty of complications that have made their way into dress watches. The most elegant is certainly the moonphase, as it’s tough to beat the romance and poetry of tracking Earth’s natural satellite on your wrist.
Size: Dress watches traditionally are smaller than sports watches, and historically, they were downright tiny. Up until around the 1990s, men’s dress watches were commonly 34mm or smaller, but as watch sizes have crept up in recent years with the “big watch” trend, these classic sizes are getting harder and harder to find. 38mm is more of a common size these days, but really anything under 40mm should work fine for most wrists. Just keep in mind that most dress watches have large dials proportional to their cases, so they’ll wear larger than a diver or chronograph of the same dimensions. Dress watches should also be relatively thin, with the most common test of practicality being whether or not they will easily slide under the cuff of a dress shirt.
Straps: A dress watch is typically worn on a leather strap. A high-quality black calf leather strap pretty much always works with a dress watch, but other colors of leather also work, as do fancier hides like alligator leather. Just steer clear of anything too flashy or garish, as you don’t want to draw extra attention to your wrist while dressed up. Steel bracelets can also be worn with dress watches, but they will typically have smaller links than the bracelets you’ll find on sports watches. Think beads of rice, Milanese mesh, and Jubilee bracelets.
Orient’s watches are almost a rite of passage for any budding mechanical watch enthusiast, as the Japanese brand makes some of the best bang-per-buck affordable automatic watches out there. One of its most popular offerings is the Bambino, and while it comes in a number of different variants, we’re partial to this cream-dialed version with its applied Roman numerals and blue handset.
Case Size: 40.5mm
Timex Marlin Hand-Wound
Timex has been on a tear over the last handful of years, and the brand has this watch to thank for it. Prior to the release of the blockbuster Q Timex Reissue, Timex dropped this extremely faithful 1960s dress watch reissue. At the time, the brand was churning out nothing but modern quartz watches, so a mid-century-styled 34mm hand-cranker that looked like it fell off of Don Draper’s wrist landed like a bomb in the enthusiast community. A few years later and the Marlin reissue remains one of our favorite affordable dress pieces.
Case Size: 34mm
While not as groundbreaking as Timex’s release, French microbrand Baltic still managed to shock quite a few people when it launched the MR01 in 2021. Known largely for its retro dive watches, Baltic went against the grain by releasing a stone-cold stunner dress watch in 36mm with applied mirror-polished Brequet numerals, a grainy asymmetrical dial, and — most interestingly of all — a micro-rotor movement out of China that’s all tarted up and visible through a sapphire caseback.
Case Size: 36mm
Tissot Heritage Visodate Powermatic 80
In case it wasn’t apparent by now, mid-century styles are very “in” in the dress watch world, especially when it comes to the affordable segment, and Tissot is no exception. The brand originally brought back its old-school Visodate several years ago in 40mm, and it’s been a massive hit for the Le Locle watchmaker ever since. More recently, Tissot has upped the ante even more with this version that brings in the brand’s fantastic Powermatic 80 movement with its 80-hour power reserve and patented Nivachron balance spring.
Case Size: 42mm
Hamilton Intra-Matic Auto
Yet another mid-twentieth-century reissue from within this century, Hamilton’s OG Intra-Matic has gone on to anchor a line that now also includes sports watches and chronographs. But we’re still fans of this classy original, with its entirely polished case, its beautiful domed sapphire crystal, and its attention to detail — like the way the stick minute hand slightly bends down at the tip to meet the edge of the curved sunburst dial. Hamilton didn’t need to put this much effort into a sub-$1,000 dress watch, but we’re certainly glad they did.
Case Size: 38mm
Mido Baroncelli Heritage Gent
There are a lot of impressive things to note about Mido’s best dress watch. There are the faceted dauphine hands that boast contrasting finishes to add depth. The exhibition caseback showing the movement’s Geneva striping, perlage, and blued screws. The honest-to-goodness heat-treated blued seconds hand. But the watch’s most impressive attribute is its remarkable thinness. At just 7.3mm thin, it’s the thinnest non-quartz watch on our list, which is all the more impressive considering that it’s an automatic and not hand-wound.
Case Size: 39mm
Longines Flagship Heritage
OK, just one last mid-century reissue and then we’ll get into more modern stuff… and don’t worry, we’ve saved the best for last. Unsurprisingly, it comes from Longines, a brand that does heritage reissues better than anyone in the business. The aptly-named Flagship Heritage is based on the Longines Flagship of the 1950s, and it’s a thing of beauty. Dauphine hands, applied indices, and an applied winged hourglass logo are all in gold tone, contrasting wonderfully with the inky black dial. We’re also big fans of the 6 o’clock date window and minimalist small seconds display.
Case Size: 38.5mm
Proving that modern styles can still be timeless, we present NOMOS’ popular Orion in the reference 301. Committed as ever to Germany’s Bauhaus school of design, this watch is an exercise in modern minimalist aesthetics, with stick hour markers and stick hands on a white dial. But don’t mistake its simplicity for cheapness. That dial is galvanized silver-plated, the indices are diamond-polished, and the hands achieve their cornflower blue coloring from expert heat-tempering. Then there’s the movement: NOMOS’ esteemed in-house manual-winding Alpha caliber.
Case Size: 35mm
Cartier Tank Must
The Cartier Tank is one of the most classic and enduring watch styles in the history of the world. It’s been around since WWI (the watch’s look was modeled after the view of a tank from above) and it looks just as good as ever. With Cartier being a luxury brand, however, Tanks can get pricey, and that’s where the Tank Must comes in. Powered by a quartz movement, the Tank Must offers all of the classic Cartier style while leaving your wallet much lighter than a mechanical version would, and it’s one of the most affordable ways to get a truly iconic dress watch on your wrist.
Case Size: 33.7mm x 25.5mm
Grand Seiko SBGM221
A GMT is not a complication you would expect to find on a dress watch, but Grand Seiko executes it so elegantly here that it makes us wonder why more brands don’t do it. Arguably the luxury brand’s most recognizable model after the Snowflake, the gorgeous SBGM221 boasts a round case entirely covered in Grand Seiko’s renowned Zaratsu polishing, a stubby heat-blued GMT hand, typical GS-style diamond-polished multi-faceted indices and sword-sharp hands, an ivory-colored dial, and a brown crocodile leather strap. Oh, and it’s a “true” GMT, too.
Case Size: 39.5mm
Movement: Automatic GMT
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Classic Monoface Small Seconds
After the Cartier Tank, JLC’s Reverso is undoubtedly the world’s most famous rectangular dress watch. Ironically enough, it actually got its start as a sports watch in the 1930s, as its innovative rotating case was created for polo players to protect their watch faces while playing. But tastes evolved, and the once-sporty Reverso now sits firmly in dress watch territory. And what a dress watch. This reference has a single dial (Monoface) with a beautiful silver guilloche finish that’s accented perfectly by a trio of heat-tempered blued hands.
Case Size: 45.6mm x 27.4mm
Glashütte Original PanoMaticLunar
GO may share a home with fellow German watchmaker NOMOS, but it has a totally different style. One of the luxury brand’s flagship models, the PanoMaticLunar’s asymmetrical dial provides a ton of visual interest while remaining subdued and clutter-free. It boasts a big date complication, a moonphase aperture, and overlapping dials for the hours/minutes and seconds. The unique design makes excellent use of white space, and everything is powered by one of the brand’s in-house engines with its trademark hand-engraved balance bridge and duplex-swan-neck fine adjustment.
Case Size: 40mm
Movement: Automatic Moonphase w/ Date
Blancpain Villeret Quantieme Complet
In addition to inventing the dive watch with the Fifty Fathoms, Blancpain makes a wide assortment of highly complex dress watches in its Villeret line. One of the more affordable offerings from the line is this complete calendar. Executed in a solid red gold case with a deep blue sunburst dial, the watch clearly displays the day, date, month, and phases of the moon — the latter by way of Blancpain’s charming grinning lunar display. The brand also offers annual and perpetual calendars (for a good deal more money), but for something you’re only wearing once in a blue moon (no pun intended), we find the complete calendar plenty sufficient.
Case Size: 40mm
Movement: Automatic Complete Calendar w/ Moonphase
Rolex Day-Date 36
Up until this point, we’ve extolled the virtues of keeping your dress watch low-key and subdued. But if you do feel like the occasion calls for a bit of flash, there’s no beating the Rolex “President.” The watch earned its nickname from its decades-long association with the USA’s highest political office, so its formal-wear bona fides are set in stone. Only ever offered in full precious metal, the most classic reference is the one you see here, with a case, fluted bezel, and three-link President bracelet all in solid 18 ct yellow gold.
Case Size: 36mm
Movement: Automatic Day-Date
F.P. Journe Chronomètre Bleu
If even Rolex and Blancpain feel too pedestrian for whatever once-in-a-lifetime high-end event you have in mind, then allow us to introduce you to F.P. Journe. Arguably the most lauded independent watchmaker in the world, Journe has redefined what discerning enthusiasts expect from luxury watches with his intricate movements and unique yet classic creations. One of his best-known models is the Chronomètre Bleu. Nearly impossible to get anywhere near its already lofty retail price, the watch is one of the hottest in the industry, and it’s no wonder why. With a case crafted from solid tantalum, a mesmerizing blue dial with cream-colored hands and indices, and an 18 ct rose gold manually-wound movement, this masterpiece is a thoroughly modern and borderline sporty take on what a contemporary dress watch can be.
Case Size: 39mm
The Best Luxury Watches for the New Collector
Looking to dip your toe into the world of luxury watches but aren’t sure where to start? Then have a look at our guide to the best luxury watches for the new collector, where we introduce you to a handful of standout starting points.