If you're looking for a watch to wear for a formal occasion without spending too much money, you are in the right place. This is QP's list of the best dress watches for less than £5,000 - elegant, simple, slim watches perfect for wearing with a suit or dinner jacket.
We've all seen it: people are magnificently turned out for a wedding, a work function or a black tie evening do, looking pin-sharp from suit to shoes, and then you catch a glimpse of a chunky dive watch (or worse - Apple watch!) protruding lumpily from under a jacket sleeve, perhaps refusing to slide smoothly under the French cuff within.
You wouldn't wear your running shoes to a sophisticated event, so leave the sports watch at home while you're at it. Treat yourself to a watch that fits with the rest of your outfit, and lets people know you're comfortable looking smart, not wearing a suit against your wishes. And who knows, maybe you'll come to appreciate the benefits of a smaller, more subtle watch - certainly, every watch on this list could just as easily be a Monday-Friday office choice.
After all the hullaballoo of Baumatic’s 2018 launch, followed by CSEM’s patent lawsuit against its silicon balance spring, it seems things haven’t fallen so flat. In fact, Baume & Mercier and parent group Richemont’s core ‘RIMS’ skunkworks have made things even better with the revised BM13 calibre, keeping the 5-day power reserve, COSC rating, and – thanks to a silicon escapement rather than spring, plus internal chrome ring – even improving the antimagnetism. Topped by that midnight-blue dial, you have beauty as well as brains.
£2,500 - Shop Now
You couldn’t omit the grande dame of Paris from any list of dressy watches, and – quartz sniffiness aside – this smoothed-out take on the eponymous aviator’s turn-of-the-century icon still retains a whole lot of ‘paf!’ for your franc (ahem). Given Alberto Santos-Dumont’s parallel interest in ballooning, it’s the perfect foil to the petrol-propelled Santos: Roman numerals for a start, plus the brand’s classic, cabochon-set crown, sans beefy shoulders. With a flash of rose-gold bezel into the bargain, this is a woozy Parisian evening in watch form.
£4,450 - Shop Now
A mainstay of Hermès’ tightly composed watch offering, the Arceau manages to distil all its Parisian whimsy and equestrian flourish with a restraint that means this slimline number will straddle any sartorial occasion. What’s more, for less than £5k, you’re getting a Vaucher Manufacture movement, thanks to Hermès’ 20% stake in Parmigiani’s elite outfit. When it comes to saddling-up you’re also, of course, cossetting your wrist in butter-soft leather from the Hermès ateliers.
£4,600 - Shop Now
Dressing up or down, any man in desperate need of inspiration need only think, “what would the Italians do?” Hence IWC’s evergreen Portofino range, its ‘just vintage enough’ simplicity drawn from the impossibly chic lifestyle of its eponymous town – the jewel in the Amalfi Coast’s crown. Like a softly tailored linen suit, the automatic entry model manages to feel simultaneously smart and laidback, with a blue dial to complement whatever else you’ve effortlessly (or not, as the case may be) thrown on.
£4,050 - Shop Now
The lugs say ‘Nomos’, the fluted case ‘Blancpain’. The pricetag? Even for Longines, an unapologetic ‘WTF?’. Despite drawing from the same internal movement pool as Swatch Group stablemates Tissot, Hamilton et al., it’s always been important for St Imier’s finest to position itself higher, given 180-odd years of mostly top-flight timekeeping. Maybe it’s the advent of the Powermatic 80 in the lower ranks (see Tissot, below) pushing a lower price for standard-ETA pieces in the higher ranks, but whatever it is, this is a purebred dress watch for very little bread.
£1,030 - Shop Now
Less dress and more dandy, as is March LA.B’s wont, this lounge lizard is teleported straight from a louche Seventies nightspot – so much so, you can practically hear the ice clinking in chunky tumblers. Like Chanel’s Première, its delicate 34mm frame draws on the octagonal architecture of Paris’s Place Vendôme, though the titular Los Angeles / Biarritz dual base for the brand remains its prime inspiration.
£1,095 - Shop Now
The Perigraph takes the German brand’s hours-only minimalism into doubly relaxed territory thanks to a new concentric date indication, persuading a more long-form sense of time’s passage. After all, there’s good reason why brand founder Manfred Bressler chose the ‘fermata’ musical notation as a logo: he wants to encourage more ‘pauses’ in our non-stop lives. We reckon this piece’s calm colourway helps too, while also being glam enough for a posh night out.
£1,690 - Shop Now
Salmon have been swimming up the waters of Audemars, Patek and Lange of late to many ripples of approval. But to our mind the finest warm-pink dial is to be found downstream, in the admirably affordable pool of ‘Heritage’ watches at Montblanc. The Pulsograph even earned itself a QP cover earlier this year – just £28,000 for a Minerva monopusher chronograph. A tenth of that gets you the same crepuscular cool, fitted with what must be the subtlest GMT indicator on the market.
£2,395 - Shop Now
This is expensive by Nomos's standards, but you must remind yourself of what you’re getting these days, from Glashütte’s original phoenix from the GDR ashes. Their every movement is now made in-house, and the neomatik is the first non-Peseux-clone, fully in-house-conceived calibre. Slim, automatic and now with instant date change (at last!), it is mechanical elegance dressed with less of the brand’s signature Bauhaus cool, and more of a – dare we say it? – mature distinction.
£3,420 - Shop Now
As Raymond Weil and Oris pay tribute to legendary musician after legendary musician, it’s harder and harder to justify the exercise beyond the aesthetic motifs and jazzy packaging. Except, perhaps, when it comes to the celebration of a drummer. After all, like any instrumental outfit, a mechanical watch depends on an unwavering percussive rhythm. Art Blakey was one of the finest: a virtuoso bebop pioneer whose influence is hard to overstate – which, to their credit, Oris doesn’t attempt, opting for a minimalist take on Blakey’s bass drum, with eight ‘claws’ and little else.
£1,650 - Shop Now
Haters be gone – bimetal with yellow gold is good (while rose gold is for wimps). And if you’re going to go full Gordon Gekko, better make it the whole damn bracelet too, complete with fussy links, and get the red braces to match while you're at it. If you can’t stretch to the Santos/Datejusts that became Wall Street status symbols in the boom years, then Tissot’s Le Locle is a suitably flashy alternative, whose knurled dial will match the waffle weave of your dress shirt. The pricetag? As much as two months’ Manhattan rent checks (in 1987).
£585 - Shop Now
Fun fact: the Elite was, back in the Nineties, Switzerland’s first calibre to be entirely designed using newfangled computer-aided design. Remember that little gem for when you next slip on that velvet tux and need a surefire icebreaker up your sleeve. The computers may be a whole lot more advanced today, but the mechanics themselves have required little to no upgrades – something consistently and unfairly overshadowed by big brother El Primero. Being Zenith, the Elite’s own suiting is effortlessly chic, too.
£3,600 - Shop Now