Choosing a watch for a formal occasion, be it a wedding, a dinner, or hey, who knows - a star-studded red-carpet affair, is important. The devil is in the details, after all. But it shouldn't be difficult. This selection will steer you towards a dress watch that suits both the situation at hand and your personal style.
We have already covered the best dress watches for under £5,000 - proving that it is perfectly possible to bring a sharp, suave style to your wrist without going overboard - but here we give free rein to our chequebooks (chequebooks?!) and pick out the very finest dress watches on the market.
A dress watch should be several things: slim, minimalist in design and horologically simple. Wherever you are that merits this kind of watch, it's not a moment for fiddling with complications. Given the occasion, it may be gold, but not necessarily; it may be an opportunity to experiment with different case shapes but there's nothing wrong with keeping it round. And while there may be some rare exceptions, a leather strap is normally preferred.
Too fussy for a dress watch? Perhaps. But like the Vacheron Constantin below, it all depends on what constitutes the fussiness, and how it’s deployed. In this case, beyond Lange 1’s fundamental, perfectly balanced separation of the usual elements, it’s the moonphase that’s arguably bringing too much to the dinner table. But we’re talking dress watches – watches to accessorise an evening, where romance might potentially feature. The addition of a moon simply heightens the dressiness.
£32,800 - Shop Now
Naturally, one can gaze at the 7147’s graceful works through the caseback, but for once it’s the dial that wields even more visual magnetism, thanks to that almost-holographic guilloché texture. Ever the pragmatist, Abraham-Louis Breguet began fitting his pocket watches with such intricately engraved silver faces around 1786 – flawlessly executed, yes, but also anti-reflective and therefore easier to read. Today, an engine-turned dial is nothing short of a work of art, still engraved in-house at Breguet using hand-operated rose-engine lathes dating from over a century ago.
£17,400 - Shop Now
If anything’s going to persuade you to finally spring for that velvet blazer with silk hem, it’s Bulgari’s eternally sartorial Octo. Its design language is modern, with 110 facets of conflicting yet complementary shapes, milled from a single block of precious metal. As timeless as the Maxentius Basilica in the Roman Forum – the building from which creative head Fabrizio Buonamassa drew inspiration. It is the embodiment of Swiss mechanics – in this case the brand’s own hand-wound, ultra-thin, BVL 128 – sexed-up with some Italian passion. Adding a leather strap changes its usually informal mood to a more after-dark aesthetic.
£20,200 - Shop Now
Somewhere between the 19th-century classicism of Breguet and the crisp, contemporary line of Piaget’s Fifties icon you’ll find Chopard and the Art Nouveau modernism of its crack L.U.C. facility. Unlike the storied jewellery side of Chopard, L.U.C. has only been going 20 years – the brainchild of co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, who wanted to revive the long-lost horological spirit of founding father, Louis-Ulysse Chopard. Not only does chronometer certification come as standard, but the 3.3mm-thin movement packs quite a punch, squeezing-in two stacked winding barrels, autonomous for 65 hours.
£21,700 - Shop Now
Thankfully, Moser’s zany publicity stunts seem to be waning, leaving us to focus on what it does best: thoroughbred Swiss haute horlogerie, with an alluring elusiveness. Just the sort of mystery any man would want to summon in a tux. There’s so much to love here from the mesmeric fumé dial to the elegantly tapered hands and contemporary plaited strap. Powering it is the in-house HMC 200, with a 72-hour power reserve. So, you can take it off on Friday night to slip into something more sporty, knowing you can pick up where you both left off come Monday morning without needing to adjust anything. Apart, perhaps, from the tux.
£17,500 - Shop Now
Jaeger-LeCoultre's latest Reverso Tribute brings a refreshingly rakish flash of scarlet to pop from your penguin suit, while retaining all the Art Deco glamour of the 1931 black and white original. It's a classic single dial Reverso, rather than the all-too-ubiquitous push-me-pull-you Duoface. Meaning, as dressy and delicate as Jaeger’s sublime 1931 reissue may feel today, the ability to flip its solid-steel caseback forwards and deflect an errant polo mallet remains intact, just as French case engineer René-Alfred Chauvot originally designed. Quite right, too.
£7,100 - Shop Now
This Omega hasn’t broken the surly bonds of Earth, the best-laid plans of a Bond villain, or any Mariana Trench depth records, but it will certainly break the ice come party season – the perfect alliance of brains and beauty. Design-wise things have been refined a little since it was first launched in 1949 and the case is now made from the brand’s proprietary gold blend, Sednagold. The technical wizardry within is a manual version of its Master Co-Axial movement, which pairs George Daniels’ masterpiece with a silicon balance and magnetic resistance to more than 15,000 gauss. Useful if you happen to be enjoying cocktails in an MRI scanner.
£10,000 - Shop Now
Peeping from his (usually Anderson & Sheppard) tailored cuffs, HRH Prince of Wales’ default choice happens to be a gold Parmigiani Tonda. Given he’s a fixture in GQ’s annual ‘Best Dressed’ rundown, maybe yours should be too. But best make it this one: the model that finally made sense of Parmigiani’s ‘thing’. Appropriately named after Mr P’s year of birth, all his previously aimless aesthetic codes and Italianate ornamentation are whittled down to a single, clean sheet of suave sophistication, with in-house manufacturing arm Vaucher’s reliably prestigious mechanics whirring inside.
£14,500 - Shop Now
Some will cite the Golden Ratio, less romantic sorts a U.S. freeway gyratory spotted from a plane by a Patek Philippe executive in the Sixties, but one thing’s irrefutable: the proportions of the 50-year-old Ellipse are so divine as never to have changed. This anniversary edition is larger than ever but thanks to the Genevan grande dame’s hand-crafted Calibre 240 mechanics with ‘micro-rotor’ embedded rather than spinning on top, retains a slender 5.9mm profile – perfect for the tightest of French cuffs.
£24,480 - Shop Now
It’s Bulgari’s trophy cabinet that groans the most when it comes to ‘extra-flat’ watchmaking these days, thanks to the Octo Finissimo’s hyperactive diet plan, but Piaget will always remain the byword for timepieces both wafer-thin and mint. Valentin Piaget invented the notion with 1957’s impossibly suave 9P manual-wind movement, no more voluminous than a two-franc coin, cased up as ‘Altiplano’ after the pancake-flat Bolivian Plateau. Today’s worthy descendant is the 430P calibre, still ticking beneath a design that’s barely changed since, which still feels as expansive despite 38mm proportions.
£15,500 - Shop Now
Shall we prepare the Batmobile, sir? No, we don’t really know why it’s called the Alfred, but if Bruce Wayne’s butler was more solvent than is usual below stairs, it’d certainly suit him, his morning suit, and distinguished demeanour. Powered by the exclusive ‘P4’ manual-wind movement, exquisitely executed by Chronode, it’s a fine posterboy for Denmark’s modern Swiss incarnation, with a visit to the atelier in Biel thrown in too.
£14,400 - Shop Now
As with furniture or architecture, the mid-century era was the golden era of wristwatch draftsmanship – all three continuing to be adulated by the retro crowd. But going back another decade to the Forties, it has taken Switzerland’s most venerable house to start playing fast and loose with an overlooked period of designer cool, tapping one of the richest archives in watchmaking. The gorgeous Arabic numerals of the ‘1942’ triple calendar evoke a Manhattan speakeasy’s cocktail menu, but its ‘1948’ cousin is the one to pair with your wing-tips and titfer (its burgundy details begging to be paired with a rich camembert).
£30,100 - Shop Now