Many people choose watches randomly, and the differences between a dress watch and a casual one are probably not on most people’s ability to distinguish!

But little do they know that if you are looking for a way to add a touch of elegance to your suit, a dress watch is perhaps the perfect way to do so.

With so many options out there, it’s tempting to feel overwhelmed when choosing a watch. Yet if you follow these guidelines, you’ll manage to refine your style effortlessly.

Why You Should Choose a Dress Watch

A dress watch is an excellent way for men to incorporate jewelry into their outfits.

Of course, not all men are comfortable sporting a bracelet or other jewelry, but consider a watch perfectly acceptable.

Although a watch is no longer a necessary accessory in this day of smartphones, it is an ideal way to make a statement. It shows that you still care about style and class.

wearing dress watch with midnight blue tuxedo

Imagine yourself dressed up for the fanciest event you’ve ever been to. You’re in a gorgeous tuxedo, looking more sophisticated than you have ever looked before.

You pull up your sleeve to check the time on your wristwatch, and your neon green sport watch with its rubber straps glares brightly on your wrist.

Uh-oh. Something’s not right here. That should have been a dress watch.

What Makes the Watch a Dress Watch

A watch that looks nice isn’t enough to qualify it as dressy. Your watch must meet specific guidelines to qualify as an official dress watch.

what is a dress watch

Is there a watch police to monitor such things? Of course not.

In fact, you might be able to get away with breaking some rules for watches, but people in the know will spot a faux-pas and may “pass judgment” in a fashion sense.

In order to be considered dressy enough for a formal event, your watch must possess specific traits.

The size of the case, the strap’s width, and the materials each part is constructed from combine concurrently to define what a dress watch is.

Brown or Black Leather Strap

All the best dress watches have a leather strap; it’s the traditional approach for a formal look.

Your watch strap can be either textured or smooth; that’s up to your personal taste. Either black leather or brown leather is acceptable.

dress watch band strap materials

But remember that black is usually the more formal shade in fashion. It’s also required if you’re attending a black-tie or black-tie creative event.

Any type of leather is fair game; alligator leather is often viewed as the fanciest choice.

These days, the style allows for more flexibility and may forgive a leather style for a titanium band in certain situations. However, stick to leather if you want a classic approach to your appearance.

Round or Square Precious Metal Case

Incorporating precious metals in your watch looks beautiful, and they can also increase your timepiece’s lifespan. These materials will always be stylish and never go out of fashion.

Gold, titanium, and platinum are excellent metals for trimming your watch case.

dress watch case material

The gold can be yellow, white, or rose; the color only matters in terms of your preference.

Titanium is a beautiful precious metal for a watch because it’s sturdy and lightweight; it can withstand hard-wearing.

Platinum may be the most expensive metal of the bunch, but it is ideal for its exquisiteness and durability.

Stainless steel coated with precious metal is a very common option for dress watches; it is a way to save money upfront but will devalue over time.

It is a better investment for you to go all-in on precious metal, as it will last longer and retain its value.

dress watch case shape: round vs. square

The shape of your watch case is also variable. While round is the traditional shape for a watch face, a square one is a more creative choice.

Where round is elegant and expected, the square is unique and stylish.

Nomos Orion stainless steel case watch

Square watch faces gained popularity in the early 1900s. An example is the Cartier Tank Solo, which has remained the paragon of square-cased dress watches for over a century.

And you can see why it remains a lasting legacy; it is simple in its form yet stands out from nearly every other dress watch out there.

Cartier Tank Solo XL dress watch

On the other hand, a beautiful example of a round case is the Girard Perregaux 1966. The simplicity of this case makes it an attractive, sophisticated option for pairing with a tuxedo.

Small Case Diameter Size

A dress watch should never look large on your wrist.

Most dress watches have a case size measuring between 34 mm – 40 mm; the exact size you require will depend on the size of your wrist.

It should look proportionate so that your watch is subtle and seems as though it’s just a part of your wrist.

A contrast between the watch face and hands may help, as there is a helpful guideline to determine the best case size for you:

how to choose dress watch diameter size

A dress watch should never be the first thing people notice about your outfit.

It should just seem as if it is an extra detail of your outfit and an extension of your suit. Remember, small equals sophisticated. Large is associated with garish.

A smaller watch face may be a challenge to read, so you will want to try out a couple to find what is easiest for you to see.

Thin Dial Case

Your dress watch should comfortably slide underneath the cuff of your dress shirt.

You don’t want to be seen struggling with your cuff as you pull it down over your watch. Instead, it should smoothly slip over your watch.

watch case thickness

You also don’t want an unsightly bulge under your suit jacket sleeve.

Yet, again, your watch should be unnoticeable. It’s a sleek extension of your wrist, practically a part of your body.

Also, a watch with a thinner profile is more comfortable because it won’t cause your shirt sleeve to bunch up or strain against your arm.

Minimalist Case Complications

A dress watch should be simple and have clean dials. Traditionally, its face is white, but that can vary. Black, silver, or even blue are all attractive options for a more modern approach.

dress watch case complications

A dress watch will primarily have an hour and minute hand and nothing else; even a second hand is considered a tad too busy for most dress watch traditionalists.

The lack of extra features on your watch helps your dress watch fly under the radar; there is less to catch somebody’s eye.

Also, the numbers are generally very simple; they are usually marked as stick indices or Roman numerals for a sophisticated twist.

Finally, if the watch does use Arabic numbers, it probably only incorporates a few at the cardinal points and nothing for the other numbers.

The lack of complications helps make the smaller size easier to read quickly.

Narrow Band Width

The watchband is typically proportional to the case size. It is an extension of the slim silhouette of the dress watch. Just as a small watch case is elegant, so is a narrow band.

dress watch band width

The slim features of a dress watch indicate a certain delicateness, which is core to formal dressing.

Conversely, large or oversized features are frequently seen as aggressive, which is the opposite of the refined feeling that formal attire is going for.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Dress Watch

Choosing a dress watch involves more than just weighing if the separate components add up to make a “dress” watch.

Thus, there are other important considerations for a dress watch.

For example, you need to factor in whether the specific style works for your lifestyle and budget. And perhaps most importantly, whether you like the watch.

If you can check all these items off your list, you will be able to zero in on a perfect watch.

Pick the Right Watch for the Occasion

If you are going to be donning a tuxedo or other formal attire, you must follow the rules for formal dressing, including down to your dress watch.

Unfortunately, formal dress is one area of fashion that is pretty inflexible. So that means your watch must be quite simple.

wear high-quality watch with suit

However, if you are looking for a dress watch to wear with your suit for work every day, you have some wiggle room. You can play with style and color a little bit.

Of course, it’s still advisable to opt for a watch with a small case and thin leather band, but perhaps you can have a watch with a complication or two.

For example, if you are eying a dress watch with a date window or moon phase dial, you can get away with these extras.

Choose a Dress Watch from a Reputable Brand

The odds are that you would like your watch to be around for a long time to come, whether you are a collector making an investment or would like to pass your watch down to the next generation.

You can be sure that you’ll achieve that when you purchase from a widely trusted brand.

Vacheron Constantin Patrimony watch

With proper care, you can pass down your dress watch to future generations. If you aren’t familiar with the maker of the dress watch you are considering, look at their history.

If the brand has been around for a long time and is staying successful, you can be sure that its product is trustworthy.

You don’t need to spend an exorbitant sum on your dress watch, either. You can absolutely find affordable, high-quality dress watches that will last for ages.

Match the Watch with the Rest of Your Attire

Your watch is a small detail that will pull your entire ensemble together. That being said, the leather and the metal must match all the other accessories you are wearing.

Hence, your leather must be the same color as your shoes and your belt; the metals must be reflected in all metals you wear, including your belt buckle and tie clip.

If you decide to wear a brown leather watch, you’ll have to match it with brown shoes and a brown belt.

matching brown dress watch with brown shoes and a brown belt

The face of your dress watch may also be a possible way to tie in other accessories.

For instance, if the dial of your dress watch is dark, that may invite other dark accessories. Perhaps some mother of pearl cufflinks would be appropriate if it is silvery-white.

How to Choose the Dress Watch Movement

There are two options in dress watches for how your watch keeps constantly moving; quartz or automatic.

dress watch movement types: mechanical vs. quartz

Each style is fine, and they both have their drawbacks and benefits. Choosing one should rely on what you want out of your watch and what is most important to you.

Quartz movement watches rely on batteries and will need an occasional change.

The quartz watch was first introduced by the Japanese watch company Seiko in the latter part of the 20th century and instantly became an incredibly popular choice.

wearing quartz dress watch

Quartz watches remain the most common type of watch movement today.

This is because they are less expensive than automatic watches and keep time more accurately. In addition, they are also more durable than their counterpart.

On the other hand, automatic watches need to be worn regularly to keep them running.

wearing mechanical dress watch

This is because they rely on kinetic energy, so the consistent movement of your arms works as an energy source for this type of watch.

So why would somebody opt for a watch that doesn’t keep time as accurately and requires regular wearing?

The craftsmanship of automatic watches is genuinely breathtaking, and many people appreciate that effort and its beautiful results.

However, they are more expensive than quartz watches because they require painstaking effort to create. So these days, an automatic movement watch is considered a status symbol.

That’s why you should choose an automatic movement watch if you want a dress watch that you can pass down to your children or keep as an investment.

How to Choose a Dress Watch FAQs

For such a small, largely unnoticed piece of your outfit, a dress watch sure has a lot of rules and guidelines to follow. Here’s a quick rundown to remind you what to keep in the front of your mind when you are watch shopping.

Can dress watches have metal bands?

In the most traditional sense, dress watches have leather bands. However, rules aren’t as strict in the way they used to be, and a metal bracelet watch isn’t the faux pas it once was. So only wear a metal bracelet if that’s your only option. Or if you are James Bond.

Is it a faux pas to wear an affordable dress watch?

Absolutely not. Most men do not have a disposable income to spend on a flashy timepiece. And the truth is that unless you choose a watch that is obviously falling apart, nobody will be able to tell that your watch didn’t cost you a small fortune.

How to choose the right dress watch for a wedding?

A simple and minimalist watch is required for a wedding outfit. It would be best if you had a leather band that’s either black or brown, whichever color matches your shoes and belt. Stick with a plain white face with no complications, and you have your perfect wedding dress watch.

Should I choose a round or a square dress watch?

Both styles are excellent. A round face is a traditional option as well as the most common one. A square face is a refined alternative that, if done properly, can be very elegant and pleasing to the eye.

Alexander Stoicoff
Author: Alexander Stoicoff

Hi, I’m Alex, and I’ve studied and specialized in styling in Rome. Through my writing, I want to help men dress well and learn the purpose and significance of suits and other formal attire. My final goal is to make men more confident in their wardrobe choice and life in general.

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