The Best Dress Watches for Every Budget

For men, finding the right dress watch is similar to finding the right suit. It should fit you well, reflect your personal style, and elevate your look in formal settings. But even if you don’t put on a suit very often, having a solid dress timepiece is a must.

“Every man needs very few accessories to look great in a formal setting—but a dress watch is one of them,” says stylist and watch expert Paul Frederick. “Instead of the bells, whistles, and bulk that come with sportier watches, a slim, classic dress watch adds polish without stealing the show.”

Also like a suit purchase, doing your research before you make the plunge is critical. Here’s what you need to know when adding a polished dress watch to your time-telling arsenal.

What Makes a Dress Watch

Most dress watches are recognizable by their slim profile and clean aesthetic, free of the many complications you’d find in a dive watch or a pilot watch. Many have a leather strap of some kind, be it calfskin, crocodile, or other exotic hides. However, there are some exceptions for finer steel bracelets, which typically give off a sportier vibe.

What to Look for in a Dress Watch

A dress watch should be around 40 millimeters in diameter or smaller. Look for a clean dial—darker is typically more formal—that’s simple and elegant but still eye catching. Unique leather straps will elevate your look, whether they’re embossed or real. Black and brown are the safe choices, but try a green or blue strap if you dare.

What to Consider Before Buying

First, think about how often you’ll wear this watch, and let that dictate your budget. However, you don’t want to drop a grand or more for a watch that you’ll only wear with a suit. Consider buying a more casual bracelet or strap as well so you can swap it out for a more laid-back vibe.

And although there are tons of modern dress watches to choose from, don’t forget vintage options. They tend to be compact and easy to wear with more formal attire. Sites like Chrono24 and Tourneau are good places to start.

How to Wear a Dress Wristwatch

Fit is crucial with dress watches because you’ll often be wearing it with long sleeves. “The slimmer a watch, the better, as these watches need to fit under your tailored sleeve cuff,” Frederick says. If you get custom shirts made, tell your tailor which wrist you wear your watch on so they can leave more room in the cuff.

If you’re right-handed, your watch’s crown and part of the case should barely peek out when standing at rest. When you bend your elbow 90 degrees or more, your jacket and shirt should reveal your whole watch. If this isn’t the case, wear your watch and suit to your tailor, and they can adjust it accordingly.

But don’t worry too much about breaking any style rules. The most important thing is loving the watch you buy.

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