The Life of a Collector Curating a Collection: The Dress Watch

What is a Dress Watch?

Wearing a dress watchIf you are in the market to begin (or add to) a watch collection, there’s a very good chance you know what your first (or next) piece will be. You’ve probably done extensive research on the piece, you’ve asked your friends and family what they think. You’ve got it all figured out. But what if you as just getting started? What if you don’t really know where to begin? Perhaps you have some money set aside, but you like a dozen different watches, all within your budget, and you simply can’t decide to pull the trigger.

I’ve worked with many customers who don’t really know where to begin, they just know that they’d like to begin. It’s my job — and frankly one of the best parts of my job — to show people the options available to them and help them understand the dynamics of starting a collection. So we start at a fundamental level: style. Not only are we looking at the style of your watch but more importantly how does the style of the watch and the person that’s wearing it mesh?

The most important style of watch is the dress watch. It’s timeless, it’s classic, it’s basic. Every collection should have a dress watch. That’s not to say every collection has a dress watch, in fact, I would argue many collectors pass off non-dress watches as a dresses watch purely because of personal taste. Another reason many collections seem to lack a dress watch is notion that a genuine dress watch must be made of a precious metal. I disagree.

What should it look like?

Let’s first define a dress watch. It should be thin, modestly sized, two or three-handed, attached with a leather strap, may or may not feature a date, and should be mechanical. Now, on the date feature, I prefer no date. In fact, I prefer no complications for a true dress watch. Less is more and a dress watch ought to be a piece that oozes class. It should be a piece that you can wear with a suit, a tux, casual business and even a pair of jeans. It ought not be something that’s too flashy or ostentatious.

Since we’ve now established what a dress watch is and is not, as a consumer and collector one must focus on the aesthetics of the watch. You must like the watch or what’s the sense in owning it? You must like the way it feels on your wrist and it should make you feel happy! By the way, this goes with any watch purchase. In terms of size, one must always look at the size of the watch and the size of the person wearing the watch. This is especially important when looking for a dress watch. The size range can be anywhere from 33mm to 41mm. At 6’3″, I find the ideal case size for a dress watch on my wrist to be from 37-40mm and that 37-39mm is the sweet spot for dress watches in most cases. Remember, the sculpture and shape of the case is different not only from brand to brand, but model to model within the same brand. It’s always best to try on a watch and compare it to something in order to get a true fit.

I believe a silver or white dial is the appropriate choice for a dress watch. I enjoy having the flexibility of changing out black, navy and brown leather straps to change the dynamic of the dress watch with what I’m wearing. But I definitely recommend comparing contrasting or off color dials as well. Your watch has to make you feel happy.


Jaeger LeCoultre Ultra ThinI do have some fairly strong recommendations to check out if you’re in the market for a dress watch. I’ve long maintained that the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Ultra Thin is the best value for the money of any new watch on the market today. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s most basic Master Control in stainless steel provides a timeless look, a perfect size – 38mm in diameter and 6.3mm thick, an in-house movement, and as important of a name on the dial as there is in the world. It is as impressive a combination as you will find on the market today.

Perhaps you fancy something a little bit more modern looking and still budget friendly? If so, you must check out the Nomos Tangomat. Nomos is known for their minimalistic style and in-house movement production. This terrific piece features a 38.3mm diameter and 8.3mm thick steel case. Everything from the case design, to the shape of the hands, to font on the dial, and the finishing of the movement is outstanding.

If budget restrictions aren’t really an issue, then I would certainly suggest a Patek Philippe 5196P-001, the Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle, and the A. Lange & Sohne 1815. Each brand represents the absolute best the watchmaking world has to offer and these three models each represent the very best of their respective brands. Again, each watch is smaller than 39mm with a very thin profile for optimal wearing comfort.

In the quest to create the best watch collection possible, keep in mind the different styles. A dress watch is like a navy, well-fitted suit; it’s a must have. A timeless dress watch will undoubtedly out-live the cyclical fads and dominate fashion trends of today and tomorrow as it will be the one watch you can always count on to be right for almost every occasion!

About Jon Callahan
Father, husband and watch enthusiast. After getting his start as a stock boy in a jewelry store and watching them expand to carry Swiss watch brands including: Ulysse Nardin, Oris and Roger Dubuis, he was hooked. His first watch is an Oris XXL Chronograph which he still owns. He has also owned a Graham Chronofighter Oversized, a Panerai PAM 251 Daylight and an Oris Pro Driver. His ultimate grail watch is the ultra rare Kari Voutilainen Monopoussoir Chronograph. Find Jon at the Philadelphia location of Govberg Jewelers.