I believe that every watch fan/geek/collector needs a good dress watch. Whether it would get worn once a year or once a week, there will always be an occasion where a classy, small and unobtrusive watch is required. That being said, if you are someone who only would require a dress watch for one or maybe two occasions a year, you may not be willing to spend the money on one. Well fear not, in this article I am going to give you an affordable option for a dress watch, something a bit more mid-range, and then something which is just pure unobtanium... We will also look at some honorable mentions, due to the fact that as per, narrowing my exhaustive list down to just 3 has been near impossible.
Affordable: Cartier Tank Vermeil
The painfully annoying thing about this entry is that despite still being within the realms of relative affordability, these watches were even more affordable about three years ago. A good friend of ours Dexter purchased a maroon dial variation of this watch 3 or so years ago, and if my memory serves me correctly, paid significantly under £500. These watches are quintessential Cartier. Coming in the classic rectangular case, with the distinct cabochon on the crown, and the classic two hand layout that has made this watch such an icon. The only benefit here is the significantly reduced price when compared to its big brothers, the Tank Solo as an example. The reason for its reduced price is more often than not down to two reasons. One is the fact that a lot of examples, especially those in gold, are not actually in gold. They are gold capped, or plated. This means that a well used second hand example could be a lot worse for wear than a second hand Tank Solo, but if you can find one in good condition, or one that has been well looked after, this is not normally something that will present itself as an issue, especially considering the potential infrequency with which it is worn. The second reason for these being able to be had at such a steal is the fact that a lot of them feature quartz movement. Now, before you start burning your torches and shouting at me, hear me out. My philosophy with Tanks has always been this. Considering they are such a design icon, are you not fundamentally buying them for that fact more than anything else? Even a mechanical Tank is nothing to write home about? So therefore If you can bag a mint example of a Tank Vermiel for well under £1,500, and its ultra-thin because of the quartz movement, whilst also not featuring a second hand (So would you even know anyway??) is that really a bad thing? I think not. The other beautiful thing about these watches is the variation. Not only do they come in gold or stainless steel, the sheer variety of dial layouts means there really is something for everyone, and if you do not believe me, just have a look down below...
Here are just two examples of the variety that can be had in this line of Tanks... and this does not even scratch the surface!
Mid-Tier: Patek Phillipe Ellipse
Now I know what you are thinking, a Patek Phillipe making it in as the 'Mid-Tier' entry on a list of 3 watches?! Are you insane Felix?? Well no I am not. Believe it or not, it is very possible to get a watch from the big 3 for significantly less than £10,000. The Patek Ellipse, whilst having what some people may consider to be a polarising design, I think is elegant as hell. The particular example that I am going to focus on for the purpose of this article is the example that I have been in love with for some years now, and is sitting firmly in my grail list. The example in question is the Patek Phillipe 3748. This particular variant comes in a yellow gold case, measuring 32mm x 27mm. Now I know for a lot of you the size alone will be something that you cannot look past, but I would highly recommend trying one of these on if you get the chance. The unusual case size does mean it wears significantly larger than listed. This example also features an in-house caliber 215 manual wind movement, which is certainly an added bonus. The thing that really pulls on my heart strings here though is the dial. It features a midnight blue sunburst dial that is just stunning. That is the only way to describe it, absolutely stunning. Now it has to be said that the price range for these watches does vary somewhat. They can be had for anywhere between £2k and £20k, but if you go for an earlier example, like one from the 80's, it can comfortably be had for less than £10,000, or in some cases even less than £5,000. For a dress watch, from Patek Phillipe no less, being able to snag one for well under £10,000 seems like a no brainer to me.
The absolute stunner that is the Patek Phillipe Ref. 3748...
Unobtanium: Rolex 6062 Bao Dai
For our stupid luxury entry in this article, we have moved away from the big 3, and gone back to the most famous watch brand of all time, none other than Rolex. It is worth mentioning that I wanted to go with the Patek Phillipe 5078P Minute Repeater, but in the interest of variety I thought that I would go with my second choice for this category. This watch has caused a lot of hype amongst the watch community, mainly because it is the most expensive Rolex watch ever sold at auction. To say this watch is rare would be an understatement. We are talking here about true unicorn pube, hens tooth unobtanium level, but god what I would do own this watch... Rolex, please reissue it I beg you! The thing that amuses me about this watch is that despite being a) highly complicated and b) elegant as all hell, is the fact that is shares exactly the same case as a run of the mill 1601 Datejust. This just emphasises the sheer versatility of the oyster case, that it can lend itself to something as basic but versatile as a DJ, as well as something as elegant and complicated as a 6062. This watch is actually rather busy in terms of dial layout, and some may argue a bit of a curve ball in an article about dress watches. However, being gold for a start, and coming in at 36mm, is already pushing this watch into 'dressy' territory. Furthermore, the deep black dial, and subtle gold text, would certainly lend this watch better to a more formal setting. The icing on top of the cake here is the other feature that makes this particular 6062 'unique'. This is the diamond indexes that you can see in the photo below. Now for me there is a very fine line between very classy and very gaudy executions of diamonds. However, in this instance, I think the diamond indexes are spot on. They compliment that black gilt perfectly, and do a really good job at subduing what anyone would say is quite a lot of gold. And now the reason why this watch has been chosen as this articles 'unobtanium' piece... This watch, as previously mentioned, is the most expensive Rolex watch ever sold at auction. The unique execution coupled with it being the personal watch of Bao Dai, the last emperor of Vietnam, means that it fetched slightly more than your average Rolex. The hammer dropped on this watch at an eye watering £4,000,000. Suffice to say if I had that sort of cash burning a hole in my pocket, this definitely would have been a contender for the irresponsible thing I could have done with it. This watch will always be completely out of reach, but if Rolex decide to reissue the 6062, rest assured that I will have a tingly feeling in the pant region...
One of the most beautiful watches of all time, the Rolex Ref. 6062 'Bao Dai'....
Now, as deciding on just 3 watches from the exhaustive list was such a monumental struggle, I feel like an honourable mention for each of the three categories is a fitting way to conclude this article. With that in mind, the toss up in the 'affordable' category was a really tough one. The other watch I wanted to feature is not even a watch from a particular brand. To offer some context, a big idol of mine in the watch world, Christian Zeron of Theo & Harris, a few years ago added a watch to his collection, and it is the watch below, an Anonymous Jump Hour Watch from the 1940's (I think).
Now I think that personally this watch is pure class. Not only do you get a cobuchon, but you also get an incredibly subtly display of the time. This watch screams dress and even black tie watch for me. The concept behind black tie and very formal attire is that actually a watch is not meant to be worn at all, as checking the time at such a formal gathering would be frowned upon. Obviously today such a wonderful piece of tradition is seldom followed, but in the interest of satisfying both my love for watches and tradition, I feel like this watch would be a perfect way to kill two birds with one stone. As this watch is not as easy to read at a glance as a traditional watch, I feel it would lend itself perfectly to rarely being checked at all, but whilst still acting as a safety blanket of having a watch on the wrist. Plus as a conversation starter goes, I think you would struggle to match this considering the price that one of these can be picked up for.
It has to be said, however, that whilst these watches are definitely 'affordable', if you wanted an example as gorgeous as the one pictured, it may tip over into the £1/2,000 range.
The second honourable mention is for the 'mid-tier' category. Now surprisingly, the decision within this category was between two watches from Patek Phillipe. The watch in question which got pipped at the post by the 3748 is this beauty, the 3919 Calatrava. This watch, which features roman numerals, sub seconds and a “Clou de Paris” (also known as hobnail) guilloché bezel, is another quintessential dress watch. It comes in yellow or white gold, is ultra thin, and is as classic as can be. However, the reasoning behind not choosing it was the fact that this is a very traditional dress watch. The thing that persuaded me to choose the 3748 instead was the eye catching nature of it with the unusual shape and mesmerising blue dial.
This particular Patek, although absolutely gorgeous, and I would certainly not say no if someone offered me one, is not a head turner. I feel like a dress watch needs to be classy and understated, whilst also have something going on which turns peoples heads. Unfortunately, despite being perhaps the epitome of elegance, this watch simply just is not a head turner.
That being said, despite not being perhaps as head turning as the 3748, this watch is pretty special. Coming in at a perfect (in my eyes) 33.5mm case, and at just 6.5mm thick, this truly is ultra-thin heaven. This would slip under a shirt cuff with no problem whatsoever.
The final honourable mention comes from the absurd highs of premium watchmaking, the 'unobtanium' category. Whilst I think, personally, that the 6062 'Bao Dai' is a fitting choice, both as a slightly left-field dress watch, as well as a definite good choice for the category, there is one watch that I was very tempted to go with. This watch did not make the final two in this category because of its crazy value, i mean dont get me wrong it is still bonkers money, but not £4million bonkers. No, this watch has made it onto the list purely because it is so ridiculously hard to come by. The watch in question is none other than the Simplicity, by probably the greatest living watchmaker, Mr Phillipe Dufour. The Simplicity is, as you might imagine, a relatively conservative design, with a simple 2 hand display, and a sub seconds dial at the 6 o'clock position. The case measures 37mm across, and comes in a range of precious metals. The real excitement and watch nerdery comes when the watch is turned over. The movement on this thing is just a different level of watchmaking. The watch was completely designed by Dufour himself, who actually taught himself AutoCAD to be able to design the intricate parts. The rarity of these watches is what made them such a contender. Unfortunately only 200 were made, with 150 being shipped straight to Japan, from all accounts. Unfortunately this means that if you want one, they are only going to pop up at auction. This of course means that they will be sold at a premium. Simplicities at auction frequently fetch £200,000 and upwards, which certainly puts them in to 'unobtanium' territory.
It is hard to argue how perfect this watch is... Simplicity really is the ultimate sophistication.
Well geeks, I hope you have enjoyed another installment of '3 at 3'. Considering the fact that dress watches are probably my favourite genre of watches if you will, it was a lot of fun putting this list together. As always if you agree, disagree or have any comments if queries about any of the watches I have mentioned, please drop us an email or a DM on our instagram!
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