James Bond wears a dive watch with a tuxedo, but that doesn't mean you should. Today's culture is more casual than ever, but there's still a place for that most archetypal of all timepiece styles: the dress watch. Though simple by nature, dress watches don't need to be boring or relegated solely to stuffy events — and they don't have to cost an arm and a leg.
Though loosely defined, you mostly know a dress watch when you see one: it's like a suit for your wrist, with clean lines and monochromatic colors that'll tastefully accent formal attire (or even a T-shirt and jeans, if you so choose). In its purest and most classical form, a good dress watch should be simple and restrained in terms of size and design, but carry a sheen of refinement.
In concrete terms, typical traits include thin cases, polished metals, leather straps, and simple functionality. Most are water-resistant to only 30m — nothing more is necessary. What dress watches fundamentally do well is tell the time and reflect the wearer's taste without a lot of fuss. It's a simple formula, and the watches below prove that it can be done well for not a lot of cash.
A majority of Danish brand Skagen's timepieces could probably serve dress-watch duty, as they're typically moderately sized, thin and tastefully minimalist in design. Housing quartz movements, they offer the sleek style you want at very accessible prices, of which the 6mm-thick Jorn is a perfect example.
If you'd rather not spend your precious dive watch money on something formal, an Orient Bambino will serve you well and cut a dashing profile for a remarkably reasonable price. The collection offers a range of well-executed design iterations, in-house movements, and excellent build quality for the money.
Movement: Orient F6722 Automatic
The Marlin is Timex's flagship mechanical watch, notable for its accessible price and throwback style. Infused with a handsome, retro design and restrained sizing at 40mm, it features a domed acrylic crystal for those vintage vibes and comes on a leather strap that elevates its overall feel.
Movement: Miyota 8215 Automatic
Though Waldan was established in 1979, it's got a story that goes farther back and a newly reinvigorated image that looks to a future of American-made watches. The Heritage collection has a cool retro feel, great build quality and a quartz movement that's produced in the USA.
The MVMT Arc Automatic collection offers a minimalist design and an automatic movement for a rather reasonable price. At 41mm it's on the boldly sized side for a dress watch, but will be perfect for those who like that look or who have larger wrists.
Movement: Miyota 82XX automatic
A counterpart to Seiko's family of rugged Prospex watches, the Presage collection offers more elegant options in a similar mid-level price range. Upholding the brand's reputation, the SRPE45 boasts incredible bang for buck, with a gold-accented green dial, plenty of personality and excellent build.
Movement: Seiko 4R35 Automatic
Tissot has some of the highest bang-for-buck Swiss automatic watches out there. The Le Locle series has a very classical, formal look, and this particular model is powered by the upgraded 80-hour-power-reserve automatic movement found in many fellow Swatch Group brands in the entry-level range.
Movement: ETA C07.111
Equally classic, minimal and distinctive, there aren't many watches that are even comparable to the most famous Bauhaus watch of them all, the Max Bill. The watch's namesake designed it in 1961, and it hasn't really changed. We can confidently say that if you simply want one dress watch, just get one from this iconic collection.
Movement: ETA 2801-2 manual
It's probably no coincidence that Hamilton's Intra-Matic debuted in 2012 around the height of Mad Men's popularity — it would fit right in among the world of midcentury New York advertising executives. Despite its basic stick hands and indices, it packs a masculine panache that's anything but boring. Thanks to its premium ETA 2892 automatic movement, the case remains thin at just 10mm.
Diameter: 38mm or 42mm
Movement: ETA 2892 Automatic
It's only 7.3mm thick. That's a good start for an automatic dress watch, and Mido's Baroncelli further clocks in at a possibly ideal 39mm wide, as well as packs a clean, sharp look. That textured dial is sure to provide strong contrast and legibility, and the build quality won't disappoint either.
Movement: ETA 2892A2 automatic