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 five watches below prove that it can be done well for not a lot of moolah.
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
Timex Marlin 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
A counterpart to Seiko's family of rugged Prospex watches, the Presage collection offers more elegant options in a similar mid-level price range. In line with the brand's reputation, the SARY059 boasts incredible bang for buck, with a silver dial, plenty of personality and excellent build.
Movement: Seiko 4R36 Automatic
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