Unlike a dive watch or pilot's watch, what defines a dress watch dressy is a bit more nebulous — and what makes a good dress watch is somewhat subjective. Truthfully, you can wear pretty much any watch you want with a suit (you can thank James Bond, with his propensity to wear a diver with a tux, for that), and men's styles in the 2020s are looser and more casual than ever. But to really elevate your game, you'll want to get yourself a proper dress watch.

What Makes a Dress Watch?

Sport watches are usually defined by their specific purpose, but a dress watch's purpose is, well, for dressing up and looking spiffy. It doesn't need to be rugged or particularly water-resistant, and most are rated merely as "splash-resistant" (usually 30m). What they need to do is tell the time clearly and accurately, be enjoyable to wear and provide a tasteful accent to a relatively formal style.

More specifically, dress watches should be elegant and often minimal, beautiful when noticed but not calling too much attention to themselves. Ideally, a dress watch is on the small side, often 40mm or less, thin in order to fit easily under a cuff and will feature some polished metal. While monochromatic designs are safe, traditional and versatile, colors like blue and gold are often also appropriate. You probably know a dress watch when you see it, but these features are worth considering.

Types of Dress Watches

There's more variety among dress watches than many people perhaps realize. Dress watches come in a wide range of shapes and styles, and they can feature different techniques and complications. You might want to narrow down your search based on the type of dress watch that most interests you.

Round or "shaped?" The traditional watch shape is round, and that's true of dress watches, too, but dress watches are often particularly suited to offer more unique shapes. Rectangular watches like the Cartier Tank are the most popular and pretty much represent the pinnacle of formality, but other shapes from squares to tonneau and even odd ones are possible.

Minimal or ornate? You can go starkly minimal, but there's plenty of room for interesting details, exotic techniques and interesting designs — as long as they all add up to a classical look in the end. Simple designs can often help keep a watch more affordable, but they can also represent restraint and subtlety with textures or materials (like, say, porcelain dials) to add interest. Ornate watches, on the other hand, might include exotic decoration techniques such as guilloche.

Simple or complicated? A lot of dress watches are functionally even simpler than daily wear watches: they might feature only hours and minutes, doing away with a seconds hand. On the other hand, some of the most elevated watchmaking in the world crams all manner of functionality into small, elegant cases. Think complications like chronographs, moonphases and perpetual calendars. All of these can add significantly to a watch's price, but they can also take your dress watch game to quite another level.

One additional note: Dress watches are essentially classically styled timepieces, and you don't need to wear a suit to enjoy them. Go ahead and rock one with a t-shirt and jeans — we're right there with you.

While we've outlined above what makes a great dress watch, the following examples do an even better job of illustrating it. Spanning in price from the low hundreds to well into five figures, these are emblematic of the perfect fancy dress timepiece.

Hamilton Intra-Matic Auto

Best Overall Mens Dress Watch
Hamilton Intra-Matic Auto
hamiltonwatch.com
$945.00

The Intra-Matic is consistently one of our favorite dress watches under $1,000. Essentially a reissue of a Hamilton watch from the ’60s, the it delivers retro-inspired looks by way of a radiant sunburst dial, a thin bezel and case, and a Hamilton’s vintage “H” logo. The Intra-Matic was recently updated with more dial options, all of which are worth considering. Inside beats a thin and relatively premium ETA 2892-2 automatic movement, and two cases diameters — 38mm and 42mm — are available.

  • Diameter: 38mm; 42mm
  • Movement: ETA 2892-2 automatic

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    Cartier Tank Must Extra-Large

    Best Upgrade Mens Dress Watch
    Cartier Tank Must Extra-Large
    cartier.com
    $3,700.00

    One of the most iconic watches of all time, the Cartier Tank is almost like a tuxedo for the wrist. While it comes in a number of versions, the Tank Must Watch Extra-Large is a particularly classic look, has an automatic Cartier 1847 MC movement inside, and is one of the brand’s most affordable mechanical watches for men. Don’t be confused by the “XL” moniker — this is still a modest-wearing watch at 31mm wide, about 41mm in length, and under 8.4mm thick.

    • Diameter: 31mm
    • Movement: Cartier 1847 MC automatic

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      Orient Bambino

      Best Budget Mens Dress Watch
      Orient Bambino
      amazon.com
      $135.00

      If you've never experienced the charm of a thin, restrained dress watch, rejoice — you're young and have your whole life ahead of you. Also, however, you can do so even if you're on a budget. The Orient Bambino collection recreates a vintage dress watch aesthetic with with a range of variations that make it fun and a shockingly good value. Everything you need, nothing you don't — and an in-house Japanese automatic movement. All for well under $200.

      • Diameter: 40.5mm
      • Movement: Orient F6722 automatic

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        Timex Q 1978 Reissue Day-Date

        Q Timex 1978 Reissue Day-Date
        timex.com
        $179.00

        Maybe you're more into sport watches but want to have a dress watch on hand and not spend a lot on it. Or maybe you just like a retro, dressy look for everyday wear. And don't want to spend a lot. Well, Timex does a great job in offering something for any of those needs with this beautifully executed model (reviewed here) from its proudly quartz "Q" collection.

        • Diameter: 37mm
        • Movement: Quartz

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          Tissot LeLocle Powermatic 80

          Tissot LeLocle Powermatic 80
          watchesofswitzerland.com
          $575.00

          A Swiss automatic watch that's this attractive, well sized, and with all the right specs like sapphire crystal? It's not so easy to find at a price like this. Even better is the movement inside, which is indicated in the name: "Powermatic 80" refers to the upgraded ETA movements offered by many Swatch Group companies boasting convenient 80-hour power reserves. It's even reasonably thin at 9.8mm.

          • Diameter: 39.3mm
          • Movement: Powermatic 80.111 automatic

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            Junghans Max Bill Hand-Winding

            Junghans Max Bill Hand-Winding
            amazon.com
            $1,000.00

            Celebrated industrial designer Max Bill's work lives on in the form of this beautiful Bauhaus watch. Hand-wound and outfitted with a simple leather strap, it's it's one of the best values in dress watches under $1,000 and will easily pair with anything from jeans to a suit and tie. Available in several dial colors, it's kind of like a more refined version of, say, an Orient Bambino (see below) — in this case, however, equipped with a Swiss movement, luminous dial and a slightly more German-minimalist feel.

            • Diameter: 34mm
            • Movement: ETA 2801 hand-wound

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              Seiko Presage Sharp Edged Series

              Seiko Presage Sharp Edged Series
              seikoluxe.com
              $1,000.00

              You'll find tons of great dress watch options in Seiko's Presage line. There's the ever popular and affordable Cocktail Time series, of course, but the Sharp Edged series stands out for a couple reasons. They sit right in the mid range of the collection and offer premium features like sapphire crystal and an example the brand's famously expert dial execution. The dials are faceted in a unique and captivating way that doesn't distract from legibility or its sober vibe.

              • Diameter: 39.3mm
              • Movement: ETA 2892-2 automatic

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                Longines Flagship Heritage

                Longines Flagship Heritage
                longines.com
                $1,675.00

                Longines is quietly making beautiful, refined watches that truly deserve to be seen in person. This new Flagship Heritage has a conservative but warm vibe with a that hearkens back to decades past. It’s powered by an ETA 2895 automatic movement and has a classic appeal, with a thin 38.5mm case that’ll slide right under a cuff.

                • Diameter: 38.5mm
                • Movement: ETA 2895 automatic

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                  Oris Rectangular

                  Oris Rectangular
                  oris.ch
                  $1,950.00

                  The Oris Rectangular (reviewed here) is one of the few modern watches that pulls off the rectangular shape without feeling stuffy or derivative of the Cartier Tank — and yet it makes a great, relatively affordable alternative to it. One note is that the colors of the included straps (shown here is a muted green) make it difficult to match to a lot of formal attire. Swap in a black leather strap (for the gray or white dial version, especially) and you're good to go.

                  • Diameter: 38.5mm
                  • Movement: ETA 2895 automatic

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                    Nomos Orion 38 White

                    Nomos Orion 38 White
                    nomos-glasshuette.com
                    $2,560.00

                    The Orion is one of the watches that helped put Nomos on the map back in the ’90s, and it’s as handsome today as it was when it first debuted. What has changed in this version is a bump in size to 38mm from the original’s 35mm, giving it a bit more appeal to men with larger wrists. Driving the watch is Nomos’s Alpha caliber, the company’s first in-house effort and a manually wound movement.

                    • Diameter: 38mm
                    • Movement: Nomos Alpha hand-wound

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                      Ophion 786 Vélos

                      Ophion 786 Vélos
                      ophion-watches.com
                      $3,435.00

                      The classic design of the 39mm-wide Ophion 786 is based on early Breguet pocket watches from the late 1700s but features the brand’s own twist. In its newest version, the watch is available with Arabic numerals, striking handsets and beautiful dial executions available in different colors and textures, including guilloché. Even the Technotime movement inside, with an exclusive Ophion bridge design and hand-hammered finish, is intended to reference the Breguet era. These are features often associated with high-end horology, making the Ophion 786 Vélos easy to recommend.

                      • Diameter: 39mm
                      • Movement: Soprod/MHVJ hand-wound

                        Grand Seiko Heritage Soko

                        Grand Seiko Heritage Soko
                        grand-seiko.com
                        $6,900.00

                        Grand Seiko has become more than the cult favorite of watch collectors it once was and now enjoys great mainstream enthusiasm. Adored for high levels of finishing and refinement, their watches offer remarkable value, even at luxury prices. Many offer a dressy style, and the beautiful Seasons Soko is a US-exclusive collection with gorgeous dial executions, here in frosty-blue, representing Grand Seiko’s typical approach of high refinement and strong value.

                        • Diameter: 40mm
                        • Movement: Grand Seiko 9S85 automatic

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                          Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Date

                          Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Date
                          jaeger-lecoultre.com
                          $8,400.00

                          The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master debuted over 25 years ago, and with it came the brand’s “1,000 Hour Control” test, where each watch was tested for 1,000 hours for accuracy and durability before being delivered to customers. It’s just one reason why Jaeger-LeCoultre stealthily offers such a great watch; the rest comes down to details like the slim 40mm case, the expert finishing on the JLC Caliber 899AC inside and the refined dial of this Master Control Date model.

                          • Diameter: 40mm
                          • Movement: Jaeger-LeCoultre cal. 899AC automatic

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                            Slim d’Hermés

                            Slim d’Hermés
                            hermes.com
                            $7,125.00

                            The Slim d’Hermés features elegant numerals in the place of more traditional hour markers, which are the work of French graphic designer Philippe Apeloig, done exclusively for Hermés. Apart from being elegant and unique, the watch features an ultra-thin movement and comes in a sleek 39.5mm case.

                            • Diameter: 39.5mm
                            • Movement: Hermès H1950 (Vaucher base) hand-wound

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                              Parmigiani Fluerier Tonda 1950

                              Parmigiani Fluerier Tonda 1950
                              parmigiani.com
                              $9,800.00

                              Though not so well-known outside watch circles, Parmigiani Fleurier makes some incredible high-end watches. The Tonda 1950 is one of the brand’s simpler designs, featuring a 40mm stainless steel case and an opaline-finished dial, with an in-house automatic movement that’s just 2.6mm thick.

                              • Diameter: 40mm
                              • Movement: Parmigiani Fleurier PF701 hand-wound

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                                A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin

                                A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin
                                alange-soehne.com
                                $17,300.00

                                German watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne is likely on many a watch fanatic’s bucket list of brands to own, due to the fantastic fit and finish of its watches. When in 2016 it announced its most affordable piece to date, the Saxonia Thin 37mm, the barrier to entry got a little easier to clear. The watch case itself is incredibly thin (and comes in either pink or white gold) and features a minimal dial, three hands and an exhibition case back to show off the incredible movement finishing inside.

                                • Diameter: 37mm
                                • Movement: Lange & Söhne cal. L941.1 hand-wound

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