The Return of the Dress Watch! Back from the Brink with 5 Watches from Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Chopard, and Montblanc
by Martin Green
In terms of dress watches, the first thought for many is of a watch in its purest form: an elegant gold case of modest diameter with a slender profile, leather strap, and two, at the most three, hands.
While refined, these watches are also considered rather conservative and on the verge of extinction. Like dinosaurs, they once ruled the world. But those were different days.
Remember those old movies from the 1950s and 1960s or even the pictures in your own family albums from that same era? Hats and suits, often three-piece suits, were staples of the gentleman in those photos. For a factory foreman or a welder in a shipyard, the only difference in attire was that the first wore a suit all the time while the latter only wore a suit for on Sundays and special occasions.
Since those days, fashion has changed immensely. Most companies have loosened their dress protocols (for both men and women) with regard to appropriate clothing at work; restaurants refusing service to customers without a suit jacket are hardly in existence anymore; heads of state get more votes without a tie than with; and someone in a tracksuit and sneakers walking into a luxury boutique might very well be a celebrity or millionaire on their way to make a serious purchase.
This means that fewer men have fewer occasions to dress up, which is even truer in the pandemic era in which working from home – at least part of the time – has become the new standard for many.
Dress watches: from mainstream to decline
“Dress watches” were initially just “watches.”
Before World War II, as well as right after, the vast majority of brands did not have a sports watch collection; dress watches were allrounder watches. But then again, in those days you might have also played tennis wearing a tie and belt.
When the majority of people gained the means to relaxation and recreation, clothing became more casual. And the dress watch began to decline in numbers.
In the higher tiers of luxury watchmaking, the dress watch held its ground longer for several reasons. First of all, a luxury clientele was both more likely to be more conservative and have the means to afford several watches. Because this clientele could surround itself with finer things, its understanding of watchmaking might have also been a bit more developed, providing better base knowledge of why even the simplest dress watch is worth the money.
While the numbers in this market’s stratosphere would eventually dwindle, many brands stayed faithful to the concept of the dress watch – certainly at least somewhat because it was part of the classic marques’ “DNA.”
Chopard L.U.C QF Jubilee: sport or dressy? You decide
One of those brands is Chopard. While Chopard most certainly has many sporty creations in its collection, the brand has always remained set on the concept of the dress watch, continuing to successfully offer these watches over the years.
Especially after opening its own manufacture 25 years ago, Chopard offered signature dress watches with movements to match. Today, more than ever, a dress watch needs to be able to entice with an exceptional movement as well.
One of the watches that Chopard introduced to celebrate its manufacture’s anniversary in 2021 has a sporty side but will also suck you in to the fine art of loving dress watches too.
The L.U.C QF Jubilee has a pleasing stainless steel case and two-color dial, but it also has so much refinement that many gold-encased dress watches would be jealous. The attention to detail is breathtaking, from the shape of the hands to the distinctive finish of the dial.
The L.U.C QF Jubilee meets the strict Qualité Fleurier criteria – the first qualitative horological certification for encased watches – and is the very first stainless steel watch of Chopard to be awarded this rare mark of excellence, which unites several tests within one single certification. These watches must be 100 percent manufactured in Switzerland; C.O.S.C. certified as a chronometer; successfully Chronofiable tested (a Swiss certification that basically tests that a watch will age gracefully); and finished according to haute horlogerie criteria. And the finished watch must pass the Fleuritest, a local procedure that ensures that the watch’s rate is between 0 and +5 seconds’ deviation per day.
The question is whether the L.U.C QF Jubilee will be bought by owners of sportier watches looking for something more refined or connoisseurs who already wear dress watches looking for something sportier?
Either way, the only downside about the L.U.C QF Jubilee is that Chopard will make just 25 of them – so it won’t have much chance to convert many people to the art of dress watches.
For more information, please visit www.chopard.com/us/l-u-c-qf-jubilee.
Quick Facts Chopard L.U.C QF Jubilee
Case: 39 x 8.9 mm, stainless steel, 30 m water resistance
Movement: automatic Caliber L.U.C 96.09-L with micro rotor, 65-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency, officially C.O.S.C. chronometer and Qualité Fleurier certified
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 25 pieces
Chopard L.U.C Quattro Spirit 25: a connoisseur’s delight
It has become an almost secret badge of honor for watch connoisseurs to wear a dress watch that only a fellow connoisseur would recognize – and whose understated dial and case contrast with the elaborate and refined movement seen through the case back.
Chopard has always given its dress watches a small yet distinct twist, which is certainly also the case with the recently introduced L.U.C Quattro Spirit 25.
The Spirit 25 is the first watch from Chopard to feature a jump hour, yet its styling is so pure that it is essentially a dress watch in disguise. This is mainly thanks to the sober yet charismatic dial in oven-fired enamel and the relatively modest case diameter of 40 mm.
The Quattro Spirit 25 is special, but it doesn’t scream it off the rooftops. Well not until you turn the watch over. Then you see the manually winding Caliber L.U.C 98.06-L with its four mainspring barrels providing an incredible eight-day power reserve. Chopard knows better than to flaunt that fact on the front, so the power reserve indicator is placed discreetly on the back.
For more information, please visit www.chopard.com/intl/l-u-c-quattro-spirit-25.
Quick Facts Chopard L.U.C Quattro Spirit 25
Case: 40 x 10.3 mm, 18-karat ethical pink gold, 30 m water resistance
Movement: manually wound Caliber L.U.C 98.06-L with 192-hour power reserve, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency, Geneva Seal
Functions: jumping hours, minutes
Limitation: 100 pieces
Montblanc: serial maker of gateway dress watches
Montblanc found its mojo a few years ago, and that is turning out whole collections of tempting watches. The good thing is that they are priced relatively modestly enough so they are within reach of many.
Surprising might be that these are not imposing sports watches but creations celebrating more elegant times. At Watches and Wonders 2021, Montblanc launched the Heritage Pythagore Small Second Limited Edition, which is a perfect example of this.
The design of the Pythagore Small Second Limited Edition 148 is once again rather straightforward, or so it seems, but it will entice you by revealing more details the longer you look. While priced a little higher than many of its siblings, in return you get a a case in either pink or white gold and a brand-new manufacture caliber based on the legendary Minerva Caliber 48.
Would stainless steel and a trusty Sellita not do the same trick? Of course it would, but that would miss the point of this watch. Montblanc has you covered anyway with some other offerings in the current collection in case you are so inclined.
What makes the Heritage Pythagore Small Second so special – and many other dress watches as well – are those refined details that have you noticing that this is one of the finer things in life. These make the watch special and make you feel special for wearing it.
For more information, please visit www.montblanc.com.
Quick Facts Montblanc Heritage Pythagore Small Second Limited Edition 148
Case: 39 x 9.5 mm, 18-karat pink or white gold, 50 m water resistance
Movement: manually wound Caliber MB M14.08 with 80-hour power reserve, 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency, rhodium-plated German silver bridges and plate, screw balance, Montblanc Laboratory Test 500
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 148 pieces in each gold variation
Why a Patek Philippe Nautilus when you can have the Calatrava without waiting?
Just when you thought it couldn’t rise any further, the popularity of Patek Philippe’s Nautilus is at an all-time high.
Patek Philippe made the watch bold and understated at the same time, reminiscent of that time in history when a dress watch had to be an allrounder. In fact, I consider the design of Reference 6119 so good that I wouldn’t be surprised if it might gain Nautilus-like status itself – with waitlists to match.
Too bold of a statement? Perhaps not when you realize that Patek Philippe also fitted this Calatrava with a brand-new movement with a 65-hour power reserve that nicely fits the size of the case.
Yes, those details matter, and they matter even more with a dress watch.
For more in-depth opinion, please see Patek Philippe Calatrava Reference 6119: Dressed For Success.
For more information, please visit www.patek.com/en/company/news/calatrava-clous-de-paris-refs-6119r-6119g.
Quick Facts Patek Philippe Calatrava Reference 6119
Case: 39 x 8.43 mm, white (6119G-001) or pink gold (6119R-001), 30 m water resistance
Movement: manually wound Caliber 30-255 PS with 65-hour power reserve, 2.55 in height, 28,800 vph/4 Hz frequency, Gyromax balance with Spiromax balance spring, Patek Philippe Seal
Functions: hours, minutes, (hacking) seconds
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Perpetual Calendar: the reverse gateway drug
Another brand that has always remained faithful to the concept of the dress watch is Vacheron Constantin. Its collection has always contained several timepieces that could be easily qualified as dress watches.
However, Vacheron Constantin is also known for its complicated and sportier creations, and I somehow feel that with them the brand’s designers and technicians also created a clever reverse gateway drug.
When we look, for example, to the Overseas Perpetual Calendar, we see a sporty and complicated watch that Vacheron Constantin kept deliberately thin.
An absolute horological delicacy, there will come a time when its owner appreciates the thinness of the movement for its wearing comfort and admire it for its complexity, wanting more of that. Enter the dress watch, which takes exactly those qualities and gives them center stage.
Previously, some of these clients might very well have never considered buying a “plain” dress watch, but now they are probably believers.
For more in-depth opinion, please see 5 New Perpetual Calendars Presented At Watches & Wonders 2021 From IWC, A. Lange & Söhne, Vacheron Constantin, Bulgari, And Hermès.
For more information, please visit www.vacheron-constantin.com/en/watches/overseas/overseas-perpetual-calendar-ultra-thin.
Quick Facts Vacheron Constantin Overseas Ultra-Thin Perpetual Calendar
Case: 41.5 x 8.1 mm, white gold with soft iron inner case
Movement: automatic skeletonized Caliber 1120 QP; Geneva Seal, 2.75 Hz/19,800 vph frequency, 40-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes; perpetual calendar with date, month, moon phases, leap year indication
Price: on request
In closing, I want to note that dress watches seem to be a bit of a sexist topic as the term indeed applies to men only. Aren’t there dress watches for women, you ask? No, not really.
Yes, there are more classic creations for women to wear, but the watches aimed at the fairer sex officially have never had such a strict division in terms of style terms. This is in part also because when watches became sportier, and stainless steel took over as the preferred material, even that style of ladies watch often had an elegant side.
Which means that the division between dress and sports watches in timepieces marketed toward women has never been as clear as with men.
* This article was first published May 10, 2021 at The Return Of The Dress Watch! Back From The Brink With 5 New Watches From Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Chopard, And Montblanc.