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What Defines the Formality of a Dress Watch vs Sport Watch

post #1 of 55
Thread Starter 
I have decided to post this here after a fairly thorough search at TimeZone where I concluded that the average WIS wears his dressiest Phillipe Patek with open necked button down, sneakers, and jeans (these being the dressiest items in his wardrobe which lacks even in a "Californian tux" ). The context in which a watch is worn is seldom discussed in much detail.

My question is this: What makes a dress watch "dressy" rather than "sporty"? Of course, there is, as usual, a hierarchy from dressiest to sportiest. Where does an officers dial face fit in? Arabic vs Roman numerals? Square vs round face? What effect do complications have on the dressiness of a watch? And what is your idea of the most formal dress watch?
post #2 of 55
The "most" formal dress watch to me would only have the hours/minutes/seconds and maybe the date.
You are at a Black Tie ball...what do you need a chrono for or a diver's bezel?
post #3 of 55
Many on timezone advocate only hours and minutes for a dress watch to even be considered "proper." Small (35mm), thin, and no metal bracelets (except for the "beads of rice" style, but even that is a distant second to a nice croc strap). Adding numerals or other complications make a watch less formal. I've seen the JLC ultra thin (and similar designs from patek, VC, AP, etc.) championed as the pinnacle of dress watchedness.

I think a lot of that is grounded in watchmaking circa 1950 (and earlier). Today, watches have gotten bigger and many of the simplest designs from patek et al. have numerals and dates. JLC stopped making the ultra thin for a while and their "dressiest" watch was the standard master control at 40mm (if I remember correctly) and it had a date complication. For me, I would wear an IWC port chrono or Glashutte PML with the most formal of attire without thinking twice.
post #4 of 55
IMO, the features of a watch (like a jacket or other article of clothing) are what impact its relative dressiness. I would also say that the range runs dressy to casual to sporty in a range. So:

On a scale where 50 = dressiest and 0 = sportiest (actually as it works out 8 is the lowest possible score), I'd give points as follows:

1. Principal is simpler face = dressier. I would say all complications make the watch less dressy, even if they aren't sporty complications (such as a turbillion or skeleton dial). The simpler the face the dressier the watch.
So simple face with no complications = 10
Non-sporty complication = 8
Chrono, diving bezel or other sport complication = 0
2. Roman numerals or stick = 10; Arabic numerals = 9; Any secondary numerals inside the main dial track = 0
3. Band Bracelet:
Black leather band = 10
Brown leather band = 8
Dress metal/gold band (beads of rice or similar) = 7
Any other color leather band or grosgrain = 5
Sport style bracelet, rubber or other material = 0
4. Thin watch case = 10
Medium thickness watch case = 5
Thick watch case = 0
5. Precious metal case = 10
Stainless steel case = 8

So, using this scale, a simple faced watch in a thin 18k gold case with a black leather band having roman numerals or stick markers would max out the points. One with Arabic numerals would score 49 out of 50. One in a stainless case with arabic numerals would score 47 out of 50 (pretty high).

My 1966 18k Omega Constellation Piepan would score a 50/50 when on a black band, but 48 out of 50 when on a brown band (I wouldn't wear that configuration with a tuxedo, for example but would wear it with a suit).

My Omega Seamaster Chrono would score an 8/50 (lowest possible score), because it is a pure sport watch. The controversy will come with those who believe that a Rolex Sub must be a dressy watch because James Bond wore it with a tux and it costs a lot of money, but it too will score a very sporty 13/50 (medium stainless case), because it is a pure sport watch.

Don't know if this is the perfect scale, it could probably use a bit of refining. However, I think it's probably pretty useful.

One might also say that case shape could have an impact. But I don't agree. Most all modern sport watches are round and therefore one might think that any other shape (say square or rectangular) might then automatically be dressier. However, the JLC Reverso is an example of a rectangular watch with sporting roots (it was designed to be worn by polo players and reversed to prevent the face from being damaged during play). I would say that case shape is neither inherently dressier nor sportier.
post #5 of 55
Thread Starter 
Interesting opinions all round. It is good that people are confirming my understanding of these such matters. My idea of a very elegant dressy watch would have been the Patek Chronometro Gondola.

A few thoughts of my own, if I dare (since I profess to knowing comparatively little about watches). Firstly, I am surprised nobody mentioned the fact the pocket watches worn with fob chain might be considered the most formal, especially with morning dress. For evening dress, of course, no watch at all is the most formal. And I agree that a Rolex Submariner should only be worn if the sponsors agree to pay you enough money. At which point you have to ask yourself, then if you are going to wear a dress watch with the dressiest city lounge suit do you need to avoid the minute hand, the complications etc as you might if you were to wear a watch with a dinner jacket?
post #6 of 55
Here's a dressy watch: 17mm in 18kt yellow gold and hand-wind, with a brown lizard skin strap and high beveled crystal. This was Patek quality back in its day, which was the '40s.
post #7 of 55
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark from Plano View Post

On a scale where 50 = dressiest and 0 = sportiest (actually as it works out 8 is the lowest possible score), I'd give points as follows:

1. Principal is simpler face = dressier. I would say all complications make the watch less dressy, even if they aren't sporty complications (such as a turbillion or skeleton dial). The simpler the face the dressier the watch.
So simple face with no complications = 10
Non-sporty complication = 8
Chrono, diving bezel or other sport complication = 0
2. Roman numerals or stick = 10; Arabic numerals = 9; Any secondary numerals inside the main dial track = 0
3. Band Bracelet:
Black leather band = 10
Brown leather band = 8
Dress metal/gold band (beads of rice or similar) = 7
Any other color leather band or grosgrain = 5
Sport style bracelet, rubber or other material = 0
4. Thin watch case = 10
Medium thickness watch case = 5
Thick watch case = 0
5. Precious metal case = 10
Stainless steel case = 8


Excellent scoring system. I was interested in the fact that a leather band was rated as being marginally dressier than even a fine metal band.
post #8 of 55
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by LabelKing View Post
Here's a dressy watch: 17mm in 18kt yellow gold and hand-wind, with a brown lizard skin strap and high beveled crystal.


Lovely watch. But just to nitpick - would a brown strap make it a tad less dressy, especially with an exotic skin, not to mention the seconds hand. But admittedly, a brown strap works better if you are wearing brown shoes.

Also do people have an opinion about the colour of the metal ie yellow gold vs white metal in the formality scale?
post #9 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sator View Post
Lovely watch. But just to nitpick - would a brown strap make it a tad less dressy, especially with an exotic skin, not to mention the seconds hand. But admittedly, a brown strap works better if you are wearing brown shoes.

Also do people have an opinion about the colour of the metal ie yellow gold vs white metal in the formality scale?

I felt the brown lizard complimented the scale and look of the watch better than a black crocodile or similar skin. Also, I rather like the slightly clashing nature of wearing a brown strap with black shoes.

The seconds sub-dial might be something of an issue for the pedant, but I don't mind it.

I feel yellow gold is the most formal though platinum is also very lovely--it has a certain hard sheen.
post #10 of 55
Thread Starter 
Does anyone have an opinion on black vs white dial faces?
post #11 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sator View Post
Excellent scoring system. I was interested in the fact that a leather band was rated as being marginally dressier than even a fine metal band.

Probably just my own prejudices coming through. I could possibly be convinced that a vintage beads of rice bracelet was as dressy as a black leather band. I'd be hard pressed though to think of a modern watch on a modern bracelet that I'd consider as dressy as a black leather band.

As for the brown vs. black leather, I'd equate the dressiness to the brown shoe vs. black shoe category. While black may be in all cases dressier, that doesn't make it the right choice in every case. Sometimes brown shoes are just a better choice. That's why I have all my dress watches fitted with custom made watch straps with easily removable spring bars and I have two straps made for each one: one in black and one in brown so that I can match my other leathers (shoes, belt, etc.).
www.banda.com

Finally, my scoring system only really relates to wristwatches. Pocket watches might in fact be dressier than wristwatches, but you'd need another grading system, since not all pocket watches are dressy either. You will, in fact have a wrist watch that is dressier than many pocket watches. However, a fine dress pocket watch (on a proper dress chain) would be dressier than the dressiest wrist watch. On that we agree.

Could we be overthinking this a bit???
post #12 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sator View Post
I am surprised nobody mentioned the fact the pocket watches worn with fob chain might be considered the most formal, especially with morning dress. For evening dress, of course, no watch at all is the most formal.

+1 for Sator's answer - the only watch (classically) permitted with formal wear is the pocket watch, because it is hidden away.

The reason, I was always taught, is that a formal occasion is almost always a social one, and if not, one of extreme solemnity. In neither case should one wear a watch, due to the chance that one might be seen consulting it: rude in the first case (as one should be having such a good time at the event so as not to care for the passing of hours) and disruptive in the second (do you have something more important that you should be doing rather than accepting your Nobel prize?).

You could certainly extend this reasoning to a social occasion where a lounge suit is worn, but I would say that's pushing it and that anything on the more formal end of Mark's scale would be likely to be appropriate.

Bear in mind that this "rule" is rarely honored any more, and that wearing a 50-point timepiece on the Mark scale with a dinner suit would probably pass without comment from even most of the scrutinous members of SF...but definitely not all.

However, I beg you all not to commit the mortal sin of wearing your metal-band Omega (or Rolex or Tag, or whatever) with a dinner jacket, no matter how much you like the watch and how badly you need to know the time during the ball, because it causes me physical pain to see, and I am a delicate man.
post #13 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by HKTenor View Post
In neither case should one wear a watch, due to the chance that one might be seen consulting it: rude in the first case (as one should be having such a good time at the event so as not to care for the passing of hours) and disruptive in the second (do you have something more important that you should be doing rather than accepting your Nobel prize?).

This is hilarious and yet probably true. If you are at a very special occasion, the type of occasion that happens once a year or once a decade, why do you need to know what time it is? You leave when the event is over.

Also, I know almost nothing about watches and I always presumed black leather strap = dress watch, metal bracelet = sportswear
post #14 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sator View Post
Does anyone have an opinion on black vs white dial faces?
IMO, a white face is dressier than a black face, the traditional choice for tool watches.
post #15 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tomasso View Post
IMO, a white face is dressier than a black face, the traditional choice for tool watches.
I agree about black for sporty, but prefer a guillloche or enamel dial for a dress watch to a pure white.
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