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Horology, part 4 - The History of Dress Watches

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

Dress watches have existed since the first pocket watch was connected to a strap. Even though the way they look has changed over time, their main goal remains the same - to elegantly complement a man's social attire. In my opinion, to achieve this objective a dress watch has to contain a few characteristics:

  • Slim profile and a case size that allows it to fit under a shirt cuff.

  • Strap made of leather.

  • Dial with a small number of elements.

In the 1920s and 1930s, dress watches became more distinct from the purpose-driven models created for the military. Many of them had round simple cases built from precious metals such as gold or platinum. Leather straps, often made of alligator or lizard skin, were regularly used to add an extra touch of refinement.

Some designs of the period were a bit bolder, such as the ones inspired by Art Deco. They featured geometric patterns, intricate engravings, and different color combinations. These watches became statement pieces, not just for telling time but also for displaying one's appreciation for art and design.

Hamilton Seckron Doctor's Watch
Hamilton Seckron Doctor's Watch

The 1950s and 1960s witnessed the rise of elegant dress watches that embraced a more restrained and understated style. Very thin cases, minimalist dials, and refined indices became the hallmark of this era, perfectly complementing the sleek lines of mid-century fashion.

The Historiques Ultra-Fine 1968 (left) and Historiques 1955 (right)

As the world got close to the 21st century, watchmakers began experimenting more aggressively with different case shapes, building materials, and dial styles, providing wearers with a broader range of options. In parallel, technological advancements allowed for slimmer automatic movements, enabling manufacturers to create ultra-thin dress watches with more complications.

It is important to highlight that a dress watch doesn't have to be expensive or luxurious. As long as the piece feels appropriated as part of a more social look, the cost is irrelevant. One of the best examples of great cost-benefit in the category is the Orient Bambino.

Orient Bambino III
Orient Bambino III

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