This year has truly separated the ones who live with dress watches from the ones who love them, as fewer opportunities to dress up formally have left many collectors leaving their simpler and more elegant pieces stashed away. But for the people who can’t get enough of their most finessed timepieces, the humble dress watch genre has been treated to some truly stunning releases, with these fantastic options some of the best dress watches of 2020 under $10K.
Dan Henry 1937 Dress Chronograph
If you want a more affordable and reliable alternative to the typically Landeron 47/48 powered Swiss chronographs of the 1930s and ’40s, Dan Henry came to the rescue with his 1937 Dress Chronograph, loaded with a Seiko mecha-quartz movement. Based on pieces from his own collection, this watch harkens back to a time when elegant looks and military utility weren’t mutually exclusive. Available in vertical or horizontal bicompax layout, on two different silver or black dial options, the 38mm art deco crowd-pleaser is slim, sharp, and sure to find its way into many collections for the $270 USD asking price.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual 36
The Oyster Perpetual feels as ubiquitous as its eternal name suggests, being one of Rolex’s cleanest and most attainable offerings. For $7850 AUD, this gateway drug to the five-pointed crown offers one of the most suit-friendly watch experiences out there while still having sporty capability, such as the Oyster case’s 100m water resistance. Although the headline news was the bright and fun Stella dial variations, the black, silver or blue dial options are all classically handsome pieces that are sure to both slip under the radar and be noticed in the perfect ratio. The in-house Calibre 3230, with its accuracy within +/- 2 seconds per day, also grants the kind of peace of mind you expect with a Rolex.
Seiko SRPE417 “Negroni”
The Presage line from Seiko is about many things. Celebrating Japanese design cues, presenting affordable yet impressive watches to the world and, most importantly, showcasing exactly how much mastery Seiko has over a watch dial. Although Grand Seiko gets a lot of deserved celebration for their intricate dials, the lower tiers can be equally as impressive. This is especially true with the Cocktail Time series, and this deep burgundy “Negroni”. For $695 AUD, you’re treated to some of the best design, heritage and quality control available for the price range — note that this watch doesn’t have a chapter ring which can be misaligned. All the details are just right, from the needle-eye counterbalance on the seconds hand, to the white-on-black date wheel.
Baltic HMS 002
With inspiration taken from stepped cases and crosshair dials from the 1940s, the subtle details are what really make this HMS 002 something special. The sector dial isn’t just delineated by the crisp printed lines and numerals, but also separated with different textures. The centre section is a sandy and grainy stippled surface, creating a matte background for the hands to stand out on, while the numerals are surrounded by a circularly brushed ring which plays with the light and makes the whole watch look that little bit more flashy. All three of the silver, black, and blue gilt colour schemes are wonderfully dressy, and at €332.50 won’t break the bank.
Longines Heritage Classic Tuxedo
Longines’ Heritage collection is absolutely the benchmark for vintage-feel value for money, with an incredibly rich history of fantastic watches to draw from and reissue. The 38.5mm watch just drips with character, as the numerals, centre dial section, and luminous hands are all a tastefully aged and grainy off-white. The simple sword hands are very easily legible against the black outer section of the dial, and the sub-seconds complication gives you something to stare at without cluttering the design in the slightest. The L893 movement beats away at an odd 25,200 vph for more of a vintage feel, granting 64 hours of power reserve. For $3050 AUD, you’d struggle to find anywhere near the same quality, heritage and looks.
Cartier Pasha de Cartier
Cartier’s reinvigorated Pasha range is the perfect place to look if you want a watch from one of the world’s greatest jewellers, while also being a bit of a left-turn in terms of style. The ever-unique looking Pasha, supposedly redesigned by Gérald Genta in the ’80s to look like a diving helmet, is now refreshed with a simplified aesthetic that is a lot more easily palatable to the average wearer. The circular case and unique lug style makes them wear very well on almost any wrist, especially given the friendly unisex 35mm diameter or the slightly more masculine 41mm with date display. The 35mm version starts at $8600 AUD on leather, while the 41mm’s leather option is $9400 AUD, and all models come with two straps to use with Cartier’s ingenious quick-change system.
Nomos Ludwig 175th Anniversary Limited Editions
In celebration of 175 years since watchmakers started honing their crafts in Glashütte, German giants Nomos have released three watches that just ooze class, while retaining their signature flavour of Bauhaus design. In three stages of 35mm, 38mm and 41mm, with Roman numerals (including date), these watches each use a different 17-jewel in-house calibre from Nomos, keeping them incredibly thin. The smallest is 6.8mm for the entire watch, while the largest is 7.7mm. Its white enamel dial and thermally blued hands give it the sophistication of a pocket watch, and ranging from $3080 AUD to $5870 AUD make these horological bargains.
Fears Brunswick Salmon
Resurrected from its 1976 demise, the Fears name is one of the few rescued watch brands to be owned by a direct descendant of the original founder, and now they produce one of the coolest vintage-meets-modern designs out there today. The Brunswick Salmon celebrates one of the few coloured dials that can look great on a formal occasion, while packaged in a 38mm cushion case typical of the 1920s. The modern touches include the slight upscale in size, alternating brushed and polished finishing, skeletonised and thermally blued hands, and applied numerals, which give the dial an incredible sense of depth with their harsh shadows. Complete with an ETA 7001 movement, the $3421 USD (ex. VAT) may require a double-take, but a watch like this, hand-made in England, certainly makes a strong statement.
Keeping on the theme of stunning dials, Seiko’s SPB161J takes on the more magical theme of pocket watches, paying tribute to some of Seiko’s earliest heritage. The enamel dial is crisp white, punctuated by the black markers, sub-dials and hands. The 6 o’clock sub-dial is a date display, while the power reserve at 9 adds a nice amount of complexity to the large dial on this 40mm watch. The calibre 6R27 is renowned for being a lot more accurate than the typical 4R36, while also keeping the overall thickness down to a respectable 12.35mm. For the $1995 RRP, you’re also treated to a sapphire crystal, 100m water resistance, and a see-through caseback.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso One Red-Wine
There’s an often-quoted saying amongst watch enthusiasts: “If you can get a Jaeger-LeCoultre, then get a Jaeger-LeCoultre.” The glitz and glam factor is off the charts, with its guilloché and lacquered dial, stylistic numerals, and diamond-studded bezel, and its deep, rich colour that just begs to be matched with clothing and cosmetics. The quartz movement keeps it reliable and accurate, and also keeps the cost down to $8600 AUD, which isn’t bad at all for a brand that once supplied movements to all of haute horology’s top three watchmakers.