Christmas is one of our favourite times of the year. The lights are twinkling and the Burlington Arcade is bustling with shoppers all looking for that perfect gift. But, if like many of us, you’re still trying to figure out what to get that hard-to-buy for person, we may have a solution – a dress watch.
Simpler than their complicated cousins, but no less stylish, the dress watch is all about thin cases, clean dials and simple straps. While they don’t always grab the headlines, these watches are a byword in class and during the festive season they are the perfect option for collectors and tricky recipients alike. So, One to Watch asked David Duggan to share his top five dress watches.
1. Patek Philippe Gondolo
For many, Patek Philippe’s round-faced Calatrava is the king of the dress watch, but if you’re looking for something a little more unusual, then you can’t go wrong with a Gondolo Rectangular. This timepiece was named after the Brazilian jeweller Gondolo & Labouriau to whom Patek Philippe sold its first ever watch back in 1872. The relationship continued for another 45 years and saw around a third of all Patek watches sold through the retailer. The Gondolo name first appeared on a pocket watch commissioned by Gondolo & Labouriau in 1902, with wristwatches following in 1910. The retailer also created an exclusive watch-collecting club, named the Gondolo Gang. To be a member was to have made it in Brazilian society. A new generation of Gondolos was introduced in 1993 for men and women, with its Art Deco lines and cambered cases still in tact. This watch is extremely good value at the moment, in part due to contemporary tastes favouring circular-faced watches.
I love the vintage old models, from the 1950s too, they’re beautiful. The Patek Philippe Pagoda is a beautiful, modern rectangular wristwatch, inspired by the equally beautiful vintage ref. 2441, and was produced in 1997. Sometimes referred to as the modern ‘Eiffel Tower’ because the four corners of the case and the lugs look like the base of the Eiffel Tower. There’s also the Patek Philippe reference 1593 – a nice rectangular Patek called the ‘hourglass’ because in the middle there’s a line that goes through the middle of the glass – it’s very pretty.
2. Vacheron Constantin Patrimony
One of the key characteristics of a great dress watch lies in the thinness of the case – it is an understated statement piece. As well as avoiding any nasty lines in a gentleman’s suit, thinness demonstrates a watchmaker’s skill. There is naturally less room for manoeuvre inside the watch, requiring an enormous amount of precision in the making. Vacheron Constantin has been making some of the thinnest, most stylish watches on the market for almost a century, including the Extra Flat, advertised in 1955 as ‘the world’s thinnest watch’, despite containing 120 separate parts. These days, you can’t beat the Patrimony Ultra-Thin, with its beautifully simple, well-balanced dial behind which lies an incredibly elaborate minute repeater complication.
3. Rolex Cellini
First released in 1928, the Cellini does not look like your typical Rolex. Nonetheless, it is a favourite among Rolex collectors looking for a classic dress watch with features such as a manually-wound mechanical movement. Named after the sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini, the Cellini range has true vintage dress watch appeal, with its double bezel, refined lugs and Rolex’s flared crown delicately placed at the 12 o’clock marker. Most Cellinis in the range also swap numerals or numerical marker for graceful batons. Some of the older models are exceptionally good value right now. But if you crave something a little more modern, then look no further than the Cellini Moonphase – unveiled at Baselworld 2017. Rolex is particularly good at drawing on its history when creating new models, so it can’t be coincidence that it chose the Cellini to house its first moonphase function since the 1950s.
One of my original favourite old references is the Rolex moonphase ref. 8171, but the modern Cellini is beautiful, the dimensions are lovely, the double bezel on the case, the way they do the moonphase with the sliver of meteorite dial, it’s a very pretty watch – I do like it.
4. Cartier Tank
It takes a very special watch to remain stylish a century after it was first designed. But, then, the Cartier Tank is no ordinary timepiece. The story goes that founder Louis Carter created his iconic watch in tribute to the armoured vehicles he’d seen in the First World War. What is certain is that Carter came up with the idea in a bid to create a useful wristwatch that wasn’t just a pocket watch on a strap. So, he threw classic pocket watch design out the window and created a square face with a strap that was fully integrated into the overall shape. It was an immediate hit and, over the past century, Cartier has release a whole host of Tanks, including the ever-popular Americaine and Française. A favourite with women and women alike, this is a wonderful all-rounder that continues to turn heads at even the best-dressed parties.
They’re probably the only square, rectangular watch that seems to be doing ok, it’s holding up value wise in the second-hand market today. We still have a good demand for gents square Cartier tanks, and the ladies. We still get them in the showroom quite often. Princess Diana wore a Cartier Tank in the 90s, Jackie Kennedy wore one and it’s always been quite a popular watch with the ladies.
5. Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso
Like Cartier’s Tank, the Reverso is a study in rectangular elegance but was initially designed as the world’s first sports watch. Created in the 1930s, it was intended to stop the face being smashed by wayward polo mallets. It was also intentionally smart enough for army officers to wear with their formal dress uniform, while durable enough to withstand the sports field. The timepiece actually fell out of production for a long time, but the story goes that Jaeger-LeCoultre distributor Giorgio Corvo stumbled across some cases in 1972 and persuaded the company to sell them to him.
He then fitted them with mechanical movements and promptly sold the lot within a few weeks. Like the Tank, this is a popular model with both men and women, and historically forms the largest range of Jaeger-LeCoultre timepieces. The Reverso Duetto is one of my all-time favourite ladies watches. It has an everyday face with a white dial, which you can then flip over to see its black dial with diamonds for wearing in the evening – stunning. I’d always recommend it. They don’t last long when we have them in the showroom.