The best classic black-tie watches for elegant evenings
While one of the best racing watches may be the thing for regattas and a statement skeleton watch is designed to impress, when it comes to elegant evening affairs only something sleek and simple will do. To qualify as a black-tie or dress timepiece a watch should have a black face - all the better to blend in with your tuxedo - and preferably be crafted from precious metals with a mechanical movement. Whether you prefer to let your finely tailored bespoke suit do the talking with a minimal timepiece or like a little haute horology with impressive complications, our round-up of the best classic dress watches make the perfect partners for elegant events.
Patek Philippe Calatrava
The original Calatrava appeared in 1932, inspired by the “form and function” principle of Bauhaus. It remains the quintessential dress watch: despite its lack of adornment, it speaks volumes for the horological understanding of its wearer. The Calatrava range is available only in precious metal, with the 5227G version pictured here being made from white gold and fitted with an “officer” case back, which hinges open to reveal the sapphire crystal protecting the beautiful self-winding movement.
Case: White gold, 39mm
Movement: Calibre 324 S C self-winding mechanical
Price: £22,820, patek.com
Van Cleef & Arpels Pierre Arpels
Pierre Arpels watches are direct descendants of an original one-off piece designed by Pierre Arpels in 1949 for his own everyday use. The modern 42mm and 38mm Plantine versions are exceptionally elegant, with their unusual strap lugs, diamond set crowns and simple dials. The beautifully slim case contains a hand-wound movement by Piaget. It is available in platinum (pictured) and in gold both with or without diamonds.
Case: Platinum, 38mm or 24mm
Movement: 830P handwound mechanical
Price: £22,400 (38mm); £25,400 (42mm), vancleefarpels.com
Rolex Cellini Time
Rolex created this line of dress watches in the 1960s in tribute to the Renaissance goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini. All Cellinis are made from gold and are available with date and dual time functions, or in the pure and simple Time version shown here. The 39mm case offers a flawless finish and the dial is layered with a thick coating of lacquer that provides a deep, lustrous shine. Behind it rests a Rolex-manufactured self-winding movement that is chronometer-certified for accuracy.
Case: 18ct white gold, 39mm
Movement: Calibre 3132 self-winding mechanical
Price: £11,200, rolex.com
Chaumet Dandy XL
Launched in 2003, Chaumet’s classic-looking Dandy is often cited as a benchmark of dress watch perfection. The distinctive, cushion-shaped Dandy case has been home to numerous dial configurations and various types of movement, but one of the most appealing is this asymmetrically-detailed version. It measures 42mm in diameter and has a domed sapphire crystal case top with anti-reflective treatment. Behind the geometric pattern dial lies a nicely decorated, automatic-winding movement.
Case: Steel, 42mm
Movement: Automatic winding mechanical
Price: POA, chaumet.com
De Grisogono Retro No.4
Fawaz Gruosi, the founder of De Grisogono, made his name in jewellery during the mid-1990s by making unfashionable black diamonds fashionable. In 2000 he expanded into watches with his Numero Uno design. It has been followed by unusual and innovative pieces, including the Retro No.4 dress watch that features a 50mm x 44mm case with curved sapphire crystals at the front and back. Dials can be had in black, off-white or an unusual “graded green”.
Case: White gold, 50mm
Movement: Calibre DG 10-01 self-winding mechanical
Price: £20,000, degrisogono.com
TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 5 Day-Date
TAG Heuer’s first Carrera watch appeared in 1963. Named after the Carrera Panamericana cross-Mexico car race, it’s a classic driver’s watch. But non-chronograph versions, such as the Calibre 5 pictured here, make the Carrera entirely appropriate for evening wear. This model houses a self-winding movement with day-date function in a 41mm steel case and can be had with a blue, black or silver dial, with optional gold-plated markings.
Case: Steel, 41mm
Movement: Calibre 5 automatic winding
Price: £2,295, tagheuer.com