With Casual More The Norm These Days, Is The Dress Watch Dead?

by Matt Clymo

This is a question that popped into my mind several weeks ago following a conversation with a few fellow collectors and boutique managers. Is the dress watch dead?

Well, maybe not dead, but its popularity has certainly waned over the last few years. Admittedly, I’ve never really been a dress watch type of guy. I’ve always preferred the sports watches over anything else. Maybe because my lifestyle in Queensland is more outdoors and casual, but even before I lived here, back in Sydney I gravitated towards the steel sports watches. I assume it’s mostly because back in the early 2000’s many successful people I knew wore Rolexes, Omega’s, Breitling’s and Panerai’s, and this coupled with movie characters and advertising of people I looked up to, wore the same. And who says ads don’t work?

Pairing my Panerai Luminor Marina 312 with a pair of chinos and rolled up business shirt for work last year

Putting this aside, the last few years has seen a definite trend towards sports watches, and away from dress watches. COVID has definitely played a part in this – with many people working from home and not the office. Prior to this, if you worked in a corporate environment with a suit, a dress watch made complete sense. All of a sudden, you’re at home in T-shirts and shorts, or whatever was the most comfortable to sit for hours on end at your kitchen table, lounge, outdoor entertaining area, or really where ever. A dress watch here didn’t make sense anymore. Now we’re out of COVID, and life seems to be back to a relative normal, and people are back in the office (at least part of the week), we should be seeing dress watches more right? It appears it’s not so much the case.

A Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso – a stunning dress watch that’s not as common on the wrists these days

Changing Trends

Awards shows are always a good gauge on fashion trends, and watches, like it or not, are part of modern day fashion. And there certainly is a trend to see guys in suits sporting steel sports, or precious metal sports watches, not the typical understated watch on a nice leather strap, 40mm and under. You now see AP, Rolex, Patek, and even most recently, Dwayne Johnson rocking a TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 200 for the Academy Awards as a poetic nod to the fake TAG he wore when he was broke in his “7 Bucks” days, a departure from his standard go to of AP or Panerai in precious metal. But again, this proves my point, these are not dress watches either, albeit they are slightly more dressy than an Aquaracer!

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson with his TAG Heuer Aquaracer. Image courtesy of Dwayne Johnson’s Facebook Page

Speaking to a few people in the know, they tend to agree. Dress watch sales have been in decline. Sports watches are taking their place, and for some brands, models that are hybrid dress/sports with interchangeable straps are becoming more popular. And this makes sense. Why spend good money on a dress watch that you may only wear every now and then (assuming you’re not in a suit and tie all day) when you can purchase a watch that is versatile and with the change of a strap, you can change the look? I know I’m gravitating towards this more and more.

The other theory I had was that people are just more casual these days. People want to be comfortable and this is extending into all areas of their lives. This can be seen across all areas of the luxury market. Luxury street wear is now more popular than ever, and replacing more formal attire in this sector.

Luxury sneakers – epitomising the trend of casual and luxury streetwear

Casual Luxury

An article from the New York Times in August of 2021 (which you can read here) highlighted this perfectly. Wall Street, the bastion of wealth and also formality had dressed down! The Suits were no longer in suits. If this wasn’t a sign I don’t know what was. And this trend permeated across the globe. Australia was not immune and I would suggest, was adopted a lot quicker than in other countries.

Worker on Wall Street in chinos, canvas shoes and business shirt with his Rolex Submariner. Image courtesy of The New York Times

Luxury had to follow. Now I don’t know where I heard the term, or maybe I just came up with it myself, but “Casual Luxury” is now in vogue. LV back packs, Hugo Boss sneakers, Gucci bomber jackets and of course, watches. And now, it seems that almost anything goes. An IWC Pilot 41 Chronograph with a suit? Sure! Vacheron Constantin Overseas Dual Time on rubber for a nice dinner out? Yep! And Rolex, AP and Patek Philippe are go to pieces for any occasion, and that is part of the appeal of a luxury sports watch. Dress a Submariner, Royal Oak or Nautilus up or down. To be honest, I know I would.

Paring the Zenith Defy El Primero 21 Ultraviolet with matching shirt and suit combo

The data would also suggest this is the case as well. Just take a look at the latest Morgan Stanley figures for the Swiss Watch industry in 2022. Brands like Jaeger-LeCoultre who are predominantly known for their dress watches have slid from their position at #10 in 2017 to #14 in 2022, Bulgari, who up until recent years focused on dress watches, have slid from #15 in 2017 to out of the Top 20 in 2022. And it’s no surprise that Chopard, who are known for their luxury jewellery and watches of a more dressy and formal nature have doubled down on their sports watch range, most notably with the hit that is the Alpine Eagle – a great sports watch that is easily dressed up or down.

2022 Watch Brand Ranking by Revenue. Data thanks to Morgan Stanley and LuxeConsult

The Dress Watch Dilemma

I have had the pleasure of trying on and testing numerous dress watches over the past year or so, and some I loved, some not so much. My favourite of late was the Glashuette Original PanoMaticLuna. A brilliant dress watch, finished superbly and a great, and more affordable alternative to the A Lange & Sohne Lange 1 Moonshpase. I’d buy this in a heartbeat. If I only had the occasion to wear it! And these days, I don’t go to too many formal occasions, and for any watch related event, I’m normally wearing something from the brand or if not, and not too formal (most event’s aren’t too formal), my Zenith on the steel bracelet fits the bill.

The Glashuette PanoMaticLuna – Probably the only dress watch I would buy now or in the near future

Continuing on this thought path, I would now tend to look for a watch that I can wear often, if not everyday. I went to a formal event this weekend actually, and was lent a good friend’s Rolex Daytona in Rose Gold on Oysterflex. This was perfect for the event, looked the part and you feel a million dollars wearing it. And this is his almost everyday watch. Why? because it dresses up just as well as it dresses down. And this is what I’m now considering for my next purchase. A piece that is versatile, and can be either dressed up, or down. Not a big watch, most probably 40mm and not too thick, and preferably with the ability to change the strap or bracelet easily. A watch that can go from the boardroom to the beach to black tie. Am I asking too much?

Rolex Daytona in Rose Gold, rose dial with diamond baguettes on and OysterFlex strap.

Final Thoughts

But this does bring me back to the original question. Is the dress watch dead? Maybe for now, with the time we’re living in and the trends that are around today it is. Or maybe it’s just hibernating, waiting to be woken up when times have changed. And this is what fashion does. It ebbs and flows, it’s cyclical. Trends comes and go, and they come back around again. So maybe in the not too distant future, we’ll all be dressing up again, heading to work in suits and ties, when going out or travelling, putting on our Sunday best. But for now, my Sunday best is a pair of shorts and a Polo shirt, and on my wrist is a sports watch. And I’m perfectly ok with this!

Working from the home office in my Zenith Defy Skyline.

We always love to know what you think. Drop a comment in the comments section below and tell us if you agree or not? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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