The Best Dress Watches Available? Vacheron Constantin Patrimony And Traditionnelle Collections Boast Some Real Gems
You might think that finding the perfect dress watch is one of the easier tasks that might present itself to a watch collector during their journey through our shared hobby. After all, a dress watch is about as stylistically simple as they come, right?
Generally held to have just two or three hands with an uncluttered, timeless dial, the dress watch genre sounds one of the simplest to master on paper. However, as time has passed, so too have the boundaries of what is considered “dressy” expanded. Nowadays, while dress watches still tend to be made from precious metals, their dials can have a little bit more going on and still pass the eye test. To illustrate this point (which will no doubt be heartily dismissed by some staunch traditionalists in the comments, whose input I welcome to this discussion), I have chosen a few of my favorite models from the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony and Traditionnelle ranges.
One thing that has not changed is the thickness of dress watches. A dress watch simply must be slim. This isn’t so much an aesthetic requirement as it is a practical one. A dress watch will be worn with cuffs. They may be French. They may be Italian. It’s possible they will be specifically Milanese. Whether they have one button, two buttons, three buttons, or none, regardless of whether they are curved, square, notched, or otherwise, they will be there. Cuffs are non-negotiable and so your watch better be able to slide under them without complaint, or else!
The watches I’ve picked here are all slim. Actually, they look even slimmer than they are thanks to these models’ modern diameters and thin bezels. If you looking for a watch that looks slimmer on the wrist than its specs might suggest, don’t sleep on an edge-to-edge sapphire. They really help keep things airy.
Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Self-Winding
When you’re looking for something slick and simple, you don’t need to look much further than reference 85180/000R-B515. At €28,400 it is the most affordable watch on this list and certainly the most straightforward. Its three-handed set-up is the cleanest of the bunch.
A date window at six o’clock will rankle the purest of purists, but the way the white text on a blue background integrates with the rest of the design is seamless. At 40mm wide and just 8.72mm thick, this 18kt rose gold model is the perfect companion for any soiree.
Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Retrograde Day-Date
For those of you that found the simple automatic three-hander a bit…shall we say…safe…I have an excellent alternative for you. Reference 4000U/000R-B516 is bigger and more beautiful than its little brother. It measure 42.5mm (positively gargantuan for a “dress” watch, I hear you cry), but still comes in under 1cm thick. Its 9.7mm thickness despite its deliciously enticing dial layout is a triumph. The question is, what do all those numbers mean?
Honestly, when it comes down to it, who doesn’t love a retrograde Day/Date complication? While this classically-styled model has a whopping four (yes, four) hands, it does away with the date window, which might placate a few of the traditionalists. There are, in my opinion, few neater complications than a retrograde date. The divine symmetry of numbers 1–31 being allowed to stretch over half a dial (or, in this case, slightly less than 180 degrees) means that the days of the month can be book-ended by whole digits, without them running into one another at the top of the dial when a peripheral indication is used.
As well as a bigger case and a more complicated movement, reference 4000U/000R-B516 has a bigger price tag too. This model, also in solid 18kt rose gold, retails at €44,000. The nice thing about this watch is, even at that price, it doesn’t scream at you. It’s as debonair as the man or woman whose wrist it has been designed to grace.
Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin
I chose the above image as my way to introduce you to reference 43175/000P-B190 deliberately. I wanted to highlight the way the platinum case and dial, along with the polished and blued hands interact with light. On paper, this watch has a tendency to look quite quiet. It is hard to see the value in the materials selected for the tasks in a catalog. Even on a computer screen, everything looks flat. It isn’t until you get it on the wrist, see it in natural light, or get the chance to see non-standard images like the one above (with reflections aplenty) that you realize how loudly this thing can talk to you.
While the 41mm case size will be the sweet spot for many fans of modern luxury watch design, the staggering 8.96mm thickness is the real talking point here. To have crammed a moonphase indicator and a perpetual calendar into a case with those dimensions is nothing short of stunning to me. It might well come with a hefty €121,000 price tag, but it works hard for every cent.
Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Complete Calendar
I’ll level with you: I saved my favorite till the very end. I actually didn’t do that deliberately. When I came to write the article, I kept comparing this Traditionnelle model to the others featured here with a sense of what I could almost describe as disbelief. I didn’t think I liked the Traditionnelle collection. My favorite range from Vacheron Constantin has always been the Metiers d’Art collection. After those extravagant enameled pieces, I would have gone for a Fifty-Six model. Failing that, I would have fallen back on the Overseas collection (despite that likely being most of our readers’ first choice).
One thing I thought I was sure of was that the Traditionnelle collection was not for me. I erroneously believed it to be stuffy, outdated, passé, even. I was wrong on all counts. Maybe I’m just getting older, but there is something about this demure, 41mm wide platinum model that touches my heart. Reference 4010T/000P-B345 (€70,000) might not just be my favorite piece in the Traditionnelle collection; it might well have become my favorite Vacheron Constantin piece of them all.
The full calendar is something for which, as a watchmaker, I’ve always had respect. Here, the subtle integration of the Moonphase (which I actually find to be a drawback on the Patrimony Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin) pushes this model up to a different level. It is complicated but calm. It is peaceful while being prodigious. To me, it is everything a high-class dress watch should be.
To tux or not to tux?
There will be those that decry the “misapplication” of the term dress watch here. I’ve been around in watchmaking to know that traditions die hard. However, for those of you compelled to remind the rest of us of the “rules” of formal dress and the associated wristwear, I would remind you that, at one point in time, it was “traditional” for humans to wear animal skin loincloths and dance around open-air fires waving sticks in the air.
My point is, our traditions change. The ones we practice now echo the fondly remembered aspects of a relatively recent past. To think that the traditions of tomorrow are not being written (and rewritten) today would be blazingly arrogant. And so, knowing where traditions come from and having observed a great many “trend-setters” embrace slightly more complicated watches in ultra-formal settings, I’ve become more comfortable with this “misapplied” term and stand by it.
Let’s talk about it
However, personal epiphanies aside, let’s discuss it (respectfully, please), in the comments below as we always do on Fratello! Has what constitutes a “dress watch” changed for you? Do you believe it is changing for society? Do you believe traditions do change or evolve or do you see them as fixed and immovable things that either flourish in their existence or cease to entirely? Let’s see what you have to say on this subject and learn what you’d like to see from brands like Vacheron Constantin in the future.