Hands up, what’s rule one of watch buying? We say it’s choose something wearable. Yes, there are irritatingly well-informed specialists out there who speculate on rarities and vintage pieces, but the chances are you’re buying a watch to enjoy it, not to wrap it in cotton wool and pray it appreciates in the next five years (which is nigh on impossible to predict, anyway).
The second rule of watching buying is to know what works with your own personal style. Sounds strange, but too many men buy a watch in isolation, smitten with its complications or its shouty design. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up wearing something that sticks out like a sore thumb. Are you a classicist or do you prefer modern design? Will you wear the watch primarily with tailoring? Is it for special occasions or for the weekends? Know your own mind before a watch seduces you.
So, tempting though it might be, forget horological exotica. Instead, here are five indispensable modern watches to tick every sharply dressed man’s box. Invest in one of these and you won’t go far wrong.
The dress watch: Drive de Cartier Extra-Flat in pink gold
We’ve had a thing about the Drive de Cartier ever since the original launched in 2016. In pink gold, it’s wonderfully elegant – the cushion case, fluted hands and fine roman numerals couldn’t be more chic if they tried. Even so, last year, Cartier went one better and introduced the Drive de Cartier Extra-Flat, a 39mm slim-line version that preserves the same luxurious signatures of the thoroughbred Drive. Steel and white gold versions are available, but again, the 18k pink gold model with a silver satin-brushed sunray dial is a failsafe choice.
This is one to wear when you want to look your finest. Pair with a sharp cocktail suit for the evenings (think midnight blue mohair or charcoal flannel) or for black tie. One thing to be aware of though, if you wear it with a dinner suit, make sure your dress studs and cufflinks are in pink gold too, clashing precious metals are never a good thing.
In the same vein, always match the strap to your shoes. Wear matte black alligator with a dinner suit, or if you’re in a lounge suit, pair a dark brown strap to your shoes and belt. Final tip while we’re at it – it’s a myth that black shoes look better with a navy or grey suit. Dark brown brings out the warm notes in a rich navy or grey tailoring, which makes the strap shown here the ideal choice.
£13,800, shop now
The chronograph: Breitling Navitimer Rattrapante
The chronograph’s appeal is showing no signs of waning (judging by its strong showing at this SIHH just past, at least) and choosing just one from the dozens of superb designs out there is no mean feat. When look for yours, remember that most chronographs walk the line between sports watch and dress watch – so it’s wise to choose a design that can be dressed up or down, to maximise wearability.
With this in mind, the Breitling Navitimer Rattrapante is an exceptional piece; it’s robust, masculine and yet sophisticated at the same time. You can get it in steel with a black dial, but the version with a Panamerican Bronze dial is a one-of-a-kind. It’s a healthy size at 43mm and it’s also satisfyingly thick – 14.25mm. Given Breitling’s long standing association with speed, it’s a great watch to drive in, perfect for barrelling down country roads in your vintage soft-top on the weekends (we wish).
If you do plan to wear it driving, make sure your gloves match its handsome brown croc strap, bonus points for finding a pair with complimentary white stitching.
£9,040, shop now
The office watch: Club Automatic Date Atlantic
Choosing a watch to wear to work is trickier than you might think. Naturally, it’s an investment that you’ll spend most of your week wearing, so it has to look the part, but it should never be too showy. Luckily, Nomos Glashutte makes contemporary watches that combine a slick, reserved aesthetic with excellent quality of manufacture. The manufacture even makes a range of watches specifically for professionals, but we’re likewise smitten with the Club Automatic Date Atlantic.
It’s a smart choice; mid-sized (with a 41.5mm case) in versatile stainless steel with a curved sapphire crystal glass and lovely round lines. It’s not too thick either, so it won’t fight against your shirt cuff (always worth considering). The orange small seconds hand and subtle luminescent green minute markers are distinguished touches and the Atlantic blue face will pair seamlessly with dark business suits or separates. It comes on a navy fabric strap, but it’d sit equally well on a dark mahogany strap, too.
£2,740, shop now
The weekender: BR 03-94 Golden Heritage
Outside the realm of corporate conformity, your watch can say as much (or as little) about you as you like. Of course, it’s important to look for something that feels natural and relaxed in a weekend watch, but that also reflects touches of personality.
This gives you an opportunity to play with a less conventional case shape, or a slightly more utilitarian design than you might otherwise wear, and Bell & Ross’s square cases are a natural choice. Some are more urban, or sporty than others (see the brand’s black ceramic models for inspiration) but an elegant all-rounder is the BR 03-94 Golden Heritage. It’s got the case, the classic tan strap, and a handsome mix of yellow gold and satin brushed steel elements. The dark face (it’s a very dark brown – not black) is sophisticated and feels more masculine than versions with pale dials, too.
In short, it’s a great example of a relaxed watch that’s got everything going for it, and it’ll sit as smoothly with a navy blazer, Oxford button-down and tan chinos as it will with a suede bomber, crewneck and pleated flannel trousers.
£3,990, shop now
The diver’s watch: ‘left handed’ Tudor Pelagos LHD
A diver’s watch might not make for a natural first choice of timepiece, but it’s a classic nonetheless – something you can experiment with once you’ve got a sensible day-to-day option taken care of.
Thanks to its functional pedigree, it’s safe to assume that your dive watch will look and feel quite sporty, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be a sophisticated addition to your collection. Tudor’s Pelagos watches are among the finest diver’s watches out there, available in black or blue with titanium bracelets and ceramic bezels. They’re waterproof to 500m, feature a 70 hour power reserve and each is fitted with Tudor’s signature in-house calibre – so you can be sure you’re getting plenty of watch for your money.
Moreover, the manufacture’s released a new ‘left handed’ Pelagos with the crown on the left of the case. This piece benefits from a date window with numerals printed in red, and a red ‘PELAGOS’ name on the dial at six o clock – both touches inspired by vintage Pelagos models. The cream luminescent markings add an attractive retro touch, too.
£3,160, shop now