The black tie dress watch: From classic Omega to definitive Cartier

Timothy Barber
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Omega, De Ville Tresor, £8,730,
I suspect I’m not alone in greeting invitations advising a black tie dress code – the season being just about to kick off – with a weary groan. It’s not that I particularly object to it as a style, so much as the imposition: on the few occasions one wheels out the tux, it feels like a restriction on your sartorial elegance, rather than an extension of it. So where does that leave the watch that one is supposed to match with black tie?

Meerson Altitude Premiere Small Seconds, £17,300,

Well, I feel it actually releases it from purely formal duties. That doesn’t mean a proper dress watch – slim, simple (just three or even two hands), highly refined, in precious metal – should become an everyday timepiece, but there’s certainly room for manoeuvre. I rather like Nomos Glashutte’s take, for instance: a sublime tonneau case in rose gold, augmented by that suave grey around the dial (there’s a lemon yellow version for those of a bolder disposition), and it has a beautiful in-house movement. Another beauty is Omega’s De Ville Tresor; clean and classic enough for James Bond himself.

Blancpain Villeret, £20,100,

An interesting newcomer is Alexandre Meerson, whose Altitude Premiere is such a pristine design – enhanced by those decadent lugs and a superb eye for tiny details – that you’d think this was a brand with longterm pedigree. In some ways it is: Meerson, Swiss but based in London, is the son of a famous watch designer and so steeped in the watch industry himself that he’s been able to leverage his contacts and use particularly high-grade movements usually found in watches from senior players like Hermes and Parmigiani.

Cartier, Tortue, £23,300,

In a way, though, the dress watch begins and ends with Cartier; no one was more influential in the establishment of the beautiful, formal wristwatch than Louis Cartier himself. The new Tortue is the latest incarnation of one of his most famous designs (it originated in 1912); ineffably refined and elegant, it’s everything that black tie tends not to be.

Nomos Glashutte Lux Ermine, £13,800,

Timothy is editor of QP Magazine