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Watches - Buying Guides

Suit and Tie: Six Pre-Owned Formal Wear Watches

We ask the Xupes Watches team for their top pre-owned picks.

When chosen well, a formal wear watch is a perfect finishing touch to a suit. Of course, taste is personal but it can be trained, and over two centuries of watch wearing a few dos and don’ts have come to the fore.

A formal wear watch should complement your get-up without making too much noise. Formal wear watches are subtle, minimalist, and more often than not, traditional. Sports watches don’t cut the mustard. Nor do metal straps or extra pushers other than the crown. Any case size over 42 mm is pushing it, and if you’re wearing it with a shirt and cuff then it clearly doesn’t want to be too thick.

Where possible, tie it in with other details, e.g. brown leather strap with brown shoes or belt, or a yellow gold case with a yellow gold ring or cufflinks. Finally, make sure it has a decent movement, so it can hold its value and be handed down to a whippersnapper.

We chose six of our favourite pieces, splitting the formal wear watch into three categories: modern re-editions or upgrades of the models that have championed the last 200 years, vintage classics, and out of the ordinary, showstopping renegades:

 

Modern Classic Formal Wear Watches

 

Formal wear watches reached their peak through the middle of the 20th century. Many models from these days were so well-made and meticulously considered that they’re still reproduced today, and they're as sought-after as ever. The advantage of the re-released models is that they are ever-so-slightly modernised, i.e. updated with the latest movements and materials, and usually upsized to a larger case.

patek philippe calatrava 18k yellow gold

Patek Philippe Calatrava 5119J

  • Case Material: Yellow Gold
  • Case Size: 36 mm
  • Age: 1990
  • Pre-owned Price: £10,495
  • Display Case Back

 

The Patek Philippe Calatrava is the archetypal formal-wear watch. It was first introduced in 1932 but the 1985 edition, with its much-revered hobnail-patterned bezel and small seconds sub-dial, was the most popular. The 5119J, introduced in 2006, is the same design but with a slightly enlarged case size to meet with modern tastes.

For us, the 5119J is the cream of all Calatravas and is the number one formal wear watch on our list. It’s large enough to be modern yet the design bears all the classic traits of a dress watch—a circular dial with straight lugs, black crocodile leather strap and roman numerals—also, the mechanical manual-wind movement is as distinguished as they come.

cartier tank mens 18k white gold

Cartier Tank Louis

  • Case Material: White Gold
  • Case Size: 25 mm by 33 mm
  • Age: Early 2000s
  • Pre-owned Price: £3,995

 

The Tank sits close behind the Calatrava as the ideal dress watch. Its iconic rectangular case, said to mimic the lines of a French tank, is still as powerful today as it was when Art Deco was just hitting the scene.

The many variations of the Tank have been favourites for presidents, royalty, Hollywood stars and designers of the likes of Andy Warhol. This modern re-edition has all the class of the original Tank Louis but with the know-how accrued over a century of development at Cartier. Its pre-loved price tag makes it great value for money.

Vintage Classic Formal Wear Watches

 

The '40s and the '50s were the golden age of the dress watch. Despite many of these being quite petite by modern standards, the style is spot on, and if you can find a model measuring 35 mm and upwards then it should be large enough and you may save a considerable sum on the modern equivalent. Also, the patina on the dial will give it a sought-after vintage effect.

vintage jaeger le-coultre watch in 18k yellow gold

Vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre P450/ 4C

  • Case Material: Yellow Gold
  • Case Size: 35 mm
  • Age: 1945
  • Pre-owned Price: £5,495

 

When it comes to dress watches, Jaeger-LeCoultre is one of top five brands. Most JLC watches fit the formal watch bill and some of their older models, almost always housing first-rate movements and exhibiting sharp traditional styles, are amongst the top examples out there.

This vintage model with its elegant teardrop lugs, light-brown strap and old-school sword hands has plenty of character. The size works well in a contemporary setting, yet the patina gives it a seasoned look that can't be replicated.

vintage iwc watch in 18k rose gold

Vintage IWC Calibre 89

  • Case Material: Rose Gold
  • Case Size: 35 mm
  • Age: 1952
  • Pre-owned Price: £4,995

 

IWC has an esteemed watchmaking history and tends to make understated, well thought out designs with excellent movements. The calibre 89 watches were made to the highest standards; they were last produced in 1970, and are now in the IWC hall of fame. Any well-maintained example is a target for collectors.

Exceptional Formal Wear Watches

 

Generally speaking, a formal wear watch should be a display of traditional watchmaking. Nowadays, providing it fits with your get up and isn’t too large, choosing something with a complication or a touch more detail, is considered kosher. This opens the doors to a different level of timepiece, but keep it classy and not too showy.

l. leroy monopusher chronograph 18k rose gold

L. Leroy Osmior Monopusher

  • Case Material: Rose Gold
  • Case Size: 41 mm
  • Age: 2015
  • Pre-owned Price: £16,995
  • Display Case Back

 

L. Leroy was one of the leading watchmakers in the 19th century, making timepieces for the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill and Marie Anoinette. After all but dying out during the quartz crisis, L.Leroy has recently returned to the scene is once again producing first-class watches in the manner of its esteemed past.

The Osmior Monopusher is a chronograph but with the pusher in the crown, so it meets with our formal wear watch rule of having no extra pushers. Its Breguet numbers, guilloche-patterned dial and blue-steel hands are pristine examples of the finest watchmaking tradition.

breguet classique tourbillon 18k rose gold

Breguet Classique Tourbillon

  • Case Material: Rose Gold
  • Case Size: 39 mm
  • Age: 2006
  • Pre-owned Price: £62,000
  • Display Case Back

 

Although a tourbillon may often be a little too much for a formal get-up, a Breguet tourbillon is usually highly elegant. The Classique Tourbillon is a stunning example of Breguet’s unparalleled prowess, displaying many of the houses most recognisable features.

As well as the tourbillon, one of the most difficult complications in watchmaking, this watch has a five-day power reserve, which makes it by far the most impressive watch on our list. One for the presidential ball! 

 

For a wide selection of unworn, vintage and pre-owned watches, click here.