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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Dress, sport and tool watch category definitions

Based on a recent and intelligent discussion between members SpringDriven and teeritz on whether the Omega AT 8500 is rather a dressy sports watch or a sporty dress watch, I took it upon me to draft a little categorization of the three main categories of watches. It's an attempt and represents nothing but my own opinion.

Besides this discussion, the question of what kind of category a watch belongs in and why, especially why it wouldn’t be worn in another setting than the one it was conceived for is recurring very often.

Before I delve into this I’d like to state my opinion, based on the criteria below, that the Omega Seamaster AT 8500 is a sports watch per definition but one that is so versatile that it can definitely go from beach to boardroom and for some not so strict folks even to ballroom. It is in my eyes one of the great universal watches out there. I’d say the smaller size is dressier than the bigger size and the silver dial dressier than the dark grey dial. So one has a nice continuum to choose from. Besides that it also looks great on brown or black calf or reptile leather for more options.

The criteria below are rooted in form, function and how things are normally used. Of course, there can be exceptions and crossovers. These exceptions can often make a watch very interesting, as is the case with the AT 8500. Yet what is interesting for some might make the watch absurd for others, e.g. I can’t quite get why one would want a dressy chrono like the IWC Portugieser or why one would set a tourbillon into a sportswatch, even though the latter somehow still makes sense.

In this vein it is good to wonder if it makes sense to go diving with a thin gold watch with leather strap but without lume (dress watch grade 1, see below). Probably not. Or, does it make sense to wear a 15mm thick and 44mm diameter dive watch on a metal bracelet with a suit for simple office duty? It doesn’t really fit under the cuff and its functions are not needed in an office environment. Then there is the question of style. Most people don’t wear running shoes and tennis socks with a suit, either. And they don’t show up to a client meeting with a gym bag.

So hopefully the definitions below, which are entirely my own (agree, disagree, discuss), will be helpful. The classification of dress watches in grades should be particularly helpful as there seems to be much confusion of what is a dress watch.

Dress watch (grade 1):

  • Precious metal, fully polished in almost all instances (maybe steel but let’s be strict)
  • For gentlemen only on leather (black crocodile patent), for posers with a gold bracelet and possibly diamonds.
  • Generally 38mm or less
  • 8mm thick or less
  • No seconds, no date – not needed and to keep it flat and elegant
  • Most often handwind or quartz, to keep it flat and elegant
  • No lume
  • No minute markings, only hour markings, or even no markings
  • Minimum text on dial
  • More often a light colored dial, only recently are grey and black dials seen more frequently
  • Stick, Dauphine, Breguet or Lancette hands
  • Simple indices. Rather Roman than Arabic numbers.
  • No screwdown crown
  • WR 50m or less
  • Tang buckle rather than deployant (deployant is too thick)
  • Worn for the most formal and elegant occasions.
The classic example would be the Patek 5120J. Or the Piaget Altiplano G0A29113 in WG with a black dial and Dauphine hands.


Dress watch (grade 2):

  • can be steel or precious metal (mostly fully polished)
  • usually on leather but here can be calf and/or brown leather
  • a fine bracelet (4 link elements or more – Jubilee style) is ‘allowable’
  • generally 40mm or less but the trend for bigger watches is undeniable
  • 11mm thick or less
  • may be automatic
  • can have seconds and date (the greater height allows for that)
  • may have lume but discreet, no lume on seconds hand
  • may have minute markings but will usually not have numbers for the seconds and minutes
  • may have hour numbers in Arabic or Roman numbers and in combination with indices
  • hands are often baton or Dauphine, no fancy hands and no sword or Mercedes hands
  • can have slightly more text on the dial but not a novel
  • dial can be dark but lighter colors are dressier traditionally
  • usually no screwdown crown
  • WR 100m or less
  • May have deployant buckle (used everyday, thus practical)
  • Worn for business with a suit. Depending on its features it might be worn for more formal occasions.
A prime example would be the JLC Master Control Date. Link only provided as an example. No commercial connection whatsoever. Jaeger Le Coultre Master Control Automatic Watch #1398420

Sports watch:

  • most often steel, can be gold or titanium, mix of brushed and polished surfaces frequent, mix of materials possible
  • usually on a metal bracelet, often with not more than 3 rows (Oyster style)
  • up to 42mm diameter though with the big watch craze some might allow more. I’d only allow more for seriously large wrists.
  • up to 14mm thick, must be proportionate to diameter
  • most often automatic with notable exception of ETA6497 bases
  • usually has central seconds and date
  • can have more lume and also lume on seconds hand
  • may have numbers for minutes
  • may have fancier hands e.g. sword a la Blancpain
  • all kinds of indices possible
  • dial can be dark or even colored though nothing crazy, mostly blue
  • often has a screwdown crown and caseback
  • WR at least 100m
  • No helium valves, chronos or diving bezels. A discrete GMT, alarm or power reserve is permissible.
  • Worn for anything except ballroom but mostly leisure oriented. The more elegant examples can be worn with a suit.
The prime example for me is the Rolex Datejust with Oyster band. Other notable examples would be the Omega Aquaterra or the IWC Ingenieur 3227-01.


Tool watches:

  • in this category form and features follow function
  • precious metal is somewhat of a perversion in this category but it exists, though mostly we see steel and titanium here
  • more brushed than polished surfaces
  • bracelet/strap can be anything that suits the function
  • size is usually 40mm and up
  • thickness is usually at least 11mm up to 20mm
  • most often automatic, quartz in cheaper models which makes sense also for functionality because quartz is often less fragile
  • additional functions like chrono, dive bezels, valves
  • all kinds of indices possible with emphasize on legibility
  • same for the hands
  • thus also the most generous application of lume
  • screwdown crown, pushers and caseback are de rigueur
  • WR of 200m or more except for actual pilot’s tool watches or motorsport chronos
  • Worn either for their intended function or leisure time. Convention would have it that such items aren’t worn with a suit just like one wouldn’t wear tennis socks with a suit or take the sports bag to transport files and computer to a client meeting. Breaking or accepting the conventions is up to the individual.
Examples that come to my mind are the Submariner, the Planet Ocean, any big Breitling (not Bentley), a Tag Aquaracer Chrono and so on.
Notable exceptions might be the Speedmaster Pro and the Submariner. Because of their dimensions and simple, elegant design as well as their legendary heritage these might make it with a suit. But even by their names the tool character is clearly set.

Then there are fashion watches that eclectically draw on any and all sources. Some watches span the entire gamut depending on the specific model like the JLC Reverso. And there are complications. These may be quite elegant and the complexity of the movement normally makes them too fragile for real sports use. The price and precious metal often put them into the ‘show-off at the gala’ category but strictly speaking they are more leisure watches since the dials are often completely overloaded.

Obviously, many manufacturers mix the elements but one could simply use the points above and see where a watch gets more check marks in order to determine in which category it rather belongs based on a comparison to models that are purely in one category, as given as examples.
 

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I think you've characterised some basic categories very well in general terms. I must admit though, I'm having a little trouble thinking of a Datejust as a sports watch. Anyway, I can appreciate the time and effort you put into that.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I think you've characterised some basic categories very well in general terms. I must admit though, I'm having a little trouble thinking of a Datejust as a sports watch. Anyway, I can appreciate the time and effort you put into that.
Thanks, Glenn. That is precisely why I think it is good to compare a dressy sports watch to a "pure" dress watch. The differences will then come out as explained above.

In the DJ, as we all know, there are so many different variations, which is what makes it such a great series. There are versions with more or less lume, more or less colorful dials with different indices. There are two bezel variations and two bracelet variations.

I'd say a DJ with silver dial, Roman markers, no lume, white gold bezel and Jubilee is clearly more on the dressy side. A DJ with black dial, arabic numbers filled with lume, flat steel bezel and Oyster band (possibly all matte if you choose the older version) is more on the sporty side.

Both watches do have the 100m WR, the screwdown bottom and screwdown crown. Both come standard on a bracelet. This separates them from the "pure" dress watch, be it grade 1 or 2.

That said, I have even worn a Rolex Explorer 1 with a suit and thought it was totally good looking and not too offensive in terms of dress etiquette. :) And the Explorer is a sports watch by definition.

If I wanted to make a bit of a hip fashion/flamboyant impression (hey, I'm not quite 40), I might decide to wear something like a Submariner or Panerai on gator with a suit. The very elegant simple dial layout and pure shape of the classic Luminor Marina lends itself to that. But it hardly fits under the cuff. So it's not a discreet look. At the utmost I'd wear a Speedy on black gator with a suit but that would be pushing it for me. What I like about having several watches is that I can choose the right watch for the job. Depending on whether one has many different social and professional roles to cover, one needs a more varied collection or one can do with a single watch.

A construction worker who never wears a suit in his life and enjoys water sports or a student who engages in a lot of sports might well get along just fine with a single watch, say a G-Shock. The average office jock could well get along with a Rolex DJ or Omega AT, something like that, or a Seiko SARB to choose a more modest model.

But when you are for example a lawyer with client contact or a banker and you enjoy mountain biking and kajaking or rock climbing, you might be better of choosing a real dress watch, say grade 2, plus something like a G-Shock. If in addition to that you are diving and like the idea of having a back-up for your dive computer, get a dive watch.

Personally, I own several dive watches (and am certified PADI Advanced) but rarely ever dive. I just like the convenience of the timing bezel in everyday life and I couldn't make peace with the quirky looks of a Rolex Turn-o-graph yet. Otherwise, in steel/gold I think the TOG could be the most versatile watch on the market.
 

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A few little things to quibble with here, but good work. You obviously put some time in on this. Thanks.
 

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Well done, thorough analysis. I agree that the AT is the perfect "one watch for any occasion." Good work!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Glad i have one that fits the dress watch bill ;)


Well kind of!
Ooooh! Look at that beauty! :-! What a gorgeous watch. Early 70s? I got a similar Zenith. Can't wait to be back so I can post some shots. I'd classify this as grade 2 borderline grade 1, according to the criteria above. Grade 1 would be more polished and have no second markings. It would also have a black strap. Otherwise I think this is a very elegant watch. But I think it would also look VERY stylish with a nice pair of jeans, a good shirt and a nice pair of shoes. What movement is in there? Do you have the reference? I wouldn't mind skimming some vintage dealers for that one. If it was a woman on the street it'd stop me in my paces. b-)

Thanks for the kind words, folks. The idea of classifying or at least trying to classify the "definition mess" was in my head for some time, indeed. Such things simply need time to ponder before the soup can be clarified. :)
 

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I personally have no problems with the definitions you've laid out; but I absolutely would have a problem wearing any grade 1 dress watch. I don't care for precious metal, 38mm watches, not being able to see the time in the dark, not seeing the seconds hand moving, and things like that.

Personally, I'd bump grade 2 dress watches up to 42mm and sports watches up to 44mm, and tool watches tend to start at 44mm from what I've seen.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Yeah, I noticed you like big watches. ;)

To be honest, I don't own a single grade 1 dress watch. I just had the opportunity to buy one, gold, ultra flat ... the works. Didn't do it. Instead I bought a watch that at least by numbers is much to big for my small wrist at 46x16mm. :D It looks alright in the flesh, though.

When I would have the "need" for a grade 1 dress watch, I can just as well use my great-great grandfather's gold pocket watch. For all other occasions a grade 2 will do.

Tool watches, I'd say, are more defined by their function than by their size. So they are usually not smaller than 38mm but I'd say a Rolex E1 at 36mm is in principle a tool watch. As is a Rolex Sea Dweller at 39.5. When a tool watch becomes bigger than 48mm, tool becomes the target group instead of the function. LOL! I'd make an exception for the Seiko Spacewalk thingy. :)
 

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I agree with your definitions. But much of it holds merely an academic interest nowadays, having no practical use whatsoever in proper dressing manner.

I guess the attributes you listed are relics from an older time, when the complications, style and its respective costs were really justified by the needs of specific tasks. Costs were, as they often are, associated with function. It was senseless to pay the premium for a dive watch, if you didn’t even know how to swim. The incabloc was an expensive innovation with a real purpose. The tachymeter chronos were instruments with a straightforward function, and if you wanted it, you would have to pay accordingly. In those days, sports watches really were sports watches.

Today, a $20 newsstand counter Timex is a more precise chronograph, and has better shock resistance than the $30,000 Daytona being sold NIB right across the street. Some of the parameters you speak of, like lume and 3 row bracelets, are functionally irrelevant today, in our age of plastic buttons and synthetic rubber. The notion of the watch as a tool has almost disappeared, and the borders between the categories you listed have been forgotten also. It was quartz, dare I say, that ruined the party.

One must only look at this very forum to realize that any function based, formality-conscious categorization of watches is part of an antiquated, lost art. You will often read things like this around here: “I was in dire need of a dress watch, so I bought myself a nice Explorer II”.

The fact of the matter is that nobody cares anymore, just look around the wrists everywhere. Fake sub-dials on fake chronographs have become commonplace. To 99% of the population, watches are little more than fashion accessories, and the frontiers have blurred a long time ago.

I may be biased, since my taste resides mainly in dressy sports watches, that I use as dress watches. I also like blue divers, they remind me of the ocean.

It would be hard to convince me that the aforementioned Stowa 1938, a big sports watch, is inappropriate with a suit. I conceive that some situations exist, in circles foreign to most people, where strict observance of dressing rules including ones pertaining to choice of watch may be seen as a matter of simple common courtesy and belonging. But I would risk to say that, outside these very limited environments, you are pretty safe wearing anything anywhere, as long as you restrain yourself to the limits of reason. People around you, and this most likely includes you boss, simply won’t know any better.

And as for the limits of reason, these certainly do not include wearing your LE Yellow Swampman to your sister’s wedding.
 

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makes me want a seiko SARB and a 42mm omega aqua terra 8500 in white. :-!:-!

i made the error of going with dress watch grade 1's for my first couple of wis purchases. slowly easing my way to the sportswatch category.

i do wear suits occasionally however i don't even need to on those occassions. i just do it just in case a client appreciates a more traditional approach.

plus for the approx. once every 2 years gala type events i attend, i can probably go watchless. i'm more inclined to wear the grade 1's to the office actually. but if i were to start again i'd go sportswatch first probably like most recommend them to do.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I don't think it's an error at all to start with grade 1 dress watches. And if that's what you like the best, it's the perfect entry way to watch collecting. :)

But I do think that in terms of rational money spending (here's a nice oxymoron!) it would make sense to start with a sports watch that is on the dressy side, like a Rolex DJ with crenelated WG bezel (but perhaps some lume) or an Omega AT 8500. The reason is that this type of watch offers the largest span of occasions it can be worn for without being inadequate or out of place. So one gets the most mileage out of it.

Myself, I'm quite addicted to that category. It really turns me on to know that if I had to sell all other watches, this one could be the only watch and see me through. I think it speaks of a certain quality in any product if it is the only product in its category that a consumer may ever need.

Car analogies are kinda lame, but I think the Porsche Cayenne is something comparable in that category. It can go very fast. It is good in any weather and on any road. It is big enough for the family with dog. It is elegant and prestigious and in that sense might not be as out of place at the Opera as a Jeep Cherokee. ;) This versatility is, IMHO, what explains the success of the SUV type cars and the sports type watches.

Chronos on the other hand are not of much interest for me. It's a complication I have not much use for. In tool watches I prefer divers. I think for the casual wearer those are ideal everyday watches. But when one owns 2-3 divers, more aren't needed. OTOH, I find it quite interesting to collect in depth 3 and 4-hand watches (GMT). Even if the Turnograph is kinda ugly, I'd buy one if they added a GMT function. It would then have the most-used (by me) functions. Grand Seiko has a nice diver like that but I know of no brand producing a sports watch with timing bezel and GMT function. Does anyone know one? Might be a thread idea...:think:
 

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makes me want a seiko SARB and a 42mm omega aqua terra 8500 in white. :-!:-!
On those same lines, I am considering the modern iteraction of the Mido Multifort.

Watch Analog watch Watch accessory Strap Fashion accessory

I have handled this one at the local AD. This is a classic sports watch: the case is mostly brushed, screw down crown, saphire, 100m WR, a little bit of lume, and the case measures a gigantic 42mm. But that doesn´t keep it from having a beautiful white guilloche dial. The applied markers, which appear black on all the pictures, are actually a blueish gray, giving a very harmonic appearance to the dial. It gets hard to say something like this wouldn´t work with a suit. I mean, it is huge, but it certainly isn´t gargantuan.

This (and the Stowa 1938) is what is currently keeping me awake at night.
 

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Dress watch (grade 1):
...

The classic example would be the Patek 5120J. Or the Piaget Altiplano G0A29113 in WG with a black dial and Dauphine hands.
Most classic style guides (and my tailor) insist on a white dial. You are free to use a black dial if you're wearing denim and cowboy boots.

Examples that come to my mind are the Submariner, the Planet Ocean, any big Breitling (not Bentley), a Tag Aquaracer Chrono and so on.
Notable exceptions might be the Speedmaster Pro and the Submariner. Because of their dimensions and simple, elegant design as well as their legendary heritage these might make it with a suit.
The only suit in which a watch with the term submarine in it would be acceptable is a wet suit.
 

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Most classic style guides (and my tailor) insist on a white dial. You are free to use a black dial if you're wearing denim and cowboy boots.



The only suit in which a watch with the term submarine in it would be acceptable is a wet suit.
I'm just really, really glad I don't have to worry about all these silly rules. I wear a suit. I also wear a Doxa with it. Or a black faced Hamilton. No ones said anything negative, in fact, if anything IS said it's usually a compliment about how good the watch looks.

So absolute statements about what works and what doesn't really don't have much bearing in the real world.
 
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Woah, this is seriously thorough. Great read!

A few points i disagree with though, it's purely based on personal opinion, not saying who's right or wrong.

1. I would say Sports watch is something with a rubber strap. A Datejust seems a little too dressy to be classified as a sports watch (i would put it under grade 2 dress). My example would be a Planet Ocean on rubber. Or the IWC Aquatimer on rubber.

2. Replace the Tool Watch Category with a Casual Watch Category. The watches you listed are fine examples of a casual watch. I would add to the list: Panerai. These are watches which look a little out of place with a suit, but look right at home with polo tee, berms or jeans.

Your grade 1 dress is spot on!.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
@Metlin I'm strict but not quite as strict as you and your tailor are on these things. ;) Still, you won't see me wearing a Sub with a suit. But you might see me wearing an E1 with a suit.

@Hercule Glad you liked the read. The definition I gave is what one would call the traditional definition, where sportswear was anything else than a suit which was actually everyday wear. That's where the distinction comes from.

In your definition, what becomes of tool watches? I mean there are these watches and they are undoubtedly meant and designed for a certain purpose other than going to the bowling alley. ;) They are real tools. So why not call them that.

Whether people today choose to wear tool watches casually for whatever sociological reason (probably they think it will give them manliness and much needed sense of adventure in their boring lives :-d) is a completely different discussion. In this discussion, I think it helps to keep the traditional definitions because they are quite fitting, and then check how these definitions are questioned nowadays (as you just did).

As for Panerai, I'd put those into the sports watch category. At least the models without diving bezel and with a simple two or three hand layout. The dial design is as simple and elegant as that of many dress watches. The shape is almost sculptural. For the Marina 1950 I think it is a sculptural shape. They usually come on a leather strap and they can look quite elegant when worn on a black gator. The watch is also highly polished. All of these elements are rather dress watch than diver tool. So putting it into the sports watch category in between sounds fair.
 

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Where exactly is the range between "rich enough to need to worry about this" and "so rich I don't have to worry about this?" Since I'll never even qualify for the former I just sit back and watch the festivities.
 

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I've always viewed tool watches as jagged looking critters, watches with minimal decoration:



Surely dive watches and chronographs with polished surfaces should count as sports watches, as they would be acceptable with suits in a business environment as well as a casual environment. Though not dress watches by any means.

 
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