The Gold Dress Watch

By Sean Song

The gold dress watch has always had a special place in any gentleman’s collection, yet it is often ignored or under-appreciated. That being said, there is a certain quiet confidence when one wears, for instance, a yellow-gold Patek Philippe Ref. 3429, a timepiece both steeped in tradition, but equally the embodiment of horological discretion.

Men's time-only vintage gold dress watches from Patek Philippe, IWC, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and Universal Geneve

Gold, time-only vintage dress watches from the 40s, 50s and 60s - and a modern white gold one

Russell Page, the famous British garden designer once said: "Understatement leaves the imagination free to build its own elaborations" insisting that what you conceal, say’s a lot more about a person than what he reveals. And so today, as an ode to understatement, we've curated several vintage, gold, time-only watches (and one modern), that we think embody this philosophy and should have a place in any discerning collection.

Patek Philippe Calatrava 3429

Patek Philippe Calatrava 3429 18-carat yellow gold automatic Cal. 27-460 vintage authentic pre-owned dress luxury watch from 1963 with silver dial and black crocodile strap with hours, minutes, small seconds

Yellow gold, time-only vintage Patek Philippe Calatrava dress watch from the 1960s

Let's begin with the blue-chip of all dress watches, the Patek Philippe Calatrava. This in particular, is the Ref. 3429 from 1963, and is powered by the Geneva-sealed, self-winding Calibre 27-460. With straight lugs and a svelte 35mm domed yellow-gold case (which wears larger on the wrist due to its thin bezel), this watch is certainly an exercise in restraint, focusing instead on subtle details. The elongated index markers, for instance, really draw out the dial as it domes at the edges, producing a watch that manifests a fantastic balance between the white space on the dial and the logo, sub-seconds and hour markers. Overall, the 3429 exudes vintage sophistication through its aesthetics, married with a certain classical utilitarianism, thanks to its ever-reliable Calibre 27-460.

Patek Philippe Calatrava 3429 18-carat yellow gold automatic Cal. 27-460 vintage authentic pre-owned dress luxury watch from 1963 with silver dial and black crocodile strap with hours, minutes, small seconds

On the wrist - yellow gold, vintage Patek Philippe Calatrava dress watch

Patek Philippe Calatrava 3429 18-carat yellow gold automatic Cal. 27-460 vintage authentic pre-owned dress luxury watch from 1963 with silver dial and black crocodile strap with hours, minutes, small seconds

Slim, elongated, applied gold index markers on a Patek Philippe Calatrava 3429

Patek Philippe Calatrava 3429 18-carat yellow gold automatic Cal. 27-460 vintage authentic pre-owned dress luxury watch from 1963 with silver dial and black crocodile strap with hours, minutes, small seconds

Dome above the Patek Philippe Calatrava 3429

Audemars Piguet K2071

Audemars Piguet Vintage Automatic 18-carat yellow gold automatic Cal. K2071 vintage authentic pre-owned dress, rare luxury watch from circa 1960s with cream silver dial and brown alligator strap with hours, minutes, center seconds

A worthy competitor to the Patek Philippe Calatrava 3429 - an Audemars Piguet automatic vintage watch

Competing directly with Patek Philippe’s Calibre 27-460 from the same era, was the self-winding Calibre 2071 from Audemars Piguet. While at a first glance, it may seem very similar to the 3429 aesthetically, there are several subtle differences, such as the use of shorter applied index markers and thinner lugs. It may seem pedantic, but when it comes to a watch, it really does make a difference. An example being the thicker bezel on this Audemars Piguet, when compared to our previous Patek Philippe Calatrava, which is only bigger by perhaps a millimeter, but which makes it wear a lot smaller on the wrist.

It's also interesting to note, that only 800 of these cal. 2071 watches were made, making this example much harder to find than its counterpart. The easiest way to spot this rare movement is through its beautifully finished 18k solid gold rotor.

Audemars Piguet Vintage Automatic 18-carat yellow gold automatic Cal. K2071 vintage authentic pre-owned dress, rare luxury watch from circa 1960s with cream silver dial and brown alligator strap with hours, minutes, center seconds

On the wrist - vintage yellow gold Audemars Piguet Automatic from the 1960s

Audemars Piguet Vintage Automatic 18-carat yellow gold automatic Cal. K2071 vintage authentic pre-owned dress, rare luxury watch from circa 1960s with cream silver dial and brown alligator strap with hours, minutes, center seconds

The rare, embellished rotor and automatic movement inside a vintage yellow gold Audemars Piguet

IWC Schaffhausen Cal. 89

IWC Schaffhasuen 18-carat rose gold manual-winding Cal. 89 vintage authentic pre-owned dress luxury watch from circa 1954 with silver dial and brown crocodile strap with hours, minutes, center seconds

An IWC classic dress watch, the Cal. 89, in rose gold

Few things are iconic enough to define a brand and help shape their very identity. The Cal. 89, from the International Watch Company, is well and truly one of those things. Born out of adversity, after their factories were destroyed in World War II, the Cal. 89 was initially made to military specifications, gaining a reputation for being robust and reliable, but also simple. As the war drew to a close and the company shifted towards civilian watches, the movement was maintained and used in a variety of IWC’s time-only pieces. What we have here is an excellent example of that in the form of an 18k rose gold dress watch.

There is something so cool about having a military-inspired movement, powering a dress watch. Moreover, dress watches in the last century were predominantly cased in yellow gold, so to have one in rose gold, makes it extra special. With fancy lugs, this IWC distinguishes itself from other pieces and adds a cool sense of flair, nicely juxtaposing with the symmetry and simplicity of its overall design.

IWC Schaffhasuen 18-carat rose gold manual-winding Cal. 89 vintage authentic pre-owned dress luxury watch from circa 1954 with silver dial and brown crocodile strap with hours, minutes, center seconds

Did you know that historically, pink used to be the gentleman's colour?

IWC Schaffhasuen 18-carat rose gold manual-winding Cal. 89 vintage authentic pre-owned dress luxury watch from circa 1954 with silver dial and brown crocodile strap with hours, minutes, center seconds

Tricolor - IWC rose gold Cal. 89 with silver dial and yellow gold details

Universal Genève Classic Cal. 42 with the coat-of-arms of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Universal Genève Classic with the Emblem of Saudi Arabia 42 18-carat yellow gold manual-winding Cal. 42 vintage authentic pre-owned dress luxury watch from 1965 with silver dial and black alligator strap with hours, minutes

A vintage Universal Genève watch with the Emblem of Saudi Arabia

Perhaps Universal Genève are less known for their time-only dress watches and more so for their chronographs and triple calendars, but this example, cased in 18k yellow gold can certainly hold its weight. As mentioned previously, when it comes to the success of dress watches, it is the culmination of many details that distinguishes one from the other, without having to be loud or ostentatious. What we have here then, is a special Universal, with the Saudi Arabian Coat of Arms printed on the dial and most likely commissioned as a gift. With a brushed silver dial, slim index markers and straight, angular lugs, the form of the watch is minimalist and allows the emblem to take center-stage, resulting in a watch that has a subtle, special touch whilst remaining understated.

Universal Genève Classic with the Emblem of Saudi Arabia 42 18-carat yellow gold manual-winding Cal. 42 vintage authentic pre-owned dress luxury watch from 1965 with silver dial and black alligator strap with hours, minutes

This Universal Genève stays understated, yet special on the wrist

Universal Genève Classic with the Emblem of Saudi Arabia 42 18-carat yellow gold manual-winding Cal. 42 vintage authentic pre-owned dress luxury watch from 1965 with silver dial and black alligator strap with hours, minutes

Vintage Universal Genève Cal. 42 dial with the coat-of-arms of Saudi Arabia

Vacheron Constantin Oversized 4537 with engine-turned dial

Vacheron Constantin Oversize Vintage Engine-turned Dial yellow gold manual-winding Cal. P453/3B vintage authentic pre-owned dress, rare luxury watch from circa 1949 with silver guilloché dial and brown alligator strap with hours, minutes, small seconds

A rare, Vacheron Constantin watch with a stunning chevron pattern, similar to Marlon Brando's

The Vacheron Constantin Ref. 4537, nicknamed and part of the ‘XXL’ family, due to its oversized 38mm case and lugs, is certainly the most modern, where size is concerned. Powered by the manually-wound Calibre 453, Vacheron knew a thing or two about how to embellish their dress watches. Firstly, look at that guilloché dial; the textured depth, achieved through the chevron style engine-turning, makes a fantastically vibrant face. Reference 4537s were made in different dial styles, some plainer than others, with this one certainly much rarer than most. The twisted lugs, emblematic of the era, add a vintage flourish and further complement the guillochéd dial. Furthermore, the Vacheron & Constantin logo was created in champlevé enamel - engraved and then filled with enamel - ensuring it never fades. All in all, Vacheron Constantin has somehow managed to inject a sense of fun and whimsy into this dress watch, a genre that is often more inclined towards seriousness and formality.

Vacheron Constantin Oversize Vintage Engine-turned Dial yellow gold manual-winding Cal. P453/3B vintage authentic pre-owned dress, rare luxury watch from circa 1949 with silver guilloché dial and brown alligator strap with hours, minutes, small seconds

This gold Vacheron Constantin is pure elegance on the wrist

Vacheron Constantin Oversize Vintage Engine-turned Dial yellow gold manual-winding Cal. P453/3B vintage authentic pre-owned dress, rare luxury watch from circa 1949 with silver guilloché dial and brown alligator strap with hours, minutes, small seconds

Stunning craftsmanship - engine-turned dial and logo in champlevé enamel

Vintage or gold not for you? A white gold Patek Philippe 5196 might be the answer.

Patek Philippe Calatrava 5196G-001 18-carat white gold manual-winding Cal. 215 PS authentic pre-owned dress luxury watch from 2012 with silver dial and black Patek Philippe strap with hours, minutes, sub-seconds

Based on the classics - a modern, white gold Patek Philippe Calatrava 5196G

Still looking for a dress watch but not inclined towards vintage? Well, we would like to think that we can cater to a diverse readership, and so if that is the case, may we suggest an alternative? Inspired by the past but as modern as it gets, the Patek Philippe Ref. 5196 is the answer.

Cased in white gold, which is very fashionable; the dial is brushed silver and discreet, inspiring a certain utilitarian classicism and agelessly complemented by the elegance of the Dauphine hands and index markers. A direct descendent of the first ever Calatrava, the Ref. 96, this watch is larger at 37 mm, but keeps all the right proportions. The Patek Philippe Ref. 5196 shows how modern interpretations should be done, and how traditions should be maintained: with a nod to the past, but well and truly forward-looking.

Patek Philippe Calatrava 5196G-001 18-carat white gold manual-winding Cal. 215 PS authentic pre-owned dress luxury watch from 2012 with silver dial and black Patek Philippe strap with hours, minutes, sub-seconds

For modern gentlemen - on the wrist with Patek Philippe's 5196G Calatrava

Patek Philippe Calatrava 5196G-001 18-carat white gold manual-winding Cal. 215 PS authentic pre-owned dress luxury watch from 2012 with silver dial and black Patek Philippe strap with hours, minutes, sub-seconds

Shades of grey - silver dial and white gold case on the Calatrava 5196

Conclusion

It is clear to see with the watches highlighted today, that even within the seemingly limited category of gold dress watches, a large diversity of designs can be found and appreciated, from original lugs to beautifully textured dials. I’ve always found what is not immediately obvious is far more interesting, be it a champlevé enameled logo or something as simple as the effect of having elongated index markers. The gold dress-watch certainly is testament to, and a lesson in, subtle expression and confidence.

All of the highlighted vintage watches are listed, among others here at www.watchxchange.london


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