Which watch?

Editor’s Note: This piece, by Dean Ricciardi, is the next in a series on watches. Dean is a fantastic guy who also works on the site.

So you like watches; maybe you are getting interested in them or the first time, or maybe you have a couple and you’re thinking about getting another, but you aren’t obsessed (like some of us) and haven’t paid a lot of attention to what’s out there.

The watch market is fully saturated, with dozens of major brands and hundreds of smaller ones at all price levels. For someone who isn’t familiar with the market, it can be overwhelming. I’m not going to attempt to suggest specific models, but if you’re interested in a watch and aren’t sure where to start, there are some styles that work well for everyday wear.

As with clothing, details matter and taste is subjective; I used to like watches with Roman numerals, but I wouldn’t choose one today. It’s important to know your tastes and preferences so you don’t end up with something you end up disliking.

(I’m not declaring that one style of watch is more Ivy than another, or that watch X is Ivy but watch Y is not. I’m just highlighting broad design features of some types of watches that have endured in the marketplace. If chosen thoughtfully, any one of these could be an “only watch” for the right person.)


People who prefer a clean, classic, restrained look may find a dressier style pleasing. Once very common, most brands still offer at least a few models that have these features: look for simple dials with minimal decoration; thin rectangular markers at the hour positions; slim rectangular or pointed hands; and restrained branding. This is also where you are more likely to find cases in yellow or rose gold, and these metals are arguably more appropriate for such styles. A leather strap is a more traditional choice here, but some metal bracelet have very sophisticated designs.

In the middle decades of the 20th century rectangular watches were very popular, but were gradually surpassed in popularity by round styles. If a squared-off style appeals to you, they are still currently produced by some brands, but they are more likely to be found in higher-end ones. (If I’m wrong, correct me—this is a blind spot in my knowledge.)


Broadly, the field watch has military origins and is designed for high legibility and easy reading. You’re likely to see numerals at all 12 dial positions, larger hands, and maybe a second hand in a bright or contrasting color to stand out. Rugged cases can take the rigors of an active lifestyle. Some versions have an inner ring of smaller numerals on the dial for 24-hour time. Dials are frequently black, but you’ll see other colors too.


Another watch with military origins, the pilot watch has its own distinct features. Legibility is again key, but dials often have numerals only at the quarters (12, 3, 6, 9) and it’s common for these numerals to be somewhat oversized. These and the other hour markers are often stark white on a black dial for maximum contrast. The other hour positions are marked by thick lines, with thinner, shorter (but still highly visible) lines for the minutes between those positions.


First popularized in the 1950s, dive watches are on the wrists of many people who have never strapped on scuba tanks—myself included. Dive watch fans find appeal in the legibility, rugged construction, and aesthetics of the style, which features a rotating bezel meant to track the time a diver has remaining before it’s necessary to return to the surface. Metal bracelets are common, but so are rubber or silicone straps that can hold up to pool or ocean use.


The addition of a fourth hand enables the wearer to track time in a second time zone. Some GMT watches feature such a hand that circles the dial once every 24 hours, while on others it makes a 12-hour circuit. It’s a useful feature, but again some people like having it just for the look. If you’re genuinely interested in using a GMT watch for this purpose, I’ll refer you here for a fuller explanation.


A chronograph has a stopwatch feature that operates independently of the watch’s running seconds hand. A typical chronograph has three subdials that, depending on their number and specific functions, track the running seconds, time up to 30 minutes, and time up to 12 hours (there are variations, but this is a common configuration). There are two pushers mounted on either side of the crown; one starts and stops the timer function while the other resets it. There’s also another second hand mounted on the center axis that starts moving when the timer function is engaged. Some chronographs have an outer bezel with a tachymeter scale that is used to convert elapsed time to speed. 

Chronographs were used by some pilots, but became more popular in the 1960s as a tool worn by those involved in auto racing. As with dive watches, a large proportion of those who wear one have never been to a race track (including myself again) but find the elapsed time function useful in certain situations.

Final thoughts

Much like clothing designers, designers in the watch industry like to tinker with existing styles and forms. Often this translates into designs that remix features from different styles, so it’s not at all unusual to see a pilot’s watch with a dive bezel, or a chronograph with a GMT function.

I haven’t even touched on size, or the very divisive question of whether or not a watch should have a date window. I guess those considerations will be in my next installment…

Some of the author’s collection.
  • Dean Ricciardi

7 Comments on "Which watch?"

  1. An interesting primer. Slim dress watches all the way, thank you. Bigger, chunkier, and more complicated models work for some, but I like to keep things very simple. A large sports watch somehow looks off with a suit or blazer-odd pants combo. And besides, do we really need to keep pulling out our iPhones one more time? Far more dignified to glance at one’s watch.

    Kind Regards,


  2. Hardbopper | May 2, 2024 at 3:10 pm |

    Thanks, Dean. Looking forward to more.

    Agree on all, H-U.

    My nice watch is not a dress watch, but neither is it oversized with unnecessary functions. It’s not a compromise; It is versatile. Enough that it is what I need one or two days/week and upon occasion. I would really rather not wear it daily, so if it became necessary, I would look for a vintage navy dial.

    To that point, the pictured Hamilton Field Watch, for example, if strapped with a new, black, dress-shoe leather or alligator strap, it could be worn all business or even black-tie/white-tie.

  3. michael powell | May 2, 2024 at 4:58 pm |

    I wore a diver to the doctor’s office this morning. About 10 minutes ago, I switched to a pilot chronograph (sometimes, I just want a fresh look on my wrist). Most of my watches are on NATO straps. My “dress” divers and GMTs are on bracelets (sometimes, I just want to feel pretty). I wear a G-Shock to bed every night. It lights up in the dark, and it tells me what day it is when I wake up.

  4. Tim Irvine | May 3, 2024 at 11:50 am |

    I have never wanted another watch or felt I needed one. A thin, round gold 1970s Chopard with a white face and Roman numerals and a black leather strap covers most everything, but for most casual moments, a simple, stainless mid-1960s Rolex Oyster is perfect. It has a variety of nylon straps. For those watch-less times (black tie or formal and golf), an old Gerard Perregaux gold pocket watch is ideal. Regarding the trend to round faces, the Cartier Tank is a glaring exception. My wife wears one.

  5. Agent Ivy | May 3, 2024 at 12:24 pm |

    To each his own, but I’ve never understood people who are SO particular about style, but say they don’t care about the watch on their wrist – literally the quintessential men’s accessory.

  6. Jason Ward | May 3, 2024 at 12:39 pm |

    Bulova, Seiko, and Hamilton still produce affordable, quality square abd rectangular watches.

  7. Clyde McConnell | May 3, 2024 at 12:49 pm |

    Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke
    I agree, watches thicker than 6mm just wear your sleeves out.

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