What Style of Watch Should You Wear to a Formal Event

by James Ward on September 03, 2021

What style of watch should you wear to a formal event? While the answer to this should really be simple, that would defeat the object of this piece, whilst also ignoring the minefield that is the etiquette of picking the right men’s formal watch or evening watch. For those evenings where the tuxedo or black tie is essential, or perhaps you’re attending a wedding (whether yours or someone else's), there are a number of traditions and pitfalls that need to be successfully navigated if you’re to separate yourself from the sartorial novices. So if you want to appear like getting invited to all the best evening soirees is second nature – and, believe us, the right choice of watch goes a long way in maintaining that illusion – here are the tips you need to know.

What is the go-to style for a men’s formal watch? 

If you’re attending a formal event, then you need a similarly formal watch – and that’s where the dress watch comes in. The dress watch is typically associated with those occasions where looking smart is expected, nay, essential. While some may call their watch a black-tie watch or a tuxedo watch, the idea is the same – you need something that complements your outfit quietly yet assuredly, whilst being slim enough to fit under your shirt cuff.

By their very nature, dress watches are the go-to for smart occasions like these. With their typically smaller case designs and understated dials, they’re meant to be refined, elegant and traditional. Like any well-tailored suit, you want something that invites attention, but doesn’t shout. Just like you’d prefer to make your entrance gliding up the drive in a luxury coupe than a snarling muscle car, those in the know will recognise quality when they see it.


What wrist do I wear it on?

Your watch is typically worn upon your non-writing hand. It makes sense: if you’re right-handed and wearing a traditional watch whose crown is located on the right-hand side of the case (about 90% of people are right-handed), then you can operate it easily with your dominant hand.


What size watch do I wear?

In principle, dress watches go by the rule of the smaller, the better. Traditionalists will say that any men’s evening watch shouldn’t be any larger than 35mm in size.

What strap should I fit to my men’s evening watch?

A good question – and one at the heart of many social faux pas that can blow your cover come the big day. For any men’s luxury evening watch, the done thing is to wear your watch on a leather strap – no rubber or NATO straps, nor any chunky metal bracelets. Leather (or even alligator or stingray, if you can get hold of them responsibly) helps to add a certain charm to a watch. Remember, the men’s formal watch is about understatement and elegance, so simple, muted colours are the order of the day here. The finishing touch here is achieved via co-ordination: match the colour of your strap to both your belt and your shoes. Similarly, if you’ve decided to wear steel cufflinks, choose a formal watch with a steel case. A mishmash of different colours and metals makes it seem like you’ve given insufficient time to crafting your overall appearance. And if you’re appearing at an event where photographs are being taken, remember any half measures you take will be captured for eternity.


Can I wear a dive watch with a suit? James Bond wore one.

The common consensus is that wearing a dive watch for a formal occasion is unacceptable. It’s heresy, an abomination, etc etc etc.

Now let us stop right here.

So far, we’ve been toeing the same line that most other watch publications do surrounding the etiquette for men’s formal watches. But we’ve reached the line here. Sean Connery – the coolest James Bond, no arguments – wore a dive watch with a tux, and he knocked it out of the park. Now, none of us may ever be as cool as Sean Connery, but if his approach to choosing which black-tie watch to wear is anything to go by, there’s a lesson to be learned: rip up the rulebook.

So to repeat that earlier question: what style of watch should you wear to a formal event? Here’s the real answer: you should be able to wear exactly what you want when you want.

If you have a watch that you enjoy wearing, go ahead and put it on – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. So it’s bigger than 35mm in size, and would have the traditionalists fuming, but you like it? Wear it. You prefer wearing your watch on a rubber strap than a leather one? Then wear it. You’d rather put it on your right hand, despite being a righty already? You already know the answer. Don’t be a slave to convention, or a sheep to trends. Follow your instinct and have courage in your convictions.
And herein lies the crucial point: wear a watch that represents who you are. If you like wearing bold colours, wear bold colours. You can learn a lot about a person by their watch; whether they’re a stickler for tradition, or if they’re prepared to rip up the road. At TRIBUS, we can get behind the latter. Don’t be the person who doesn’t wear a watch just because they read a list of rules that some pretentious writer regurgitated on the internet. Be the person who makes a watch their evening watch because they love it and they’re proud of it, status quo be damned.

Whatever watch you choose for your evening in the black tie or tuxedo, you have something that will start a conversation. Because what does everyone dread when they see they’re sat next to a stranger at that black tie do? That they’re sat next to the most boring person in the room. If anything, a watch provides an entry point to a discussion. Deep down, every person is hoping that you’ll notice what they have on their wrist, and have at least a couple of stories ready to go – how they discovered the watch, what occasion they bought it for or received it on, and so on. Every dinner watch has its own tale – it’s just a case of finding out what makes each one special.

So you have a watch that dares to be different. Standing out isn’t always easy; if it was, everyone would do it. But as we say at TRIBUS: own your time. This mantra extends to our own watches. We know our watches don’t fall into the conventional categories for what you might typically wear as a tuxedo watch or men’s luxury evening watch. For a start, our watches all clock in at 41mm size, much to the horror of the traditionalists. But if you want a watch with a story, or with colours that dare to break away from the muted tones usually associated with men’s formal watches, take a look at the list below and exactly why each Tribus will make you the most interesting person at the table.



The TRI-01 Small Second COSC

Not only the first TRIBUS, but the TRI-01 even stays true to some of the classic rules of men’s formal watches: with a clean dial, small second sub-dial, and large Arabic numerals, it has traditional styling aplenty. Black and cream dials are perfect for the most understated out there; but if you really want to cut loose, a choice of yellow, teal and salmon dials will add energy to any outfit. Factor in its COSC movement – placing it in the top 6% of all Swiss-made watches for accuracy – and this is a stunner on all levels.


The TRI-02 GMT 3 Timezone COSC

Sharp black and yellow visuals. That large GMT hand, combined with an inner 24-hour ring and adjustable outer bezel. COSC-certified timekeeping. The TRI-02 is a watch engineered for the international traveller or businessperson, capable of reading the time in three timezones simultaneously. Even if you haven’t been abroad in ages, setting the two other timezones to Tokyo and New York helps to maintain the illusion.


The TRI-03 Power Reserve GMT COSC

Elegant and timeless, the TRI-03 continues down the path of the typical formal men’s watch with its suave visuals. Yet to anyone to anyone nearby with an understanding of horology that sees the TRI-03, the dual-time and power reserve indicators on the dial reveal this watch to be a special piece of watchmaking indeed – and that’s before any mention is made of its COSC-certified timekeeping. Available with understated dial colours like cream and black, plus a choice of case finishes (if you wear gold cufflinks, there’s a TRI-03 for you), the yellow and gunmetal model is the eccentric pick of the bunch.


The TRI-04 Power Reserve GMT Sport COSC

Dual-time and power reserve functions. Chronometer-certified timekeeping. An adjustable sports bezel. That the TRI-04 is a stand-out watch in the TRIBUS range is something of an irony when you consider its blockbuster stealthy visuals. While its adjustable internal bezel can be used to time what remains of a sports half, it can also come in handy for other useful activities, like tracking how long the after-dinner speaker has rattled on for or when it’s acceptable to order the next round.

The TRI-05 303 Squadron P8331 Limited Edition

The TRI-05 has a piece of metal from a Spitfire that was shot down during the Second World War embedded into its backplate. It tells a story of 18,000 Polish heroes who protected Britain during our darkest hour, who were then barred from attending the British Victory March of 1946. Funds from each watch sold are being helped to return the original Spitfire, P8331, to airworthy condition. If this doesn’t start a conversation, nothing will.

The TRI-06 My Dog Sighs Limited Edition

Each model in this 50-piece collection features a dial uniquely hand-painted by My Dog Sighs, one of the UK’s more vital street artists and the founder of worldwide art movement Free Art Friday. All feature an array of vibrant colours, each one different to the next. So while the guy sat opposite might be boasting that his watch is strictly limited to 100 pieces, you can rest assured that yours is totally one-of-a-kind.

The TRI-11 TW8 Limited Edition 

This one may be a little more specific in terms of its target audience, but it remains very special nonetheless. A watch created for fans of Brentford Football Club, the TW8 Limited Edition is built to remember the club’s former home of 116 years, Griffin Park. Featuring metal melted down from the four corners of the ground, the TW8 ensures that fans of the Bees can carry a piece of their old home with them, wherever they go.


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