Which Watch to Dress for Success?


Kevin Costner

A man’s watch is usually his only form of jewelry. When a man wears a watch – any watch – he’s sending a message. His watch tells the world something about his taste, lifestyle, philosophy and income. Many people are oblivious to the message (at least consciously). Some pay close attention (e.g., readers of this website). To dress for success, to choose the right watch to project your status/excellence, consider basic psychology . . .

The human mind has evolved to categorizes things and people. Call it stereotyping, profiling, whatever. It’s a social safety measure. If you can put someone in a box – form a general opinion of their social status – they become predictable. You can formulate a strategy for interaction. He’s important! I’ll listen. He’s no one special. I’ll pretend to listen.

Dress for success - Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Tourbillon

A watch that says a person has achieved popularity, profit, or distinction” is useful for figuring out who’s who in a human pack. A $125k Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle Tourbillon doesn’t tell you exactly who you’re dealing with, but it sure helps fill-in the blanks.

On the wrong wrist, a Rolex President sends the wrong message: I’m way better than you. A too-bling thing can create envy and resentment. Maybe that’s why there are plenty of hugely successful men who wouldn’t dream of projecting (flaunting?) their success by wearing an obviously expensive watch.

An inexpensive watch can send an inclusive message: I’m frugal. A successful “man of the people” who doesn’t need to show off. Although someone might look at your Timex Weekender and think that’s all the poor bastard can afford? Level up!

Watch messaging can be pretty complicated. To simplify: selecting a watch to dress for success is something of a binary choice: conformity (wear a watch that people recognize and admire) or nonconformity (wear an unexpectedly inexpensive or strange watch).

Donald Trump Rolex Day-Date

Donald Trump’s gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual Day-Date (a.k.a., President) conforms to expectations. [ED: Let’s leave it at that.]

Bill Gates

Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates’ Casio Duro – yours for $48.06 – confounds expectations.

Ulysse Nardin Dual Time

Jeff Bezos’ Ulysse Nardin Dual Time splits the difference; it’s expensive but not THAT expensive.

Best advice? Don’t be Bezos. Go high or go low. Wear something obviously expensive or obviously pedestrian (a.k.a., cheap). Or forget the whole thing and wear whatever watch you like. Confidently! Let your words and body language do the talking. Just know that an uncategorizable watch makes you an enigma. A potential problem.

Assuming you came to play, operate under the assumption that there’s no One Watch To Rule Them All. No matter what the price point, wearing the right type of watch for the right occasion increases the chances of being perceived as a success. There are three basic genres.

The “daily beater”

Sinn - dress for success

A daily beater is a hardy watch, a timepiece you’re not afraid to scratch or break. Watches that fit this description are often called “tool watches.” If you’re interacting with people in an informal setting, a tool watch sends the message that you’re comfortable with physical activity. You’re a man of action who’s not afraid to get dirty or take risks. (Sinn 104 A St Sa above.)

The business watch

OMEGA Aqua Terra Apple Store

Many people wear obvious tool watches (e.g., a Rolex Submariner) in business settings. Wrong answer. A business watch is an inside toy. It should be something practical yet beautiful. Large watches with complications complicate the message. Stick with a relatively small and simple timepiece that reflects your excellent taste. (OMEGA Aqua Terra above.)

The formal watch

Blancpain dress watch

The formal watch should be reserved for formal occasions and important business meetings. Also called a dress watch, the upmarket archetype is a slim, gold, mechanical watch with white dial worn on a crocodile strap. No bells and whistles. Simple, elegant, focused. Remember: there are plenty of quartz-powered watches that fit the bill for under $500.

Dress for Success! 

The “right watch” doesn’t make you successful. But there is value in wearing a timepiece that helps you down the path to success in its own little – or big – way. At the same time your watch can be a powerful reminder to yourself that you’re a success, no matter what anyone thinks.

Click here to purchase Franz Rivoira’s comprehensive book The Watch Manual

You can read more of his horological writing at Quora.com


  1. What I like about the Weekender (or field watches in general) is its versatility, if you are young, like watches, and don’t have a lot of money a field watch is perfect. It’s sporty, and not something you have to worry about getting scratched up. In fact, it probably looks better with some wear or patina. It’s understated, so you can wear it at the office or at more formal events. With three or four different Nato straps, it can be ready for any occasion.

  2. Business watch rule of thumb, if you’re under a million years old: wear whatever you want as long is it fits under your sleeve. If it’s so big/garish/tool-y that it has to sit outside your sleeve? You’re doing it wrong.

  3. At one point I read John Molloy’s “Dress for Success” and IIRC that 1970’s edition basically said a watch should be plain, slim, and gold. Paul Fussell has a funny bit on the low class implications of excessive complications that I’ll cite when I get home.
    He, along with two other satirical socio-economic class books all mention the cheap Timex on a ribbon strap. Unless mirroring superiors, I’d go with the advice that the less anything is noticed, the better. The possible risks of anything noteworthy or recognizable tend to outweigh any potential benefit. I’m highly skeptical that any mystical shibboleth will garner acceptance and approval on its own.

    • I’ve read Molloy and Fussell. John Hughes and P.J. O’Rourke made similar observations about watches in late seventies or early eighties issue of the National Lampoon, and I think the Timex on a ribbon gets a mention in the Preppy Handbook.

      • You got me: the previously unnamed books were O’Rouke’s “Modern Manners” and Birnbach’s “The Official Preppy Handbook.” As these titles are all older than AOC, they may not be the most current opinions.

        • LMAO. I thought I was the only weirdo who had read all of those books. The advice probably isn’t as relevant now, as everybody has gotten more casual over the years. I think if you are young, and come from some sort of weird social strata that isn’t quite poor, blue collar, or middle class but a blend of all three, the advice isn’t bad when you are just starting out and don’t have a lot of disposable income. Otherwise, it just comes across as stuffy and snobby. Don’t yuck other people’s yums.

    • “The general rule about wristwatches is, the more ‘scientific,’ technological, and space-age, the lower. Likewise with the more ‘information’ the watch is supposed to convey, like the time of day in Kuala Lumpur, the number of days elapsed in the year so far, or the current sign of the zodiac. …devotees of the Cartier tank watch …will argue that even a second hand compromises … class implying …need for great accuracy, as if he were something like a professional timer of bus arrivals and departures.”
      –Paul Fussel, Class: A Guide Throught the American Class System

  4. Casual. Apple Watch, or a FitBit if you can’t afford an Apple Watch. Business. Apple Watch. Formal. Regrettably, Apple Watch.

  5. Or forget the whole thing and wear whatever watch you like. Confidently! Let your words and body language do the talking. Just know that an uncategorizable watch makes you an enigma. A potential problem.

    In the end, THAT’S what matters… confidence and self-esteem. Being an “enigma” can be leveraged to your advantage, too. If you wear it like a boss… because you ARE a boss… then it doesn’t matter what you wear.

    They aren’t paying attention to the watch, if they can’t take their eyes (and attention) off of YOU.

    • The old line about wearing clothing and not letting the clothing wear you applies here. If one is self-conscious about the watch, it is wrong for him. Yeah, yeah, there’s some first week pride that should wear off, but any concern will show as discomfort and unease, which is too close to insecurity or phoniness.

      Anyone else get trade magazines that, too often, feature some CEO posed on the cover with the shirt cuff pulled up and the wrist unnaturally displayed in front of him to highlight ‘the watch?’ The desperate desire for attention seems really pathetic to me. It should be a part of you, not a constant show and tell.

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