When it comes to classic dress watches for men, it’s all about understated and unpretentious style. Classic watches appeal to self-assured gentlemen who don’t need flashing lights and chimes on their watch to get attention and, in this context, the three-hander wins hands down. Three-hand watches perform the very essential functions of a watch and only indicate the hours, minutes and seconds – and possibly the date – against an uncluttered background. For many horophiles, a round 39mm mechanical gold watch on a leather strap is the apogee of good taste but, as you will discover, there are many varieties of three-hand watches to suit gentlemen of all tastes and pockets.
Look for a streamlined silhouette
As any designer will admit, making something simple is often harder than making something complex. It involves reducing and streamlining, taking out rather than putting in and striking a harmonious balance that is pleasing to the eye. Most classic men’s three-hand watches come in round cases, which is why I love the curvaceous contours of Vacheron Constantin’s Malte watch.
Introduced in 1912, the tonneau-shaped (or barrel-shaped) case is the genetic marker of the Malte collection. In rich pink gold, the slate-coloured dial is my idea of elegance and understated refinement. The two gold Roman numerals and the hour markers are calibrated at different lengths to hug the curves of the case and draw the eye towards the exterior. Refined gold hour and minutes hands circle the dial, while the third hand for the seconds is neatly tucked away in the small seconds counter at 6 o’clock.
The Rolex Cellini: a timeless classic
The lustrous white lacquer dial, with elongated gold hour markers, is the backdrop for the central hour, minute and seconds hands of this timeless classic. The hands, shaped like double-edged gold swords taper beautifully to a sharp point for precision readings. All the Cellini models are covered by the Superlative chronometer certification redefined by Rolex in 2015 and boast a precision rate of -2/+2 seconds per day, more than twice that required of an official COSC chronometer.
Omega, official Olympic timekeeper and creator of the Moonwatch, reserves a special place for traditional gents’ watches in its De Ville collection. Launched in 1960, the De Ville was positioned as a watch “for the well-dressed man” and is still Omega’s classic dress watch par excellence. With its distinctive pie-pan dial, so called because the recessed perimeter and raised central area look very much like an inverted pie pan, this particular model combines the warmth of a 41mm red gold case with a delicious chocolate brown dial. The three hands are also crafted in red gold, as are the elegant Roman hour markers.
A dress watch, but not as you know it
For something with a bit more edge – make that eight edges – there is Audemars Piguet’s iconic Royal Oak, the one with the distinctive octagonal bezel and the trademark waffle motif on the dial. This three-handed model in a 37mm pink gold case, with a slate-grey dial, works perfectly well as a dress watch if you like the solid gold look. Beautifully finished with contrasting polished and satin-brushed gold surfaces, the watch comes on a luxurious integrated pink gold bracelet that flows naturally from the case.
The Cellini Time model from Rolex is a classic three-handed men's watch with timeless appeal (£10,150).