11 Rules of the Watch

11 Rules of the Watch

Stylish men know not to wear brown shoes with a black belt, a pre-tied bow tie, or pajamas outside of the house. When it comes to watches people are a little fuzzy about the rules. We often see men wearing a completely inappropriate timepiece for their outfit, or they’re checking the time every five minutes in a meeting.

Knowing the rules of watch-wearing will help you avoid making faux-pas, and they apply to watches that are expensive, inexpensive, casual and formal alike.

Tour Guide Oliveri with Ronda Watch

Few accessories are as classic as a wristwatch

11. Wear your watch on the wrist that suits you

The old rule of thumb was to always wear a watch on the non-dominant wrist. The reasoning was that it is the opposite of the dominant hand. Don’t let tradition dictate on which hand you wear your watch; wear it where you find it most comfortable.

James Bond wearing a dive watch with a tuxedo

James Bond wearing a dive watch with a tuxedo

10. Never wear a dive watch with a suit

Just because James Bond did it, doesn’t mean you should. James Bond was a spy who might, in fact, jump into a river in a suit at any moment. As far as we can tell, he’s the only one (besides other actors with endorsement deals with Omega) who should wear a dive watch with a suit. Dive watches are bulky, they don’t fit well under a suit jacket and they are a tell-tale sign that you don’t know the rules of watch-wearing…or that you aspire to have your own theme song. The same way that you wouldn’t wear your sunglasses at night, leave the dive watch for casual wear and pair a simple dress watch with your suit.

Pedro in dark suit with grey turtleneck sweater, wristwatch and signet ring

Pedro Mendes in navy suit with gray turtleneck sweater, wristwatch and signet ring

9. Wear dark with dark, and light with light

If you’re out during the day consider a lighter colored face such as white or cream. However, at night focus on darker dials such as black, grey or browns. Just like a tuxedo is for evening wear and you wouldn’t wear it to brunch, a dark watch dial should be on your wrist at night, rather than during your 9am tee time at the country club.

Vest Watch Chain

Checking your watch in front of others will make them feel like they aren’t a priority

8. Beware the implications of checking your watch

Even though a great watch is one of a man’s ultimate accessories, checking it can have some negative social implications even if that’s exactly the reason you are wearing it!

If you’re on a date, in a meeting, or at a social event, don’t check your watch visibly in front of other people. Just like it’s rude to check your phone at a movie or restaurant, checking your watch shows that you have other things on your mind; things that take precedence over your present company. Unless you’re still young and have a curfew, the only way you should know what time a date is over is when she says goodnight.

Bulova Men's Dress Watch

A men’s dress watch shouldn’t be worn with a casual, brightly colored short sleeve shirt

7. Pair watches with outfits appropriately

Just as you wouldn’t sit on the beach in a morning coat, you also don’t want to wear your dress watch sailing. Try and match the type of watch you wear to the activity you’re involved in each day. If you’re unsure what you’ll be doing, pair it with your choice of clothes; sport watches with athletic wear, dress watches with business wear, or a simple Timex Weekender with beach wear.

Rolex Cellini Dress Watch

A Rolex Cellini Dress Watch would work with black tie

If you’re invited to a formal event or gathering and the dress code calls for black tie, attitudes have changed about wearing a watch. Historically it is considered impolite to wear a watch, but the rules regarding black tie have softened to accommodate wearing a simple dress watch with a black face and band if you choose. A pocket watch is an alternative. For the rare white tie event, tradition demands that you do not wear a watch at all.

6. Admire other men’s watches from a distance

Just as you would never touch another man’s wallet, don’t expect to handle his watch. For many men the watch is the only piece of jewelry they own or wear, and they take great pride in keeping it dust free, fingerprint free and well polished. It’s perfectly okay to politely ask to see a watch, but don’t expect him to take it off his wrist. If he offers, feel free to accept, but try to handle it as little as possible and never place it on a hard surface where it could get scratched.

An oversized watch will never slide neatly under the cuff

An oversized watch will never slide neatly under the cuff

5. The oversized watch is over (it shouldn’t have started to begin with)

For the last couple of years, oversized watches have become the norm in men’s style. This popular trend only served one purpose: to scream for attention. An oversized watch dwarfs your wrist, throws off the proportions of your entire outfit, and simply doesn’t “fit” well into a nicely combined outfit.

For a watch enthusiast, those large dials are nothing more than for show. If you want to be taken seriously in the world of horology, stick to watches that fit your wrist.

How to find the right size watch

A properly sized watch should cover about 2/3 of the width of your wrist

4. Make it fit

Like any other garment or accessory, your watch should fit you properly in two key ways. The size of the dial should be proportional to your wrist, and the band should fit snugly but comfortably. A loose band looks sloppy, so take it to your jeweler to have it sized to your wrist.

Vacheron Constantin is typically known for elegant, high-end watches, but this diamond-encrusted model is a gaudy DON'T

Vacheron Constantin is typically known for elegant, high-end watches, but this diamond-encrusted model is a gaudy DON’T

3. Skip the bling

Wearing a diamond encrusted watch is fine if you’re a music mogul, but it has no place in the wardrobe of a well-dressed gentleman. Like an oversized watch, flashy diamonds and jewels are simply a cry for attention. They will distract from the rest of your outfit by drawing all the attention to one point. Most people will be wondering if it’s real, rather than what kind of watch it is. Diamonds and jewels also have the effect of making men’s watches appear more feminine.

Vacheron Constantin Patrimony watch with subtle diamond accents

Vacheron Constantin Patrimony watch with subtle diamond accents

Unless you’re trying to be the next Eminem, skip the diamonds – with one exception. Some dress watches use very fine diamonds or other stones to accent small details, such as the rim of the dial or the numbers on the face. If the stones are subtle and enhance the overall features of the watch without being ostentatious, then they can find a place in a gentleman’s watch collection. Just remember to wear them in appropriate settings and don’t buy sporting watches, as diamonds are not suited to more casual watches.

A cheap watch with fake diamonds

A cheap watch with fake diamonds – terrible!

Finally, it should go without saying that you should never buy a watch with fake stones. If you can’t afford the real thing, skip stones altogether, as they will only cheapen the overall look and make it painfully obvious that you seek the kind of attention diamonds can bring.

Budget Watches

Budget watches can be a great way to increase your collection and give your favorite timepiece a break

2. Don’t wear the same watch every day

Even if you only own one nice watch, you shouldn’t wear it every day for several reasons. First, if the watch is a piece that you love, giving the watch a break will make it last longer. Second, one watch is rarely suited to the variety of outfits that a man will wear in a given week. The office, the gym, sporting events, dinners out, and parties all require different clothes and hence different watches. If you wear the same watch daily, chances are that 20-30% of the time it is the wrong watch to be wearing.

Regardless of your budget, if you love wearing a watch, try building up a small collection of reputable watches that suit all the various needs you have during the week, and give you favorite piece the occasional break.

Gold Cartier watch, Fort Belvedere cufflinks and a Fort Belvedere collar clip

A gold Cartier watch, Fort Belvedere cufflinks, and a Fort Belvedere collar clip pull together the metal elements of an outfit when worn together

1. Match your metals & colors

Try and match the metals and the colors of the watch to the rest of the outfit you have on. Note the color of your belt buckles, shoe buckles, rings, collar bars or pins, and cufflinks and choose a watch in a matching metal. Wear yellow gold with yellow gold, and don’t wear a brown band when you’re wearing a black suit. Focus specifically on the boldest parts of the watch; the color of the strap, the color of metal and even the color of the dial.


With these rules, watch wearing should be straight forward. What watch faux pas do you see from time to time?

11 Rules of the Watch
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11 Rules of the Watch
Learn all about the rules of watch-wearing; how to combine watches to your outfit & faux pas you need to avoid.
Gentleman's Gazette
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30 replies
  1. chris says:

    Be careful where you wear your watches. I have a cousin now in his 70s. He always wore the Rolex given to him on his 21st birthday. A few years back whilst on holiday in Spain, a man bumped into him and they both fell to the ground. When they got up the young man jumped on the back of a waiting motorcycle and sped off with my cousin’s Rolex. Obviously he had been spotted wearing it and fell into a trap. Don’t wear your best all the time and be mindful of where you are.

    • Terry says:

      Good advice, Chris. I have an inexpensive quartz which I wear when travelling. If I think I’ll need a dressier watch for an event, I’ll pack it for just that occasion.

    • Joe says:

      Yes, there was a story a few years ago, an elderly gentleman visiting and sightseeing in Naples, Italy was knocked down by thieves and his Rolex taken. Unfortunately, the gentleman hit his head on the curb and died. I suppose you’d want to wear your good stuff on vacation, but important to note that you are in a foreign country where the wearing of luxury items like jewelry and watches can make you a target, especially in urban areas. Certain brands, especially Rolex are so distinctive they can be spotted a mile away, which is okay in the boardroom, but maybe not so good while sightseeing in another country.

  2. ED says:

    I read somewhere that the matching of accessories is more of a feminine fashion concern (purse, belt, shoes, gloves) and that men are expected to not concern themselves with matching accessory colors. Is this not the case with band colors? I thought that an off but subtle color band would be okay. Especially since in most cases a watch drops in for a view rather than post as a stationary distraction from a person’s outfit.

    • Fr. George Stamm says:

      In the entire animal kingdom it is the male who “wears” the ostentatious colors, etc. The only exception is the human male and that is a more recent phenomena. Look a the clothing of people in the Renaissance, the men wore bright colors. Somewhere along the line men started wearing somber, dark clothing. That’s fine if you are at a dress event (black or white tie) or you are, like me, a priest. But even my really “dressy’ outfits are very colorful (they’re called vestments). Also, all dark clothing is safer if you have no fashion sense but then, that is what this whole website is meant to help.

        • AG says:

          What is your agendum with these grammar posts? I am being ironic of course. Words such as these that have Latin or Greek roots and have a long standing, independent, use as English words do not need to follow the grammar rules of the languages they came from. ‘Phenomenon’ now has its own meaning, distinct from the singular of phenomena. Phenomena now is both singular and plural in Standard English.

          On the topic of ‘rules’ regarding watches, this might better be called ‘advice’, since one should always feel free to make ones own style. Astaire for example was being somewhat outrageous by using ties as belts. Good for him I say.

          Rules sensibly apply to things such as manners. On this score I was brought up not to wear a watch with evening wear, since on such occasions the dedication of time and attention to your host makes looking at your watch discourteous.

          The other stuff is common sense and taste.

  3. Mark in OZ says:

    Was there ever a topic more subjective than a mans watch . These days the ability to see the time is almost everywhere , on the dash board of our cars , at train and bus stops and of course our pocket electronic devices .
    None the less a watch is one of barely a few things a man has for adjournment .
    I have dispensed with a watch except for times of formality limiting it to just two pieces . I am pleased to see at least some of those Town Hall sized gargantuans making their way to the recycle yard.

  4. Denitto says:

    Wonderful guidance and explanations on watches! Thank you.

    Please consider the new Smart Watches. I believe all have a dark display.
    Etiquette rules? … checking Email? Texting, Weather, Joke of the day? etc.
    Do they work with formal?

  5. Anthony K. Farina says:

    Very good advice. And the younger gentlemen should begin to appreciate the meaning of classic—–an item that stands the test of time. At some point and not soon enough, these maritime gauges that so many guys wear look like what you’d expect to see on the QEII or Queen Mary or a cargo ship. The will fade out of vogue and when they do, thank the Lord and hopefully forever, you will be able to cover the succeeding watch with the cuff of your shirt and jacket sleeve. Keep this well-written article close-by and read it before you buy a classic watch. Also consider the pocket watch—-I know it’s a tad dated for many younger men, but a beautifully made timepiece on a gold chain adds lustre to the classic look of a proper dinner jacket whether worn with a cummerbund or vest.

  6. Andrew Gregg says:


    If one’s diver’s watch is a Rolex Submariner, it may be worn any time.

    This distinctive and classic timepiece looks great wherever it goes.

    My dad gave me one for high school graduation, and I wore it almost every day for forty years. Then, I bought the Rolex President a few years back. Far more compliments attended the Submariner than the much more expensive watch.

    Both watches go in the safety deposit box whilst I am traveling abroad in favor of my dad’s old FDR-style Hamilton.

    Also, if you buy an expensive watch, schedule it on your homeowners’ insurance policy; it is costly, but much cheaper than replacement.



  7. Nigel Hyatt says:

    What is your opinion of leather straps that have been embossed to represent an alligator or some type of a reptile?

  8. Hal says:

    “Wearing a dive watch with a suit is one of the easiest and fastest ways to get laughed at by any real watch aficionado.”

    This is such an incorrect statement that the entire article loses any and all sense of seriousness. There is zero truth to this, and it should either be removed, or rephrased. It is not watch aficionados, nor gentlemen for that matter, that will laugh at a man wearing a dive watch with a suit, but judgemental individuals believing that they are better than others, who are not interested in watches – but in trying to fit into some kind of romanticised image of what to wear when.

    This is a great advice for people who do NOT know anything about watches, who are a bit insecure and would feel comfortable in having some kind of starting point. Just like saying to stay away from colourful socks.

    But claiming that watch aficionados will laugh at you? It is not very gentleman like to condone that kind of behaviour or to play on people’s insecurities. The fact that it is incorrect makes it even worse, partly because you lose credibility, but also because this risks leading to some of your readers to actually judge watch aficionados and laugh at their lack of knowledge, thereby embarrassing themselves.

    Overall, your page is very good. But your articles on watches have incorrect statements, which I often chalk down to lack of interest on your part, and despite being incorrect it would be picky to comment on them. This particular statement though cannot go unanswered.

    • Giom says:

      Thank you for this great comment, I so agree.
      Watch aficionados will definitely not laugh at a nice time keeper.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Dear Hal,

      Thanks for making the point. We missed that sentence when editing, and we agree that it does not represent the values of GG and we removed it.

      We believe a dive watch is not appropriate for a suit and we explain why. Can you or anyone for that matter wear a dive watch with a suit, absolutely! Would we consider him to be well-dressed in line with classic menswear rules? No.

      At the end of the day, it is each to his own.

  9. Sam says:

    “Unless you’re trying to be the next Eminem, skip the diamonds”

    Hey, Eminem is in fact probably the most understating big rappers out there. He normally wears a G-Shock. He has a normal Rolex Datejust which he doesn’t even wear that offen.

  10. Kaden Saber says:

    It is indeed unbecoming for a gentleman to laugh at another’s inappropriate sense of style. Better to keep the snarky write ups for the weekend tabloids.

  11. Ignacio Vega says:

    Great article, I am one that is very concerned about matching my outfits, my shoes with my belt, and everything else. And my watches always match my outfit and the ocasion . I always see people wearing the wrong watches and tell my wife about it and she gets mad because she says that is not my business, but itis just my nature.

  12. Louis Meluso says:

    A nice overview. One point to make, beyond fashion concerns, is that a fine watch is not so much about telling time as speaking to a man’s relationship with time. His understanding of the meaning and importance of the passage of time. Hence the fine watch, its quality and aesthetics, reflect the gravitas he places on this concept.

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