Pairing the right timepiece with a dinner jacket is one of the most difficult tasks a gentleman has if he chooses to wear a watch to a black tie affair.
For many men, this is because they have a limited selection of watches to choose from. For others, it’s the task of having to select a timepiece that’s appropriate, elegant and pairs harmoniously with a tuxedo. Far too often, we see men adopting the 007 stances of wearing a dive watch with their tuxedo or a timepiece that is far too casual for an evening out on the town.
A century ago one should never wear a wrist watch with a dinner jacket. The idea behind it was that your sole focus should be on the host and other guests, not on the time. Looking down at your watch was an indicator that you had another place to be.
I attend a black tie affair once a month, and it’s safe to say that the traditional rule of not wearing your watch is now antiquated.
Therefore, we’re going to discuss how to wear a watch with black tie the proper way.
What is Black Tie
Black tie is the second most formal dress code next to white tie and is worn exclusively for evening affairs that begin after 6 p.m.
For gentlemen, there are a few core elements that one adheres to when attending a black tie event:
- A black dinner jacket with silk facings on a shawl or peak lapel
- Matching trousers with a single braid covering the outer seams, uncuffed and worn with braces
- A black waistcoat or cummerbund
- A tuxedo shirt with French cuffs and a turndown or winged standing collar
- A black silk bow tie
- A white linen pocket square
- A boutonniere is optional but provides an elegant look
- Black over the calf silk dress socks
- Black patent leather pumps or oxfords
Evening Watch Etiquette
If you do decide to wear a timepiece with your dinner jacket, we’ve put together a more modern list of rules to follow.
- Ensure that your watch is formal. If you would wear it to the beach, don’t wear it in the evening.
- If you don’t have the perfect evening watch, don’t wear one.
- If you must check the time, do so inconspicuously by excusing yourself and going to the restroom, or a quiet area of the establishment such as an empty hallway or even outside.
- Wear the watch on your left wrist so when you shake hands, it won’t be noticed as, your cuff rides up.
- Whenever possible, wear a pocket watch instead of a wristwatch.
- Make sure your watch has no audible alarms, tones or chimes. It should be silent and without any complications. Especially if you’re at a dinner, the theatre or an event where you’re part of an audience.
- Check the time as infrequently as possible being certain never to glance at your watch mid conversation.
Some men often argue that in modern times, there is no need to wear a watch with a tuxedo as you can check your cell phone. However, I would argue that a quick glance at your wristwatch is far more appropriate than pulling out your cell phone. For more information on the subject see our cell phone etiquette guide,
How to Select the Perfect Evening Watch
An evening watch is very similar to a dress watch, and yet it’s slightly more formal. The standard rule of thumb is to match the face of the watch with the time of day. In other words, a white or cream dial is perfect for the office, whereas you may want to choose a black or midnight blue watch for the evening. Since black tie requires you to wear a tuxedo, we suggest to match the color of your watch with your jacket.
The dial of the watch should also meet the following requirements:
- Roman numerals or markers instead of numbers are more elegant and formal.
- The watch should match the hardware of your cufflinks and studs. In other words, if your cufflinks have a yellow gold border and backing, you can wear a yellow gold watch provided it’s understated. You can also match the metal of your timepiece to other metal on you such as any rings you wear, your eyeglasses, etc.
- The dial should be simple, elegant and understated. This isn’t the time to wear chronographs, day-dates or world timers. However, you can get away with wearing a moon phase complication.
- The size of the watch should always be small and fit your wrist well. Despite the trends, wearing an oversized watch is not a wise idea for black tie.
- Try and avoid watches that glow in the dark. This can be especially distracting when attending the theater or other events where the lights over you are dimmed or completely out.
- Ideally, it’s wise to wear a slim timepiece. The smaller and less obtrusive the watch, the more appropriate it is to wear.
- Always perform a cuff test before going out. Make sure the watch isn’t so big that it doesn’t comfortably slide under the cuff of your shirt and jacket.
For evening watches that are worn with black tie, a metal, rubber or nylon bracelet is inappropriate. When wearing a timepiece with a tuxedo, you should ensure it has a simple black leather strap that fits well. The strap shouldn’t be colorful, glossy or noticeable. The idea is that no one will notice you’re wearing a watch. While lizard and alligator straps can be very elegant, this isn’t the time to wear them. Stick with something such as a calfskin or move into an exotic if it’s understated.
The clasp should also be simple. Wearing one with an oversized buckle or a strap that has logos on the clasp can cause your watch to stand out and prevent it from fitting comfortably under the cuff of your shirt.
A pocket watch is ideally the style of timepiece one should wear when attending a formal affair. It is discreetly hidden in the pocket and save the fob and chain; it’s unnoticeable to others around you. Also, it’s far easier to find a tasteful pocket watch at a reasonable price then it is to find a watch that will match your attire.
When selecting a pocket watch, you want to ensure you follow the same rules as a wrist watch.
- It should be elegant and understated. Open face watches are best as hunter watches require that separate step of opening the case.
- Many pocket watches feature designs and art on them. Try and wear something simple that isn’t adorned or accented.
- The fob and chain should be just as understated, and the color of the metal should match your other accessories and jewelry. Whenever possible, it’s wise to keep the watch off the chain, so it sits neatly in your pocket and only comes out when needed.
- Vintage watches tend to be somewhat audible as the hands move. It’s a wise idea to ensure that the watch is as silent as possible so the ticking of the hands won’t disturb others around you.
How to Wear an Evening Watch
Most people probably assume that you just put the timepiece on your wrist and go. Although it is that simple, there are a few standard rules that one should take into account if you choose to wear a wrist watch with black tie.
- Wear it on your left wrist so that when you shake hands, it doesn’t become noticeable as your cuff rides up.
- Make sure the strap fits well. There shouldn’t be an excess sticking out as that can prevent your watch from sitting snugly under the cuff. If your strap doesn’t fit well, consider investing in a new one.
- Wear the watch with the dial on the top of your wrist, not the bottom. Many men – especially those in law enforcement and the military – will wear their watch with the dial on the bottom of the wrist. For black tie, it’s important to wear it the traditional way.
- Make sure your watch is clean. Give it a quick buff with a dry and soft cloth before going out.
Ensure the watch fits well and isn’t too large for your wrist. It should slide effortlessly under the cuff of your shirt.
It’s always best not to wear a watch if you’re not 100% certain it’s appropriate. For the most formal black tie affairs, we highly recommend attending without a watch on your wrist. However, we understand that many men prefer to have access to the time and we’d rather they check their watch then their phone.
Here are a few of the timepieces we recommend for formal attire.
Rolex Cellini Prince – Starting at around $9,000
The only Rolex worthy of evening wear, the Cellini is Rolex’s most elegant and simplistic timepiece. You can find them with black and chocolate brown dials that add depth and charm to an already perfect watch for evening wear. They have an art-deco feel to them, and one can almost imagine Jay Gatsby wearing one on his wrist. To learn more about Rolex, click here for our guide.
Patek Philippe Calatrava – Starting at around $15,000
The quintessential dress watch from the pinnacle of Swiss watchmakers, the Calatrava is undeniably our favorite dress watch and wearing one with a dark dial makes it the perfect watch for black tie affairs. Click here to buy one.
Vacheron Constantin Patrimony – Starting at around $15,000
Similar in appearance to the Calatrava, the Patrimony line by the renowned Vacheron Constantin is a hallmark of elegance and superlative watchmaking. Simple, classic and elegant, it meets all the requirements for a black tie timepiece. Click here to get one today.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso – Starting at around $3,000
One of the nicest things about the Reverso is that the face of the watch flips giving you an alternate view. For those who are budget conscious, it’s an ideal watch to buy because you can have one dial that’s black and perfect for evening wear and another that’s white and works great at the office. The other option, which is why we selected this among our favorite black tie watches, is that you can find one with a backing that’s simple or features a clean design. This way when people do see your watch, they’ll take notice that it’s not showing the time. Click here to find a very simple Reverso in black. Learn more about the Reverso and Jaeger-LeCoultre, in our Guide here .
Cartier Tank – Starting at around $2,000
One of the most iconic timepieces in the world, the Cartier Tank is an ideal pick for black tie attire as it’s simplistically elegant and sophisticated. Learn all about this watch in our Cartier Tank Watch Guide.
Frederique Constant Maxime – Starting at around $2,500
Reasonably priced and often found on sale, the Frederique Constant Maxime is a great option for those with a tighter budget. Also, they offer one in grey that at first glance is very simple, but up close features some design work that’s rather bold and yet somehow still appropriate. Click here to buy one or explore our guide on low budget watches.
A century ago, wearing a watch to a formal affair was viewed as inappropriate. Today, it’s just fine. In the end, it’s up to you to decide. Our only tip is to ensure that if you do wear a watch with black tie, that it’s something simple and something that’s gracefully elegant. If you’re unsure, the best decision is to avoid wearing one altogether. And, while wearing a watch with black tie is something up for debate, wearing a watch with white tie is not something we recommend.
Do you wear a watch with your tuxedo or dinner jacket? If so, which one?