The Black Tie Watch Primer

The Black Tie Watch Primer

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.

James Bond wearing a dive watch with a tuxedo

James Bond wearing a dive watch with a tuxedo

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:

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.

  1. Ensure that your watch is formal. If you would wear it to the beach, don’t wear it in the evening.
  2. If you don’t have the perfect evening watch, don’t wear one.
  3. 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.
  4. Wear the watch on your left wrist so when you shake hands, it won’t be noticed as, your cuff rides up.
  5. Whenever possible, wear a pocket watch instead of a wristwatch.
  6. 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.
  7. Check the time as infrequently as possible being certain never to glance at your watch mid conversation.

An intricate pocket watch perfect for black tie

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

A more modern evening watch from A Lange & Sohne

A more modern evening watch from A Lange & Sohne

The Dial

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:

  1. Roman numerals or markers instead of numbers are more elegant and formal.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Ideally, it’s wise to wear a slim timepiece. The smaller and less obtrusive the watch, the more appropriate it is to wear.
  7. 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.
A contemporary yet appropriate watch for black tie from A Lange and Sohne

A contemporary yet appropriate watch for black tie from A Lange and Sohne

The Strap

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.

Simple and thin yet elegant

Simple and thin yet elegant

Pocket Watches

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.

  1. It should be elegant and understated. Open face watches are best as hunter watches require that separate step of opening the case.
  2. Many pocket watches feature designs and art on them. Try and wear something simple that isn’t adorned or accented.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
An oversized watch will never slide neatly under the cuff

An oversized watch will never slide neatly under the cuff

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.

  1. Wear it on your left wrist so that when you shake hands, it doesn’t become noticeable as your cuff rides up.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
Bvlgari watch too large for a formal event

Bvlgari watch too large for a formal event, and the necktie is inappropriate as well

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.

Recommended Watches

Here are a few of the timepieces we recommend for formal attire.

Rolex Cellini Prince

Rolex Cellini Prince

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 with Diamonds

Patek Philippe Calatrava with Diamonds

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 is a perfect watch for black tie

Vacheron Constantin Patrimony is a perfect watch for black tie

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 in Black

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso in Black

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 .

A Cartier Tank skeleton watch can add some sprezzatura to your tuxedo

A Cartier Tank skeleton watch can add some sprezzatura to your tuxedo

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 Watch

Frederique Constant Maxime Watch

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?

Article Name
Black Tie Watch Guide - How To Wear Watches with a Tuxedo
Discover How to Wear a Watch with a tuxedo for a black tie event, what watches not to wear, recommended watches & how to buy guide.
Gentleman's Gazette
20 replies
  1. Denys D. says:

    I sport pocket watches for most of the semi-formal occasions. Following the advice you offered in the article, I would assume it would be a better idea to substitute a chain with a black and thin leather or fabric lanyard or strap that blends in with the color of the waistcoat. That way it will still be secured from falling down to the floor when bending, but unnoticeable to others at the same time.

  2. CharlesM says:

    What could be more understated and elegant than the Movado Museum watch? No numbers, no anything on the dial at all except a gold dot at noon and two gold hands, very thin case, black glove leather strap. Seems to me the perfect choice.

    I can’t agree that the clamshell (hunter) case pocket watch requires an extra step. Slipping it out of the waistcoat pocket and opening the case is a single action of one hand..

    The whole discussion may become academic soon since, believe it or not, some of the members of the upcoming generation cannot even tell time on a watch dial – they have to see a digital display. I weep.

    • Matt D says:

      Not a bad suggestion. The wife got the Movado ladies version as a 20 year gift from her employer and even the briefest glance can’t help but exude, class!

  3. Duncan says:

    I think most modern watches are way too big. Much over a 38 mm face and watches become ugly and disproportionate. I wear a 1928 Gold Rolex Oyster on a crocodile strap with my Dinner Jacket. It is small, sits inside my cuff and whilst it cannot survive 300m of undersea pressure or tell the time in Tokyo and Texas at the same time, it tells me when it is time for carriages.

    • Simon H says:

      I agree, whenever I require a watch at a black tie event, I wear a 30 year old 28mm diameter octagonal Longines with gold case and white face. Originally it had roman numerals, but following an extensive renovation at the factory, acquired a new face with arabic numerals alas.
      On the Rolex site there is nothing in men’s watches under 34 mm.

    • Matt D says:

      Sounds exquisite! I’ll make an effort to see if one can be had? Been wearing a Skagen that appears to be only slightly thicker than band ( half hoping no one notices ) but your suggestion seems more, elegant.

      • J. Bebb says:

        I wear the same Skagen watch, I think. Black band, silver face with no numbers. Not outrageously expensive.

  4. Jim Bourg says:

    It appears that all of your recommended watches break at least one of your stated no-nos, unobtrusive, no reptile bands, etc.

  5. Marc Grivas says:

    Amen ! to Charles M. Perhaps those poorly educated folks who are not sophisticated enough to read a watch dial or to understand that in the event when electronics die temporarily , one must depend on the “tried and true”. Perhaps these fellows would not even understand the meaning of a ‘formal’ affair. Yeah, call me an old fart !

    • Matt D says:

      +10 for myself as well. Actually have a Vostok Amphibia ( manual wind ) for just such an occasion. But more accurately, the truth is ( and I work w/ a lot of young people ) their set of social values dictate it’s far better to be thought a rogue or even gauche then a tech illiterate.

  6. Bjorn van Sinttruije says:

    Many beautiful watches on this page, but being the traditionalist I am I shall continue to abide by the antiquated rules and not wear any watch with a black tie outfit. Still, an interesting article nonetheless!

  7. Edward Williams says:

    That was pretty goofy. How do I unsubscribe? Are you trying to educate someone who did not grow up learning some rules of etiquette by showing a $15,000 watch.

  8. Joe says:

    In many circles, these guidelines are very appropriate. They certainly are “safe” so as not to offend any modern host. But the picture of the Bvlgari is entirely appropriate for ‘who’ the man is and the event he is attending. This is Los Angeles, and large expensive watches do not do anyone any good if they can’t be worn and seen, in your face. I understand that elsewhere this would be a display of bad taste, but not here, and not at that kind of event. Then again, I once attended the Academy Awards ceremony in blue denim and taupe corduroy blazer… black tie indeed. I wasn’t alone. I had a G-Shock on at the time, I think. Neither I nor the Academy member who brought me got turned away at the door. I wouldn’t think of doing it today; a dark three-piece would be my choice. But in many respects the jeans and blazer were more appropriate. Go figure. I wouldn’t touch a G-Shock today at least. 🙂

  9. Gareth says:

    Thank you for this article. I believe in a dress watch which is simple/ minimalist. Patek Philippe is probably the pinnacle of dress watch design, e.g. the Calatrava.
    To wear a diving watch with cufflinks is in bad taste, even worse if it’s with black tie. A dress watch does not have to cost the earth – Bulova 97B100 will set you back a C-note.

    To sum: Gold watch, white face, black strap, gold cufflinks, black tie.

  10. Omar says:

    The Patek Philippe (not Patel Philippe) you are showing, although quite expensive, looks too flamboyant to me with all the diamonds and the Alligator band; it really shouts “look at me”, not understated at all.
    Your article has too many should and should not do, some of them do no make sense to me e.g. black tie – black faced watch, (how about if you are wearing an ivory dinner jacket?), all metal color should match, wear your watch on the left hand so it won’t be visible when you shake hands (?)….

  11. Alessio says:

    Could I suggest also the Maurice Lacroix Pontos? I loved this article and I have to admit that the sentence “If you don’t have the perfect evening watch, don’t wear one” was my favorite eventrough i break this rule during the holydays since I thought I had lost my second watch.

  12. Efren says:

    I never go wrong with my Orient “Bambino”, it’ s chat starter, with dommed crystal and a design from the 60’s , is more than classic, black dial, black custom calfskin leather strap, and won’t cost you that much, 200 ish ir more that acceptable for this iconic timepiece.
    Following the “size matter” topic, it depends of your wirst, I have a big wrist so anything bellow 40 mm, looks like I’m wearing my son’s watch.

  13. George says:

    Not wearing a watch — at all — is the new Patek. I love timepieces, but they’re just superflous anymore. There, I just saved about $80,000 on my collected appetites for various brands and types of watches.

Comments are closed.