Looking back: some of the best formal watches of 2023

Looking back: some of the best formal watches of 2023

As we navigate through 2024, it's only fitting to cast our minds back to the sartorial highlights of the previous year. Amidst the whirlwind of events and celebrations, 2023 showcased an array of formal watches that epitomized elegance and refinement. While sports timepieces tend to dominate headlines, the allure of formal watches remains undeniable. With each passing month, we bore witness to the unveiling of exquisite designs and impeccable craftsmanship. As we reflect on the year gone by, let's revisit our curated selection of the 9 best formal watches of 2023, each a symbol of timeless sophistication and style.


Filippo Loreti Ascari Sport Steel Black Leather watch

It was a banner year for AP with the brand releasing winner after winner almost every quarter.  But the most surprising release was an update of the Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Selfwinding that no one realized they needed.  Eschewing the much-debated Arabic numerals, the biggest change for the stainless steel selfwinding version is a new dial design with a radial wave pattern co-developed by Swiss guilloché craftsman Yann von Kaenel.  And ladies and gentlemen, the transformation is simply stunning with the hundreds of tiny holes in a concentric pattern and the applied white gold hour markers playing off different light sources.  Not your typical dress watch by any stretch, which is why the Code 11.59 Selfwinding is such a standout.


Venice Moonphase Silver Mesh

This list wouldn’t be believable if Cartier wasn’t in it.  To be sure the Cartier Tank Privé Normale is anything but, and among the six references released at Watches & Wonders two models stood out: the yellow gold and platinum on bracelets, both limited to 100 pieces each and both absolutely stunning.

Both models come updated for our times (the bane of some) but still reference models of the past especially with its size and dial details.  This is also the first Privé watches offered on bracelets, which is good because it is the brand’s famous 7-link “à maillons” style, one of the most beautiful and elegant bracelet designs of all time from any brand but also updated for proportion and comfort for the new references.  These, among others, make the Cartier Tank Privé Normale another highlight from the French maison.


Some would say, “be careful what you wish for,” which was definitely not the case with the Chopard L.U.C 1860.  Updated to the nines from the original 1860 from 1997, the new watch gave enthusiasts precisely what they were asking for, which included a salmon-colored guilloche dial that displays a tremendous amount of detail while not feeling cluttered; a sub-seconds register at 6 o’clock; and sharp dauphine hands that bounce off the spearhead-shaped applied hour markers.

Sized to perfection at 36.5mm in Chopard’s proprietary Lucent Steel, and equipped with the fantastic COSC-certified and Geneva Seal-bearing in-house Calibre L.U.C 96.40-L micro-rotor movement, the Chopard L.U.C 1860 is a guaranteed showstopper whatever the occasion, possibly making it the best dress watch of 2023.


Filippo Loreti Eterno Automatic Green Diver

That dial says it all.  The “Hana Ikada” edition of Grand Seiko’s (GS) dressy Elegance collection gets its name from the time of year when sakura (cherry blossom) petals fall and blanket the tranquil waters of Japan’s lakes, streams and rivers.  It is that moment that inspired GS to create the soft pink Shunbun dial of the Hana Ikada, another masterful creation from the Japanese watchmaker that has proven to be the absolute master of dial making.  This is enhanced by the equally astonishing Omiwatari style case, an understatedly elegant 38.5mm rose gold case that benefits from the brand’s mirror-like Zaratsu finishing.  

Fortunately, this astonishing exterior is not let down by what is inside: the Spring Drive Caliber 9R31, a manually wound movement with a 72-hour (three-day) power reserve, which is precise to +/- seconds per day, and +/- seconds per month, a typical “Tuesday” for Grand Seiko.  What else is there to say about the GS Elegance “Hana Ikada”?  Well, there is that dial, which is more than enough to give the Chopard L.U.C 1860 a run for its money as “the best dress watch of 2023.”


Many would argue that the Reverso was never designed to be a dress watch.  But is it our fault that Jaeger-LeCoultre (JLC) executes the Reverso’s ever-growing range so fashionably and elegantly?  Case in point is the highly sophisticated JLC Reverso Tribute Small Seconds, which comes in three models in pink gold and one model in steel.  

The former is matched with dials in black sunray, in burgundy lacquer, and in silver sunray; while the latter is graced with a silver sunray dial.  All four Reverso models are driven by the manually wound Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 822, which has been finished to the Maison’s standards despite the closed casebacks (these can be specially engraved), and come fitted with beautiful straps from the Fagliano Collection in either calf leather and canvas, or in full calf leather.   Despite its inherent simplicity, the JLC Reverso Tribute Small Seconds stands head and shoulders above other more complicated brands and models, and is another elegant standout from the JLC Reverso collection.



One of the most impressive watchmakers from the Glashütte region in Germany is Moritz Grossmann (MG) (named after the founder and director of the German School of Watchmaking).  Known for their obsessive devotion to finishing and detail, MG creates some of the most beautifully crafted wristwatches available today.  The Tefnut Silver-Plated by Friction is one of those watches.  Odd name, we know, but actually on point: this Tefnut model’s raison d’êtra is its stunning dial, which features a silver dial plated by applying friction.  

Being literal, not withstanding, the Tefnut Silver-Plated by Friction also features an elegant 39mm rose gold case that is 8.5mm thick, and an impeccably finished calibre 102.1 movement with 48 hours of power reserve.  But back to that dial: it is crafted using a 19th century technique of rubbing in a special paste made of silver powder, salt, cream of tartar (a byproduct of wine-making), and water on to the solid silver dial base to achieve a very fine grain.  The dial is then carefully polished and fired in a kiln to achieve that gorgeous finely grained effect and stellar level of detail.  Simple and minimalistic, yet executed beyond compare, the Moritz-Grossman Tefnut Silver-Plated by Friction is one of the best (if not THE best) dress watches of 2023.



The Glashütte-based brand surprised everyone last year with a quartet of Neomatik Tetra limited edition models with some of the quirkiest dial colors this side of German watchmaking.  All four models sport 29.5mm square cases made of stainless steel, with each being driven by the in-house, hand-wound NOMOS Alpha calibre.  Indeed, only a brand as experienced at combining colors as Nomos could possibly pull off these color combinations.  But that’s only half of the story: the names of each geometric timepiece are as eccentric as the colored dials are peculiar. 

The one with a silver sunray dial and pale lilac sub-dial with blue seconds hand is called Die Unerreichbare, or “The Untouchable” one.  The second watch with a soft pink dial and a silvery sub-dial with a yellow seconds hand is called Die Wildentschlossene, or “The Fiercely Determined” one.  The third Tetra model sporting a powdery lavender dial and coppery/golden sub-dial with a light blue seconds hand is called Die Fuchsteufelswilde, or “The Mad As Hell” one.  Finally, there’s Die Kapriziöse, “The Capricious” one, which features a coppery salmon dial, a silver sub-dial, and a bright yellow seconds hand.  Unique and distinguished, the Tetra limited editions from NOMOS Glashütte definitely came from left field but are some of the best that 2023 had to offer.



Whoever said that a budget watch couldn’t look classy and elegant has obviously never set eyes on the Orient Bambino.  Last year, the affordable automatic dress watch of choice for watch enthusiasts who may or may not be just getting into watch collecting released four limited editions of the Orient Bambino Version 7, the line’s more wearable 38mm model that retained everything good from the previous Bambino versions and added colorful sunburst dials into the mix.  

These included dials in champagne, silver grey, salmon, and baby blue, all of which added a fun, breezy vibe to the Bambino’s signature sloping dials and domed crystals.  All in all, these updates transformed the Bambino into a watch that can be worn not only with dinner jackets but also casually with sneakers and chinos.



Another standout for 2023, the new Rolex Perpetual 1908 made its debut at Watches & Wonders to replace the outgoing Cellini collection.  More importantly, it proved once and for all that despite being the premier supplier of instrument watches, Rolex also knows a thing or two about elegance and refinement.

A modern-day Rolex by any definition, the Rolex Perpetual 1908 takes us back to the early design days of the brand, and is available in white or yellow gold with a black or white dial matched to an alligator leather strap.  At 39mm it’s sized just a tad north of the proverbial sweet spot but the design of the Arabic 3, 9, 12 numerals (including the open “9”), as well as the almost Teutonic approach to the small seconds subdial simply screams style and sophistication.  These, as well as the exhibition caseback that displays the brand-new Calibre 7141 makes the Perpetual 1908 a Rolex like no other and an instrumental entry (see what we did there?) into this list.