Editor’s note: This article features a watch currently available in the HODINKEE Shop.
The notion of a dress watch is an interesting one, inasmuch as dressing per se is something of a lost art, at least in terms of conventional business attire (and at least in the United States; folks I meet in corporate jobs with overseas companies still can, depending on the company, put on a suit and tie every day). The term probably means something a little different to everyone. A dress watch is not necessarily one meant to be worn with a formal dress code (white tie) or a semiformal dress code (tuxedo) as a watch, in the case of a formal dress code, is generally dispensed with. With a tux, the general rule is either no watch or, at best, something small, round, and in a white metal, with no complications, and preferably without a running seconds hand.
“Dress watch,” therefore, is probably most generally and most widely understood to be a watch suitable for a business formal dress code. Here again, the general idea is for the watch to be on a continuum with the impression of seriousness, solidity, and trustworthiness which a classic business formal code generally represents (although this varies with the setting. I remember going up in an elevator at Brooks Brothers many years ago with a gentleman at least six-foot-two or three, wearing a suit in a large purple windowpane check, a shirt with a club collar and gold stickpin, and a tie at least three inches wide, hand-painted with a portrait of his terrier. What sounds like a train wreck was actually a sartorial triumph in person … I suppose you had to be there). For a watch, this usually means something on the smaller side – I would say, 40mm or less, although the size is the parameter probably most open to variation as what looks well on a smaller person will look out of proportion on a taller and larger person, and vice versa. It can be rectangular, square, or round, although round generally makes for a slightly more classic look, and the dial should be relatively simple – applied markers should be small or not present at all, a seconds hand is allowable but not required, and a date window, if present, should be small and well-integrated into rest of the design, so as not to call undue attention to itself.
As with all rules of dress, this is all obviously highly subject to variation depending on circumstances and individual tastes, but as with going to an event with a semi-formal or formal dress code, part of the pleasure is actually in knowing the rules and following them scrupulously (let’s face it, we all feel a sense of occasion when we don a tux). I suppose if you wanted to, you could make an argument that the Hamilton Intra-Matic 38mm Dress Watch is not quite a dress watch, but you would have to work pretty hard at it. It is relatively thin, at 10mm, and at 38mm in diameter, certainly well within reason diameter-wise as a dress watch as well.
The dial furniture is not completely stripped down, but it is still quite un-cluttered – the logo, wordmark, the word “automatic,” and at 6:00, the word “intra-matic” in a diffident all-lower-case, sans-serif typeface. The date window has a framing step, and a black border which integrates it very nicely into the rest of the dial design, and the white color of the date disk adds a bit of extra depth and variety which I think would actually have been lost were the date wheel to have the same color as the dial.
The dial markers are not applied or painted – instead, they are incised into the metal of the dial itself, and filled with a silver, somewhat reflective paint, which echoes both the stainless steel case and the white date window. They are one of the nicest things about the watch, adding to the impression of texture and depth created by the execution of the date window. Although the hands are more or less the same color as the dial, they are extremely highly polished whereas the dial has a grained matte finish. In fact, they’re so well polished that you almost get a black-polished effect when the light hits them – they turn white and you can read the time extremely easily. However, in low light, the closeness of the color between the hands and the dial can make the time slightly less easy to read – though I think what you lose in low-light legibility, you get back in elegance.
Nominally, the dial is “champagne,” but it has a slight coppery tinge to it as well – not full-on salmon, but enough to generate a little warmth, without which the watch might have seemed a bit stark. Maybe it’s a brut rosé champagne. Oh, and another nice detail – the minute hand is very gently radiused at the tip, in keeping with the attention to little things obvious in the rest of the watch.
As the Shop listing mentions, the term “Intra-Matic” originally referred to a movement – the Hamilton-Buren Intramatic was a microrotor caliber, with the original design patented by Uhrenfabrik Büren A.G in 1954, and in production by 1957 (there is an excellent and very detailed history of the Intra-Matic caliber, complete with a full tear-down and technical analysis, by John Davis and Terry Russell, from 2001, on Timezone.com). The movement was used in Hamilton’s Thin-O-Matic line – if you read Russell and Davis, you will be treated to an advertisement which is intended to reassure the male client who may think a thin watch insufficiently masculine; the model is scowling at the camera, whilst wearing a gold Thin-O-Matic and brandishing, of all things, a 9mm Luger Parabellum, for some reason. I’d have loved to be in the pitch meeting for that campaign. I mention the history because one possible first reaction to the Intra-Matic Dress is that it should have been hand-wound, but then, of course, it would not be an Intra-Matic. The movement in the Intra-Matic Dress is the ETA 2892-A2, which has been through several versions since it came out in 1975 as the 2892 – it’s probably not as widely known as it could be that it is, at 3.6mm, a movement flat enough that when it was introduced, ETA boasted that it was the flattest in the world to be produced on an industrial scale. It is sometimes looked down on by enthusiasts for its ubiquity, but its widespread use in a plethora of variations over the decades speaks to its reliability and good performance – a triumph of precision manufacturing, with an interesting history in its own right, and a fundamental part of the fabric of modern watchmaking.
On the subject of the strap and buckle, they do the job of holding the watch on the wrist, but I think at least some new owners will eventually want to try the watch on something a bit finer-feeling as the supplied strap feels slightly heavy for the watch. The pin buckle, too, feels a bit heavy – certainly a much better choice for the watch than a deployant, though. I don’t know that a full-on croc strap is necessary, but the watch feels as if it wants something a little bit less rustic.
If you like a vintage aesthetic, this one’s an easy home run – that lovely coppery dial, the obvious high quality of the hands, thoughtful execution of the date window, and overall recognition that whoever designed this one understands that a dress watch lives in the details, all make it pretty irresistible. On the wrist, it’s a sharp-looking little thing, indeed – actually, not so little; if you’re worried that 38mm is too diminutive for you, you might find the Intra-Matic Dress more suitable than you would think from the numbers alone. The fact that there is almost no bezel to speak of makes the watch wear – well, not bigger, but it does mean the dial has the visual impact of a larger watch.
It also makes an exceedingly elegant impression, and it compares favorably with far more expensive timepieces – as a matter of fact, there is quite a lot about it which reminds me of the Vacheron Constantin Les Historiques Ultra-Fine 1955, and as an example of the genre of the dress watch, I can hardly think of a more successful example. At $ 845, for someone looking for a watch that’s very much in the spirit of a vintage Hamilton-Buren Thin-O-Matic but which won’t drive you bananas trying to find parts for the movement, this is a very attractive Value Proposition.
The Hamilton Intra-Matic 38mm Dress Watch: case, stainless steel, 50-meter water resistance, 38mm x 10mm (including the domed sapphire crystal) with display back. Champagne dial with polished stick hands and incised markers. Movement, ETA caliber 2892-A2, with quickset date, 25.6mm x 3.6mm, running in 21 jewels at 28,800 vph, with 48-hour power reserve. 20mm lug width, with brown leather strap and pin buckle.
All photos, Tiffany Wade.