March 20, 2023
Despite the fact that dress watches are hardly the most popular type of timepieces among enthusiasts (at least for now), they are arguably one of the most common and relatable when it comes to members of the general public. Even people who don’t see the purpose in anything other than an Apple Watch or Garmin can understand the appeal of having a refined traditional timepiece to wear on the occasions when they get dressed up and want to look their best. These days, the role of a dress watch can be played by pretty much any type of timepiece, and many people even choose to wear sports watches with formal attire. However, for the purposes of this article, when I say “dress watch,” I mean a classically styled timepiece on a leather strap that doesn’t have any additional sport-specific features or is otherwise designed for rugged, high-intensity use.
As one of the most traditional styles of timepieces, dress watches are produced by a wide variety of different brands, and they can also be found at virtually every possible price point. When it comes to bottom-dollar offerings, Casio and Timex both have you covered; however, the only problem with ultra-affordable dress watches is that it may feel slightly strange to take off your Apple Watch and replace it with something that costs half as much (or less), especially when you are getting dressed up and trying to look fancy. Since a dress watch is something you primarily wear on special occasions, I highly recommend splurging just a little bit and getting yourself something that will truly excite you and be something that you look forward to wearing. Furthermore, since your dress watch isn’t likely to accidentally get damaged or ruined through active use, there is a solid case to be made for having your dress watch be one of the more expensive offerings in your collection, despite the fact that you might not wear it as frequently as other pieces you may own.
Similarly, I also advocate having your dress watch be something with a mechanical movement. Given that you probably won’t be wearing your watch for more than several days at a time, the additional accuracy provided by quartz isn’t going to be much of a factor, and the durability of a quartz movement will be even less important since the most hazardous conditions your watch will likely face are a drunken wedding reception. While there is something to be said for the grab-and-go convenience of quartz timekeeping, this is ultimately also a bit of a moot point when you are already spending the time getting ready and making yourself look nice. Simply put, if you can have the time to put on a tie and iron your shirt, you probably also have enough time to wind and set your watch. Plus, a far greater inconvenience is pulling out your dress watch and discovering that you can’t wear it because the battery has died in the time since you last wore it.
The big-name Japanese brands all have numerous options when it comes to affordable dress watches, and there are simply too many viable candidates to properly list in a single article. On the shortlist of known-quantity options are the Orient Bambino series and the Seiko Presage lineup, and if you really have your heart set on a quartz dress watch but don’t want to worry about routine battery replacements, then Citizen makes a number of solar-powered Eco-Drive models that are all worthy of consideration. For those who want a dress watch from one of the big-name brands, simply set yourself a budget (since some of Seiko’s Presage models can be rather expensive), and then start browsing through options from any one of these three Japanese manufacturers. Realistically speaking, whatever model you choose will be a solid dress watch that offers known-quantity performance, and it will be more than capable of looking the part when paired with a suit or formal attire.
While a dress watch from one of the big Japanese brands is certainly a safe bet, there is also something to be said in opting for a model that is a bit less common compared to what you are likely to see on most people’s wrists. With that in mind, there are significantly more small-scale independent brands producing affordable sports watches compared to those designing dress models, and while the microbrand scene is densely packed with standout budget-friendly divers, there are significantly fewer options when it comes to affordable dress watches. However, in much the same way that microbrands produce some of the most compelling options when it comes to value-packed sports watches, a number of microbrand dress watches also punch well above their weight, and one of my favorite dress watches from the small-scale independent brands is the Lorier Zephyr, which was launched last year in 2022.
Based in New York City and run by husband-and-wife team Lorenzo and Lauren Ortega, Lorier is best known for its vintage-inspired sports watches; however, the Zephyr is the brand’s tribute to the elegance of the early 20th century, and it represents a significant departure from anything else that Lorier has previously put forward. Similar to the rest of the brand’s models, the Lorier Zephyr offers a heavy dose of vintage inspiration, although everything about the watch from the shape of its case to the design of its dial is quite a bit different than what you will find throughout the rest of Lorier’s current catalog. Additionally, while the Lorier Zephyr was specifically created to be a dress watch, it also calls back to an era before the concept of a “dress watch” even existed, when most people only owned one wristwatch and would simply wear these types of refined and resplendent designs every single day of their lives, regardless of whether they were mowing the lawn or attending a gala.
Crafted from 316L stainless steel with a high-polished finish, the case of the Lorier Zephyr offers a tonneau shaped profile that measures 31mm wide by 42mm lug-to-lug, with 18mm lugs and an overall thickness of just 8mm. While 31mm might sound absolutely tiny, it’s important to remember that rectangular and tonneau shaped cases inherently wear larger than round cases of the same diameter, and the Lorier Zephyr actually offers a similar on-wrist presence to a round watch with a case size closer to 35mm. Sitting above the dial and occupying the barrel-shaped aperture in the case is a flat sapphire crystal with seven layers of anti-reflective treatment on the underside surface. Meanwhile, the reverse side of the watch is fitted with a solid stainless steel caseback that is secured by four small screws and features a large blank space for personalized engravings. At the 3 o’clock location is a signed push-pull winding crown that offers access to the movement, while 30 meters of water resistance helps protect against unplanned accidents and daily incidental contact.
Lorier offers the Zephyr with the option of either a white, black, or red dial, although the silvery white dial version arguably offers the most traditional dress watch aesthetic, and it is my personal favorite among the trio. Regardless of color, all three of the dials follow an identical overall layout with a simple time-only display, a radial guilloché wave pattern across their surfaces, and a generous dose of elegant Art Deco styling. Dial text is kept to a minimum in order to showcase the guilloché motif, and the white dial version features its printing in black for maximum contrast. Additionally, since the guilloché pattern is recessed into the surface of the dial, the hour markers appear to be slightly raised, and this further adds to the depth and texture of the Zephyr’s dial. A pair of centrally-mounted dauphine hands is responsible for displaying the time, and on the silvery white dial variant, the hands are heat-blued for a classic aesthetic and an added touch of refinement.
Powering the Lorier Zephyr is the Miyota 9029 automatic movement, which is the two-handed, time-only version of the popular 9xxx series of self-winding calibers. As part of Miyota’s more premium line of movements, the Cal. 9029 runs at a frequency of 28,800vph (4 Hz) with a power reserve of approximately 42 hours, and since the Miyota 9029 is naturally a no-date movement, it is a perfect pairing for the Lorier Zephyr’s time-only display, and it, therefore, doesn’t have the irksome “ghost position” that is often found on affordable time-only watches. All things considered, the Miyota 9029 is a very solid option for a refined dress watch like the Zephyr; however, since the case of the watch is relatively thin, the rotor can sometimes be a bit loud as it moves around inside the case. Personally, I would have loved to see a manual-wind movement inside the Zephyr, as this would eliminate the loud rotor and also potentially permit an even thinner design. However, among the various automatic calibers that exist at this price point, the Miyota 9029 is easily one of the most appropriate options, and it promises reliable performance and a drama-free ownership experience.
According to traditional rules for formal attire, the leather elements on your outfit should always match, and the Lorier Zephyr comes with two different leather straps to make it easy to pair the watch with your wardrobe. The silvery white dial version comes with leather straps in both chestnut brown and black, and both straps attach to the case with quick-release spring bars to facilitate easy tool-free strap changes. The straps taper from 18mm where they connect to the case down to 16mm where they meet their polished stainless steel pin buckles, and the leather used for the straps is fairly soft and comfortable right out of the box, with very little break-in time required. My only minor gripe with the straps is that the polished steel pin buckles are unsigned, although this is a very minor detail, and also something that might be entirely irrelevant to some people, particularly those who plan on pairing the Lorier Zephyr with a different third-party strap.
While the Lorier Zephyr is very much in the spirit of a traditional refined dress watch, its tonneau-shaped case and Art Deco styling provide it with a distinct appearance that visually separates it from what you are likely to see on other people’s wrists. Additionally, its slightly funky aesthetic also lends itself to being dressed down more easily than many traditional designs, and while the Zephyr is categorically still a dress watch, it would also hardly look out of place if worn in more casual settings. With an official retail price of $499 USD, the Lorier Zephyr exists in that affordable sweet spot, where it is firmly positioned on the attainable end of the spectrum, yet still feels entirely more special and elevated compared to something like a smartwatch or budget-friendly everyday timepiece. For those seeking an affordable mechanical dress watch with a highly traditional appearance, it’s hard to beat one of the countless Orient Bambino or Seiko Presage “Cocktail Time” variants. However, for those who want something a bit more unusual and entirely less common, the Lorier Zephyr makes a highly compelling alternative that offers a superior movement and a sapphire crystal for a very similar overall price. For more information on the Lorier Zephyr, please visit the brand’s website.