GADA watches: Go anywhere, do anything. The premise, or at least the concept of it, is simple: a watch that you could wear anywhere and do anything with. A watch that is sufficiently dressy to be worn to the clichéd boardroom, but which is also sporty enough to transition to an imaginary beach. But the reality of it is far more elusive.
The difficulty lies in the need for the watch to unite two polar opposites. Traditionally, one thinks of the dress watch as a small, discreet timepiece. Being svelte and finely finished are prerequisites, while things like robustness and water resistance are barely an afterthought. The sports watch sits at the opposite end of the spectrum, prioritizing utility and endurance, which often means bulky dimensions and sacrificing finishing for legibility.
This means that, by necessity, the nature of any watch aspiring to meet the standards of GADA needs to straddle the line between these two worlds, balancing a case sufficiently protective against the elements while still fitting under the cuff of a dress shirt, and balancing legibility with the better part of discretion.
Rules of GADA
Now, where one draws the line is a deeply personal thing, but for the purposes of this article, this is what I am picturing: a single watch that you could use for any occasion, from a black tie affair to an island holiday. With that in mind, I propose the following to be good rules of thumb:
1) No external bezels or extraneous elements – An external, utilitarian bezel instantly makes a watch too sporty to be GADA. The same goes for external pushers/extra crowns/elaborate crown guards.
2) Approximately 40mm in diameter – The Goldilocks zone for legibility vs svelteness.
3) A minimum of 100m water resistance (including the strap/bracelet) – The more the merrier, although it comes with the penalty of increasing case size. But at a minimum, this should be a watch you can snorkel with, and no one expects you to do technical diving with a GADA watch.
4) Minimal complications/clutter – A date is perfectly acceptable, a power reserve indicator is pushing it, a chronograph is too much.
Depending on where you stand, these rules may seem to be either overly draconian or excessively lax, but hear me out. Firstly, if it has a rotating dive/GMT bezel or a fixed tachymetre/pulsometre bezel, it is by definition a tool watch. An internal rotating bezel sits in a bit of a grey area, but an internal bezel almost always equates to a secondary crown, which again disqualifies the watch in my eyes. The same goes for external pushers and excessive crown guards. These external elements fall exclusively under the purview of tool watches, and are too far removed from the ethos of dress watches.
The rule on diameters is perhaps the most arguable point, and the point upon which I concede the most leeway. But most watches that are 34mm are too small to be distinctly legible, and if you’re looking at 44mm watches, they are simply too large to be discreet. But the point here is that the watch should not look out of place on your wrist; it should be average to the point of anonymity. With my small wrists, I would venture that 40mm is my absolute cut off point and that anything larger would appear tool-ish on my wrist (in addition to my tool-ish person). On the other hand, a person with a larger wrist may look at it the other way; anything below 40mm may simply be too small. Dial diameter, lug-to-lug distance, and thickness also come into play here, but I still believe that 40mm works as a good starting point for most people.
On the other hand, water resistance is non-negotiable. If a watch necessitates removal before hand-washing or exposure to rain it is simply too fragile to be a GADA watch. One could argue that 50 meters of water resistance is sufficient, but I would personally recommend at least 100 meters, for peace of mind if nothing else. 100 meters means you could leave it on your wrist if you were to go scuba diving, and that inspires a degree of confidence that I feel is essential in a GADA watch.
The final rule is a subjective one, but one that I feel quite strongly about. Multiple subdials, indicators, numerals and other such elements detract from the dressiness of the watch. Personally, I’d draw the line at something like a Flieger A dial; a field watch or Flieger B, with its additional inner hour ring, makes the dial too busy to be a sufficiently discreet GADA.
By now, you have probably noticed the most glaring weakness of the proposed GADA watch: it doesn’t excel at anything. And you are absolutely right, because the GADA watch lives and dies on the premise of being the jack of all trades, master of none. It simply tries to cover as much ground between the two as possible, and makes many tradeoffs along the way. It would never truly be at home when paired with a tuxedo or wetsuit, but it would survive. For anything in between, it would never feel out of place. And that, in its essence, is GADA in a nutshell.
If you’ve come this far, you may already have some watches in mind that are suitable GADA candidates. The following is a non-exhaustive list of my personal favorite GADA-qualified watches at various price points.
Seiko SRPE “DressKX” (MSRP: $275)
Officially, these watches are the Seiko 5 Sports SRPE05x through 06x. The collector community christened these the Seiko DressKX, the name being an obvious portmanteau of dress watch and its ancestor, the legendary Seiko SKX series. The watches come in various colors and designs, but all measure 40mm in diameter, with 100m water resistance, applied markers, and unfailing Seiko Lumibrite. Despite the entry-level pricing, it is a solid choice for any collector.
Tissot Gentleman Powermatic 80 Silicium (MSRP $775)
A recent release from the entry-level Swatch Group brand, the Tissot Gentleman Powermatic fulfills all the criteria of a fully-fledged GADA, and adds a silicon hairspring and 80 hours of power reserve to the mix. With a dial that leans towards being dressy, the lume is underwhelming but sufficient; a fair compromise, in my opinion.
Sinn 556 (MSRP: €1,140 ~$1,300)
A perennial choice from the German stalwarts, the Sinn 556 offers a stark dial that is minimalist to an extreme. The Sinn also offers the best waterproofing on this list, rated to 200m of pressure resistance.
Monta Triumph (MSRP: $1,700)
This microbrand offering is a favourite among many enthusiasts, exceeding most of the GADA specifications we’ve laid out, and doing it all at just 38.5mm in diameter. Falling more on the sporty side, legibility is not an issue. Given the relative obscurity of microbrands, the Triumph is sure to be a conversation-starter.
Tudor Black Bay 36 (MSRP: $2,850)
Having lived under the shadow of their big brother for far too long, Tudor have really come into their own over the past several years. The Black Bay line is undoubtedly their strongest line of watches, and the Black Bay 36 (along with its siblings in 32mm and 41mm guises) represents a more dressy option while retaining iconic Black Bay design cues. The snowflake hand remains a polarising choice, but the rest of the watch is unfalteringly handsome.
Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra (MSRP $5,700)
If you prefer having a variety of dial and size options, the latest iteration of the Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra comes in 3 different sizes and a variety of dial and metal/strap combinations. Coming in 34mm, 38mm and 41mm cases, with everything from a steel and rubber watch with a grey dial and blue applied markers (a personal favourite) to a solid gold version, the biggest problem with the Aqua Terra may be choosing the one model that speaks to you the most.
Grand Seiko SBGA211 “Snowflake” (MSRP: $5,800)
The only titanium watch on this list, the Grand Seiko also has the most unique movement here; the Spring Drive movement. Combining a breathtaking dial with their famed Zaratsu polishing and perfectly smooth sweep inherent to Spring Drives, the Snowflake also boasts 100m of water resistance and a screw-down crown. Combine the above with a bulky case and no lume, and the Snowflake is a juxtaposition of dressy and sporty features: a perfect example of the compromises of a GADA watch.
Rolex Explorer I (MSRP: $6550)
Perhaps one of the earliest and most quintessential GADA watches, the Rolex Explorer is a classic in its own right. The latest iterations have added lumed applied markers at the cardinal points while retaining the tried-and-true Rolex 3132 movement and relatively svelte Oyster case. Being less recognisable than many other Rolex watches means that if you’re looking for a Rolex but wish to avoid undue attention, this is perhaps the finest choice from the house of Wildorf.
Vacheron Constantin Overseas (MSRP: €20,000 ~$23,800)
The relative newcomer in the world of haute horlogerie, this Vacheron Constantin comes with all the hallmarks of a sport watch from the holy trinity: refined design, fine finishing, integrated lugs, and a price tag to match. It does have a trump card, however: quick-change straps. Every Overseas comes with 3 options in the box: the stock metal bracelet, a rubber strap, and a leather option. With the quick-change mechanism negating the need for special tools, the ability to switch the straps at your leisure without needing custom-made straps is unique at this end of the market. At over $23,000, I would hesitate to call this a GADA watch, but it does fulfill all the criteria.
Patek Phillipe Nautilus (MSRP: $30,600)
Generally recognised as the first luxury steel sports watch, this Gerald Genta design is perhaps one of the most sought-after modern stainless steel watches on the market right now. Generally retailing at well over MSRP, the price of entry here is significantly higher than anything else on this list, but if it is provenance and prestige you seek, there is no other choice that comes close.
(NB: the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak has a paltry 50m of water resistance, despite the screw-down crown, and is thus disqualified from this list.)
Despite the non-exhaustive list above there are many other watches that are often worn as GADA watches, but aren’t quite the ideal choice, at least in my eyes. I personally pin the blame for this on a certain fictional operative from Britain’s illustrious MI6 division, as his suave charms distracted from his large tool watches on bulky NATO straps paired to tuxedos, and made them an acceptable option in contemporary fashion. You would not have to look far to see many attendees of a black tie function with Rolex Submariners and Omega Seamasters on their wrists.
Perhaps it’s because of my tiny wrist, or my archaic fashion sense (if one could even call it that), but I simply would not choose to wear such a watch at a black tie function. I firmly believe that, at such an event, a watch should simply disappear on one’s wrist rather than be a focal point of attention. Fortunately, the converse, as far as I’m aware, does not exist: I do not know of anyone who would wear a Calatrava or Patrimony on a diving expedition.
But more importantly, what do you think? Can divers and chronographs work as GADAs? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
Check out the 40&20 Podcast Episode on GADA Watches