Of all the categories, if I only had one great watch, it'd be in the Dress Watch category.
This is for a few reasons.
First, a dress watch today isn't just a dress watch. It can definitely cross over. As such, it can be quite practical for most people.
Second, it's the most likely of watches to transcend all generations (in my opinion). Dress watches are usually simpler, so their overall design tends to be the kind that will most likely still be relevant in the future.
Third, it's the perfect type of watch to buy in a precious metal (although this is not necessary, i.e. Steel is the new Gold), and in some ways makes it the perfect heirloom watch.
Fourth, being a simpler watch (not a complication watch), you may find it gives a bigger bang for your buck. That is to say $25k (more or less) gets you a Patek Philippe Calatrava, but $25k will never get you a Patek Philippe Chronograph, etc.
And Lastly, there are many many options in this category, especially if you include the vintage world of watches.
So, without further ado, here are some contenders:
Patek Philippe Calatrava ($25k) - Maybe the quintessential heirloom watch. From arguably the most prestigious name in watches. A timeless design and spectacular movement. In any variation is spectacular. The only knock against it, and I am really splitting hairs here, is that it has *maybe* become a *little* ubiquitous.
But then again, at around $25k, I seriously doubt you will run into too many people wearing one as well.
A. Lange & Sohne Saxonia ($20k+) - Probably the most direct competition to the PP Calatrava, the Saxonia is equally spectacular. It is available in the usual precious metals, has a spectacular movement, the perfect size, etc. If it has a knock against it, and again, splitting hairs here is that it doesn't have the same pedigree the "big three or four" from Switzerland do (re-established in 1994). But, then again, when something is made this well, not only is ALS the only exception, it's easily forgivable. Plus, it's a touch less expensive than the Calatrava, but still around $20k.
Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso or Master Series ($7k-$19k) - JLC is often considered the 4th in the "Big Four" from Swizerland (as discussed here a little bit). But that is the only possibly, splitting-hair knock against JLC. And the reason why this even exists is because they like to use Stainless Steel more than the others, and maybe at over $200k, they don't decorate *quite* as well as PP or ALS.
But it'd be a serious error to suggest they do not compete technically with anyone, they do and then some. Or, that in general their watches don't have the interest level and overall quality as any watch in the world.
Again, they do.
In fact, given the fact many JLC dress watches can be had well under $20k, something ALS and PP can not provide (and this includes watches like their Master Ultra Thin Jubilee Platinum and so many in the Master series, which can all be had at under $20k), my winner is a JLC in this category. Your choice as to which one.
If $10k plus is still more than you want to spend, looking to the vintage market is never a bad idea. Of course, you need to do your homework, but once you do, you will find gorgeous dress watches from all of the big names at incredibly great deals.
And my big winner would be an IWC with calibre 89, 852, 853/8531, 854/8541. Unless these movements are inside a vintage Ingenieur or Mark X Series of watches, these can easily be had between $1000-$3000. At this price, you may even find a few in solid gold.
So there you have it, the Ultimate Watch Collection Dress Watch.
Next week, the Ultimate Chronograph!