Revealing the versatility and appeal of skeleton watches in modern watchmaking
It’s not every day we come across skeleton watches, but when we do, truly exquisite timepieces will awaken and dazzle the watch voyeur in us.
Revealing our true selves to others requires tremendous courage, because it exposes our vulnerabilities and may subject ourselves to scrutiny. Likewise, creating openwork (or skeleton) clocks can be equally daunting. But skeleton watches are a captivating display of craftsmanship, displaying a watchmaker’s ingenuity and mastery in all its glory – the absence of a covered dial leaves very little to the imagination.
Mechanical watch enthusiasts can easily admit to being deeply fascinated by the exquisite craftsmanship and rich heritage that these timepieces embody. And those fascinated by the inner workings of mechanical watches are often most interested when every intricate detail of the movement is displayed in full view, as seen in skeleton watches.
Offering a rare opportunity, these watches are attractive to both watch enthusiasts as well as those just stepping foot into the captivating world of watchmaking and mechanical watches. It is truly amazing to observe the gear chains, balance wheel and escapement adjuster in action, and especially the methodical coordination of these components while determining the passage of time.
Skeleton watches appeared in 1760, when French watchmaker André Charles Caron removed the dials of his pocket watches and caught the attention of his customers, who were fascinated when they peered into the watches’ inner mechanics.
Watchmakers are driven to innovate and strive for excellence in their embrace of transparency, as the watch case eliminates the dial that typically conceals the watch’s movement. This movement is stripped down to the bare bones of the essential metal components needed to keep the watch ticking.
Unlike traditional watches, skeleton watches often require more skill and precision in making. Watchmakers must remove the dispensable metal from the movement while maintaining its structural integrity. It is a test of mastery, precision and craftsmanship – engineering, design and finishing.
The most daring watchmakers take the opportunity to show off their engraving skills, etching intricate patterns onto the small parts of delicate watch movements. Delicate because her works can be affected by even the slightest shift in weight – a perfection that engraving can disrupt. This is the path that only the bravest watchmakers with immense ingenuity dare to tread.
Although they may not be everyone’s cup of tea, skeleton watches have a timeless appeal. It continues to captivate hearts as it evolves from ancient classic designs – bridges decorated with intricate decorative patterns – to contemporary creations that flaunt the technological advances of the past two decades.
Here, we highlight five stunning skeleton watches with unique aesthetics.
Patek Philippe – Ref. 5180/1R-001
One cannot discuss the beauty of skeleton watches without mentioning Patek Philippe. The Swiss watchmaker began creating skeletonized watch movements in the 1860s, primarily to showcase exceptional craftsmanship, in a range of openwork pocket watches.
After a long hiatus in the production of skeleton watches, Patek Philippe made a comeback in the 1970s, and one notable creation was the Ref. 896, introduced in 1979. This exquisite watch houses the finely finished caliber 17-70 SQU, which features 14k gold bridges decorated with intricate engravings. Ref. The Lepine 896 pocket watch stands as a testament to Patek Philippe’s unwavering commitment to the pursuit of the finest craftsmanship, even after a century since it first began manufacturing skeleton watches.
In the 1980s, Patek Philippe began manufacturing limited quantities of openwork models within its Golden Ellipse collection and launched the first self-winding skeleton watch – Ref. 3878 whose movement was covered with exquisite engraving.
Patek Philippe rarely produces such fine horological masterpieces, which require many hours of work by the finest craftsmen. Nowadays, the brand features only one skeleton model in its collection: the Ref. 5180/1R-001, introduced in 2008 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the iconic ultra-thin, self-winding caliber 240.
This kinetic masterpiece, with its precisely defined panels and bridges, is the epitome of visual appeal set against mechanical precision – a skilled engraver who devoted more than 130 hours to meticulously decorating every surface with vibrant arabesques and spirals, elevating the skeleton watch to a higher level. artistic work.
Hermes – Slim D’Hermès Moon Skeleton
Contemporary skeleton watches—often embodied with a cleaner, industrial-inspired aesthetic—have gained popularity in the past decade.
Among them is the Slim d’Hermès Squelette Lune watch, which stands out for its modern look featuring an organic and very thin movement design, with bridges that seem to flow seamlessly into each other. Decorative elements are subtly integrated, primarily through expertly finishing the edges, creating captivating interplays of light that add a clever dimension to the monochromatic look.
This watch offers a unique feature: a moon phase display that shows the northern and southern hemispheres, enhancing the watch’s poetic and dreamy quality. The slim profile of the watch case, the exclusive print by French graphic artist Philippe Abeluge, the skillful use of bead-blasted titanium in the case, platinum in the bezel and white gold in the crown – embody the elegance and precision inherent in the watch. Hermès design principles. This is what makes the Squelette Lune an undeniably elegant skeleton watch.
Cartier – Santos Dumont Skeleton Micro Rotor
Cartier’s brilliance in watch design takes center stage with the Santos-Dumont Skeleton Micro-Rotor, which received praise at Watches & Wonders Geneva 2023.
Rooted in Cartier’s design language, based on four fundamental principles – shapes, lines, details and dimensions – the skeleton watch has a unique and captivating charm. It features the new skeletonized Caliber 9629 MC movement, seamlessly integrating form, function and a touch of Cartier whimsy. This movement combines lacquer case inlays and expertly executed casework, enhancing the elegant aesthetics inspired by the original Santos-Dumont design – a tribute to an innovative and elegant aviation pioneer.
The standout feature is undoubtedly the small rotor, decorated with a scale model of the famous Demoiselle aircraft designed by Alberto Santos-Dumont, gliding gracefully over the globe. This tribute to aviation pioneer and close friend Louis Cartier seamlessly blends artistic sensibilities with functional design, resulting in an elegant and unique dress watch.
Franck Müller – the thin skeleton of the avant-garde
Franck Muller’s Vanguard Slim Skeleton stands out as one of the rare skeleton watches housed in an elegantly curved barrel-shaped case. Designed exclusively for this unique case, the movement blends seamlessly with its distinctive shape and soft, flowing curves that intentionally contrast with the bold, strong lines that define the iconic Vanguard model.
This edition introduces the new V 37-sized Vanguard case that is just 9.1mm thick – a notable departure from its predecessors, and promises a more comfortable fit, especially for those with thin wrists. The bold and instantly recognizable Arabic numerals, which are synonymous with the brand, complement the architectural elegance of the watch.
Its charm is taken to a higher level by the finishing techniques on its bridges and panels, including Côtes de Genève, perlage, chamfering, diamond polishing, sunburst, and satin brushing, along with intricate spiraling on the ratchets. With over 460 diamonds on the case and numerals, this exceptional piece of watchmaking art is in a class of its own.
Hublot – Spirit of Big Bang Essential Gray
In the world of contemporary watchmaking, Hublot distinguishes itself as a pioneering and bold brand, constantly pushing boundaries through pioneering designs and pioneering material innovations. Living up to the slogan “The Art of Fusion,” Hublot’s skeleton watches are an unforgettable showcase of the brand’s mastery in working with unconventional materials.
The new limited-edition Spirit of Big Bang Essential Gray watch from Hublot offers a unique interpretation of its iconic timepiece, bathed in one captivating colour. The Essential Gray collection revolves around the House’s signature concept of one color for one model, released once a year through one channel.
In this extraordinary creation, the iconic barrel-shaped case, bezel, screws, crown, pushers, case back and clasp are made of titanium, accompanied by matching interchangeable rubber or fabric straps. To ensure legibility in this monochromatic watch, Hublot treated all movement components and introduced subtle color variations, especially on the date dial and chronograph counters, with various finishing techniques that create the illusion of contrasting depths and textures on the titanium elements.
The Essential Gray collection debuted last year with the release of 200 pieces of the Big Bang Unico Essential Gray model. This year, Hublot is enhancing its exclusivity by manufacturing only 100 pieces of the Spirit of Big Bang Essential Gray.