Bones And All: The Best Skeleton Watches
Indie watchmakers and lauded manufactures alike are stripping back the dial — here, our favourite takes on the skeleton watch.
Traditionally, the (arguably) most impressive element of any timepiece is largely kept under wraps. Sure, exhibition casebacks allow wearers to view the movement from behind, but the dial obscures the majority of the handiwork. Over two centuries after its creation by André-Charles Caron in 1760, the skeleton watch well and truly took off. Following the quartz crisis of the 1970s, manufactures like Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin responded by reinvesting in skeleton watches, showcasing the undeniable craftsmanship and mastery of their movements.
Skeleton, or open-worked, watches turn the attention away from timekeeping and place emphasis on the movement. However, a skeleton watch doesn’t merely swap the dial for transparent crystal, it reduces the automatic movement to its component parts, stripping away any extraneous metal to place full focus on the working components within. As skeletonised timepieces put a manufacture’s finishings on display, each gear, wheel, and bridge is meticulously polished and decorated.
Running the gamut from dressy to sporty, these are the best skeleton watches of 2023.
Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Squelette 5395
A veritable masterclass in elegance, the ultra-thin Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Squelette 5395 showcases an expertly finished openworked movement. Decorated with a a Clous de Paris motif and complemented with rose gold elements, the movement here is defined by its ineffable lightness, with an abundance of open space on the left side of the case thanks to the use of a peripheral rotor sitting just under the chapter ring.
Approx. $335,000; breguet.com
Cartier Santos-Dumont Skeleton
Showcasing the beauty of negative space, the latest iteration of the Cartier Santos-Dumont Skeleton allows the new in-house calibre 9629 MC to take centre stage. The calibre—which took the manufacture two years to create at its facility in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland—nods to the original 1904 Santos-Dumont, made for the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. Most notably, the micro-rotor at 8 o’clock is shaped like the Demoiselle, a plane the pilot designed in 1907. Cartier’s signature blue steel hands stand out against the limited-edition yellow gold version, however, are equally as striking paired with rose gold and steel.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Chronograph
The best of both worlds. Amalgamating restrained elegance with unbridled showmanship, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Chronograph is business in the front and party in the back. The first dial is rendered in a sober blue-grey tone with a brushed sunray finish while the second dial showcases the stunning retrograde chronograph mechanism within. Among the finishes are gold wheels, Côtes de Genève-decorated bridges, and blued screws, complemented by the blue chronograph hands and topped with a floating black minute track.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked
One of the most iconic sports watches of all time gets the skeletonised treatment with the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked. To promote optimal stability and precision, the movement features a second balance wheel and balance-spring assembly on the same axis, a feat that’s traditionally difficult to achieve in an openworked timepiece. The stainless steel case is complemented by the slate grey and yellow gold detailing on the movement, as well as applied rose gold indexes and hour, minute, and seconds hands.
Approx. $112,000; audemarspiguet.com
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Skeleton
Bulgari puts its ultra-thin watchmaking prowess on full display in the Octo Finissimo Skeleton. Housed within a rose gold case, the 2.5mm movement creates a striking contrast courtesy of its anthracite details. The openworked dial features a power reserve indicator and small second counter, with indexes and hands crafted from rose gold. Belying its slim proportions, the in-house calibre boasts an impressive eight-day power reserve.
Piaget Polo Skeleton
Another manufacture well-versed in the art of the ultra-thin movement, Piaget’s skeletonised take on its flagship sports watch is delivered with flair. Blue tones adorn the openworked movement, with the wearable work of art laden with satin-brushed sunburst and bevelled finishes. Encased in stainless steel and presented on a matching bracelet, it’s characterised by a tonal blue-on silver effect.
Moser & Cie Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon Skeleton
Marking the independent manufacture’s first skeletonised outing, the Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon Skeleton sees H. Moser & Cie’s signature Funky Blue fume dial, featured in miniature at 12 o’clock, with the openworked treatment. The subdial cleverly hides the bulk of the movement while the visible components take on a three-dimensional aesthetic, with gold and anthracite details flanking a hypnotising flying tourbillion at 6 o’clock.
Approx. $133,500; h-moser.com
Arnold & Son Time Pyramid
Old world elegance epitomised. Coalescing the illusionary allure of the mystery dial with impeccable hand-finished details, the movement is built on a vertical line stemming from a flying tourbillion at 12 o’clock, taking a symmetrical approach to provide a visually balanced effect. The movement is finished with polished edges, bevelled edges, Côtes de Genève stripes, and satin finishing. Two power reserve indicators (one on either side) showcase the power remaining in each barrel; the left initially powers the movement with the right taking over once its power runs out, providing a combined 90 hours of power. In keeping with the symmetrical approach, the crown is unconventionally tucked away at 6 o’clock, resting between the lugs of the rose gold case.
F.P. Journe FFC Calibre 1300.3
Can it truly be a skeletonised watch if there’s a(n actual) hand on it? A skeletonised watch for the contrarian, the F.P. Journe FFC Calibre 1300.3 sees digital hours indicated by the animated fingers of the titanium hand while a rotating dial showcases the minutes. Housed in a platinum case, the rose gold movement is complemented by an openworked dial that sees titanium bridges treated with titalyt to create contrast. As for the hand itself? It’s inspired by the design of a prosthesis made by French surgeon Ambroise Paré during the 16th century.
Ulysse Nardin Blast Skeleton X
Tonal and geometrical interplays take centre stage in the Ulysse Nardin Blast Skeleton X. The hour indexes at 1, 5, 7, and 11 o’clock connect to form the namesake ‘X’ which frames the skeletonised movement within. Stripped back to its component parts, the reductionist timepiece features ample blank space, framing the rose gold gears and balance wheel within. While some skeleton watches make it difficult to actually read the time, the Ulysse Nardin Blast Skeleton X features a clean, legible layout with hands and hour indexes touched with lume for readability under all lighting conditions.
Approx. $56,000; ulysse-nardin.com
Hublot Big Bang Integrated Sky Blue Ceramic
For our friends at Hublot, skeletonised dials are commonplace. The Swiss manufacture regularly strips back the dial to reveal its in-house HUB1280. Equipped with a flyback chronograph, it comprises some 354 components and is showcased here in a pared-back fashion, with an understated matte grey finish allowing the mechanics to shine. It’s complemented by lashes of sky blue that match the ceramic case surrounding it.
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