Five Skeleton Watches: Omega, Jaquet Droz, Audemars Piguet, Chopard, And Arnold & Son Become Transparent
“Skeletonize” is one of the most misleading terms in haute horlogerie, evoking rather weird images of exposed bones, sharp surgical tools, and even bizarre Halloween scenes.
Connoisseurs, however, know that the art of skeletonizing is a time-honored horological handcraft requiring expertise mastered by a small few specialized artists, since it is here that movement components, already tiny and filigree, are sawed and filed down to their bare essentials. And all in it is an extremely decorative style.
Skeletonizing is an art. Too little material removed risks a reaction of “why bother?”, while a fraction too much material removed and the artisan might as well throw the piece away and start all over again.
The functionality of components such as plates, bridges, and cocks are rendered in all of their (usually) scintillating ethereal beauty. The goal of the artist transforming the movement from haute horlogerie into a unique piece of art is to push the limits of what is both technically feasible and artistically pleasing.
If you were already of the opinion that the proportions and size ratio the microcosm of a watch movement operates within are on the edge of workability, then you need to check this one-upmanship out: in skeletonized watches, every minicule fraction of a millimeter counts.
And, yet, ever paramount is that every component has to be perfectly large and ridged enough to perform its task, not for years but for centuries – and looking beautiful while it does so.
Skeleton watches demonstrate great technical and aesthetic art in a miniature format while allowing the wearer fascinating insights into their inner workings, in which dozens of tiny little components interact with harmonious precision to display the time accurately and in a most refined way.
Contemporary timepieces, however, also utilize pre-skeletonized movements whose plates and bridges were designed from the get-go to replicate the airy look of the handcraft. Easily recognizable due to their geometrical shapes, this is a new way of enjoying the age-old element.
Here are five recent examples of skeletonization – both traditionally and contemporarily crafted – that take the genre to the next level. Each one of them has a strong allure that derives from the meticulous finishing and uncluttered design of mechanical “bare bones.”
Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Skelet-One: let there be light!
The Grande Seconde Skelet-One, an exceedingly impressive skeletonization debut for the brand, embodies the essence of Jaquet Droz’s art of watchmaking. Celebrating its 280th anniversary in 2018, the brand offers just this one (Skelet-One) skeletonized Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde. And what an absolutely gorgeous piece it is!
The Grande Seconde Skelet-One, available in pink gold, white gold, and black ceramic – the latter being my personal favorite – marks a true stylistic turning point in the history of the brand’s flagship timepiece. The objective of this sophisticated creation was to let light shine to the deepest reaches of the Grande Seconde while preserving the figure 8 shape that is the hallmark of its dial.
This creates the purist “Jaquet Droz” character of the dial, distinguished by the brand’s signature hours and minutes subdial with Roman numerals at 12 o’clock intertwined with the large subdial for seconds with Arabic numerals at 6 o’clock.
The composition stays true to the original inspiration of the Grande Seconde but plays with decorated surfaces that stand out against a transparent background. Thus, the indication of the hours, minutes, and seconds offers an entirely new aesthetic.
The sapphire crystal dial upon which the large second hand makes its revolutions allows a panoramic view into the skeleton movement, which seems layered. The base plate is entirely openworked as is the gold rotor.
The Grande Seconde Skelet-One is powered by Caliber 2663 SQ, equipped with double spring barrels, a silicon balance spring, and silicon pallet lugs. This is a place where traditional art meets high tech.
For more information, please visit www.jaquet-droz.com.
Quick Facts Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Skelet-One
Case: 41 x 28.45 x 12.3 mm, pink or white gold or ceramic
Movement: automatic Caliber 2663 SQ, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, power reserve 68 hours, silicon balance spring and pallet fork, twin spring barrels
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: 34,600 CHF in white and pink gold, 24,850 CHF in ceramic (including tax)
Omega Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon Apollo 8: black beauty with a new twist
One of the best-known watches in history, and practically synonymous with the Swiss brand, the Speedmaster – also known as the Moonwatch – has delighted chronograph enthusiasts with state-of-the-art mechanical features and a highly distinguishing character for more than 60 years.
Since its introduction, a plethora of Speedmasters have served to re-interpret this successful design formula, ensuring it remains contemporary.
The Omega Speedmaster celebrates extraterrestrial experiences: it can be considered a true witness to different time periods in watch design as well as witness to major human achievements.
At Baselworld 2018, Omega introduced the Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon Apollo 8, a refreshingly different, yet still faithful, interpretation of the timepiece’s “moonstruck” DNA.
For the first time, this chronograph is equipped with a partially skeletonized dial revealing parts of Caliber 1869, a “spinoff” of legendary hand-wound Caliber 1861 used in the original Speedmaster Professional “moonwatch.”
Barring some strikingly contrasting yellow elements such as the chronograph hands, a color scheme the brand first used on a Speedmaster Racing model in 1968, this timepiece is as beautifully black as black can be.
With this smart color choice – to be honest, for my taste we have seen enough horological color experiments so far in 2018 (see Vivid Oranges and 5 Green Watches Likely To Become Evergreens) – and the fresh approach offering spectacular views into its ticking heart, the new Apollo 8 model is predestinated to join the ranks of the most sought-after Speedmasters, which ultimately become collector’s pieces.
Commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission, which took place December 21-27, 1968 and achieved the first manned orbit of the moon, this new Dark Side of the Moon model boasts a skeletonized dial so that some details of Caliber 1869 and its contrasting textures can also be admired from the front of the watch. Laser ablation was utilized to decorate the bridges and main plate of the blackened movement in order to create a realistic depiction of the moon’s surface en miniature.
This miniature representation displays two different scenes of the earth’s satellite: the dial side with a landscape full of craters is lighter in color to emulate the moon as seen from earth, while the back of the watch reflects the dark side of the moon as it was once observed by Jim Lovell and his two astronaut colleagues Frank Borman and William Anders.
The chronograph’s stroll on the dark side is expressively complemented by the case material, a black zirconium-oxide ceramic, and the perforated black leather strap with yellow rubber through the middle.
In true Speedmaster spirit, Lovell’s final words to ground control before exploring the dark side of the moon – “We’ll see you on the other side” – are engraved around the bezel of the transparent case back.
For more information, please visit www.omegawatches.com.
Quick Facts Omega Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon Apollo 8
Case: 44.25 x 13.8 mm, black ceramic
Movement: manual-winding Caliber 1869, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, power reserve 48 hours
Functions: hours, minutes, small seconds and chronograph
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked: a masterpiece of mechanical art
A staple epitomizing sporty chic at its best, Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak models have ranked at the top of the most sought-after timepieces for more than 45 years.
Easily distinguished by its signature octagonal bezel and tapisserie dial, the perennially mega-popular Royal Oak has also served to stage some of the most innovative technical advancements of the time-honored manufacture based in Le Brassus, Switzerland.
One of the latest examples is this Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked, first introduced in 2016 in a 41 mm case. Its case style has only been available in a smaller 37 mm size decorated with the brand’s innovative Frosted Gold treatment introduced late 2016 (see Give Me 5! Fabulous Ladies Watches From SIHH 2017).
This refined Royal Oak execution represents not only cutting-edge chronometric technology but also the fine art of skeletonizing – even if the movement has not been hand-skeletonized, it has been hand-finished using beveling, chamfering, polishing, satin-brushing, and circular satin-brushing techniques. And the effect is no less than stunning: all 245 components blend harmoniously into one awe-inspiring unit.
Harmony is also the credo of the technical aspects of this haute horlogerie timepiece: as already announced in its name, the Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked incorporates two balance wheels and a double hairspring.
Assembled along the same axis, the patented system oscillates in pure harmony to counteract the effects of gravity on the balance itself, thus elevating stability and, therefore, chronometric performance.
Another technical advantage of the double balance wheel design is that two variable-inertia balances, each with eight adjustment weights, allow for a much more precise rate adjustment of the movement.
Aside from the technical aspects, the sheer visual allure is simply superb, allowing the wearer to admire the motion of the regulating organ from both sides.
The finishing of automatic Caliber 3132 with its skeletonized 22-karat gold rotor is likewise stunning.
It only seems fitting that such an intricate timepiece is housed in an exceptional case: this Royal Oak case and bracelet are crafted in white gold and treated with Audemars Piguet’s Frosted Gold technique. This specialty of the house is the result of a hammering process that sees the surface struck with a diamond-tipped tool leaving the impression of tiny ice crystals – or even scintillating diamonds, without the gemstones being present, of course.
For more information, please go to www.audemarspiguet.com.
Quick Facts Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked
Case: 37 x 10 mm, frosted white gold
Movement: automatic Caliber 3132, 3Hz/21,600 vph frequency, power reserve 45 hours, two balance wheels and double hairspring
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Chopard L.U.C Full Strike: maximum horological capacity
Watches that include the sophisticated minute repeater have long been regarded as the regalest of all grand complications. Chiming the time on demand by simply activating a slide on the case flank – or in this case, pushing a button in the crown – these rare masterpieces of precision mechanical engineering are sought after by both collectors and horological enthusiasts.
Chopard’s L.U.C Full Strike is the brand’s first minute repeater. It was introduced in 2016 to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the L.U.C manufacture and it won the Aiguille d’Or at the 2017 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. It is not only music to the ears but also a feast for the eyes.
Its hand-wound movement, Caliber L.U.C 08.01-L, comprises no less than 533 components although it measures a mere 7.97 mm in height. It features intricate finishing in accordance with the strict requirements of the Geneva Seal: from plates and bridges to gongs and screws, the components are finished to the highest standards in haute horlogerie including chamfered and polished edges on the bridges, polished screw-heads, and Geneva waves on the main plate crafted in German silver.
Thanks to its partly openworked dial, the watch offers enthusiasts a front-row seat to the fascinating micromechanical spectacle taking place within the Fairmined white gold case, most importantly it includes an unobstructed view of the gongs at 10 o’clock.
The L.U.C Full Strike is of such a complex nature, one could probably write a whole book about it with single chapters dedicated to its technology in general, its minute repeater technology in particular, the idea from first scratch to realization, the lengthy production process, the story of the Fairmined gold it is housed within, and the stellar aesthetics resulting from the excellence of its Geneva Seal finishing.
The L.U.C Full Strike chimes the hours, quarter hours, and minutes on transparent sapphire crystal gongs; this material produces a purer tone than metal. Crafted from a single block together with the sapphire crystal that covers the dial, this brand-new technique strengthens the acoustic transmission, the purity of the sound, and the real-time play. The quality of the sound itself, tuned to the two notes C and F, is literally crystal clear.
The hours, quarters, and minutes racks are all designed to drive each other in order to achieve a constant cadence without the sometimes extensive pauses between them found on other repeaters. If you would like to watch and hear a demonstration (as well as find out much more about the innovative mechanics), please see Joshua Munchow’s comprehensive article Chopard L.U.C Full Strike Minute Repeater With Crystal Power! Plus Video: Listen For Yourself.
Even those generally not so understanding of technical aspects can imagine that a lot of energy is needed to drive such a complex mechanism, for which reason it is equipped with two spring barrels, one for the time with a generous 60-hour power reserve and the other for the minute repeater. Because of this, the movement can store up the energy needed to chime the most complex time announcement – 12:59, with 12 chimes for the hours, 3 chimes for the quarters, and 14 chimes for the minutes – 12 times over without having to wind again.
Another amazing attribute is the double power reserve indicator at 2 o’clock, which uses two hands to keep the wearer informed on the current status of the mainsprings for the time indication and the minute repeater.
Alongside its horological prowess, the L.U.C Full Strike is a supremely elegant watch with a decidedly classical allure. The dial, to a large extent openworked, is entirely made of solid gold, including the small seconds subdial at 6 o’clock. Its railway-type minute track is engraved inside the sapphire crystal.
For more information, please go to: www.chopard.com.
Quick Facts Chopard L.U.C Full Strike
Case: 42.5 x 11.5 mm, 18-karat Fairmined white gold
Movement: manual winding Caliber 08.01-L with 60-hour power reserve and sapphire crystal gongs; C.O.S.C.; Geneva Seal
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; minute repeater, power reserve, minute repeater power reserve
Limitation: 20 pieces
Price: €242,000/245,000 Swiss francs
Arnold & Son Nebula Lady: symmetry in perfection
Last but certainly not least, we turn the spotlight on a particular gem among this year’s lineup of superb mechanical ladies’ timepieces.
The Swiss-British watch manufacture Arnold & Son (learn about the history of Arnold & Son in Historic Swiss Brand Angelus Is Back And Presents the U10 Tourbillon Lumière) surprised female lovers with a passion for observing mechanics with this exceptional skeletonized timepiece finished according to high haute horlogerie standards.
Having established a tradition of creating intriguing skeleton timepieces for itself (like the insanely beautiful Golden Wheel and Time Pyramid models), Arnold & Son adds a notably feminine touch to this genre with the Nebula Lady. Crafted in pink gold and equipped with a diamond-set bezel framing a slim palladium chapter ring, it is all about striving for perfect symmetry.
While its name indicates a cloud (nebula is the Latin word for cloud, here referring to clouds of cosmic gas and dust that are formed from the debris of exploding stars), the movement layout reminds me more of a flower with skeletonized, chamfered, and brushed triangular pink gold bridges harmoniously arranged as petals.
Set against a silvery palladium-tone skeletonized base plate, they create a subtle contrasting interplay of cool silvery tones and warmer gold accents, topped off by the blackened hands for the time indication of hours, minutes, and seconds.
The Nebula Lady puts some of the intricate inner workings of its in-house movement in full sight – it’s the same movement found in the men’s Nebula introduced in 2016 – from the dial side we can admire the two spring barrels providing a power reserve of 90 hours, subsidiary seconds at 7 o’clock, and the balance wheel with its regulating screws symmetrically opposed to it at 5 o’clock.
All elements of hand-wound Caliber A&S5101, which measures just 4.04 mm in height, feature an exceptionally high level of finishing, including chamfered wheels, polished edges, and gold chatons. Even the tiny screws featuring mirror-polished heads are beveled.
For more information, please visit www.arnoldandson.com.
Quick Facts Arnold & Son Nebula Lady
Case: 41.5 x 8.73 mm, pink gold
Movement: hand-wound Caliber A&S5101, 3Hz/21,600 vph frequency, power reserve 90 hours, twin spring barrels
Functions: hours, minutes, subsidiary seconds
Limitation: 50 pieces
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