Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Skelet-One: One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others
There is a two-word phrase in the English language that, if uttered, will make at least 50 percent of people in earshot immediately hyper-focused on whomever says it: those two words are “Star Wars.”
Since its release in 1977, Star Wars and its sequels have become part of the fabric of twentieth-century America right next to the moon race, the New York Yankees, and Disneyland. Needless to say, this iconic film series is an important part of our collective culture.
If you take that same phrase and add two more words you can create some of the most passionate disapproval of anything Star Wars-related ever, perhaps even more than the much-maligned character Jar Jar Binks introduced in 1999’s Star Wars Episode 1 The Phantom Menace.
And what are those two special words? “Holiday special.”
The “Star Wars Holiday Special” was the first franchise spin-off in 1978. It took place before anyone, even George Lucas, realized what the film franchise could be. And after it aired, the “Holiday Special” was never seen on television again.
However thanks to the internet, the “Star Wars Holiday Special” has recently surfaced, and viewing makes it is clear that it was a compilation of very interesting choices and a lack of coherency when it came to the Star Wars extended universe. But when you put it in context of what the original Star Wars was (a goofy space opera forced on theaters for the initial screenings), it isn’t as far out as it seems now.
It was weird, make no mistake, and the budget of about $1 million was just a fraction of the $11 million budget of the first film, so it couldn’t be expected to match the quality of the original release. But given that it was not written and produced by Lucasfilm, the result was still much better than it could have been.
It was largely forgotten once the second film, 1980’s Episode V The Empire Strikes Back, made its debut, only kept alive in memories years later through lore and jokes, and, later, the internet. But it still was part of the Star Wars universe, for better or for worse, and it technically helped spawn the entire concept of an extended universe outside of the films that are considered canon.
In the case of Star Wars, doing something sharply out of character didn’t work well, and so the entire culture has been forced to mostly ignore it. But taking a risk isn’t always met with disaster: Porsche successfully moved into the SUV market; Amazon is no longer just an online book seller: and Elon Musk went from providing newspapers with online city guide software to building rockets that will likely power the next decades of human space exploration.
Sometimes trying something new pays off. For Jaquet Droz, one of the most classical watch brands, this “something new” is one of the very few skeleton watches it may have ever produced: the Grande Seconde Skelet-One.
As the name implies, it is a highly skeletonized version of the very popular Grande Seconde with a sapphire crystal dial in the shape of an eight as part of the 280th anniversary brand celebrations.
Jaquet Droz: history doesn’t lie
Jaquet Droz has been creating beautiful pieces of horology and automata for nearly three centuries, and in that time there has been little to no emphasis on exposed or skeletonized movements. The exceptions to this, at least in modern times, would be the Charming Bird automaton watch and – stretching it a little –the Signing Machine, which also was finally launched in 2018 after many years in development.
However, (until now) Jaquet Droz did not make skeleton watches and for good reason. The design of the timepieces had always been focused on simple elegance and old-world craftsmanship. This means that paillonné enamel takes the place of pierced wheels and micro-sculpting replaces openworking.
Skeleton watches are cool, and my love of mechanics always appreciates seeing inside a movement. But the design ideology behind Jaquet Droz is to let the beauty speak for the mechanism. Even the historic Writer automaton was fully finished to look like an elegantly dressed doll instead of an exceedingly complex mechanical construction.
So the brand’s history shows that skeleton watches and Jaquet Droz haven’t really gone together until somebody on the inside decided it was time to change that.
But to alter history, and in such a dramatic way, was sure to ruffle some feathers. It is safe to say that if you adore Jaquet Droz, it is probably because of the incredible automata or the consistently polished and classic designs. The watches by Jaquet Droz exude a certain air of refinement, a quality the brand’s loyal fans have come to expect.
When the brand suddenly released a very modern-style skeleton watch, it should come as no surprise the reactions were mostly mixed. But detractors can always find something to complain about, especially when they don’t want anything to change.
The Grande Seconde Skelet-One is a great success in my eyes, especially considering no prior history of creating skeleton watches from scratch. But when you can make an android doll write whatever you want, a skeleton watch is child’s play.
Mostly gone, truly good
The design of the Skelet-One centers on the shaped sapphire crystal dial resembling the number eight. The number eight and its shape has a lot of cultural significance in Asia, and is present in at least three Jaquet Droz collections and across a number of the brand’s other models.
The Skelet-One’s movement design follows the outline of the sapphire crystal dial shaped like an eight, and the entire going train is located within that shape.
Outside of the shape are a series of spokes that radiate toward the outer ring of the movement plates where the movement meets the case. The movement appears to float a bit more in this skeletonized version than many others I have seen, and the feeling of a mechanical world suspended across a chasm comes to mind.
The parallel spokes provide a sense of strength to the assembly even though they are relatively thin and don’t appear to be attached to anything substantial, thanks in part to the added effect of the outer movement edge being hidden beneath a bezel ring.
The hour-and-minute dial does have a backing ring between the sapphire crystal and the movement to help the time stand out. Depending on the version of the Skelet-One, the hours and minutes are either displayed in Roman numerals (with the overlapping section of the two dials showing Arabic numbers as is usual for the Grande Seconde) or simple polished gold markers (only on the ceramic version).
The seconds track of the sapphire crystal dial remains transparent, lending the motion an ethereal feeling, floating above the mechanisms below. The finishing for the movement is fairly subdued thanks to the black treatment that is uniform across all versions. The modernity of the movement and finishing is completely in line with much of what Jaquet Droz does. And yet it feels like something unexpected.
The Holy Grail for some: aligned screw heads
Speaking of something unexpected that isn’t surprising, the team behind Caliber 2663 SQ made sure to add a small detail that many watch lovers constantly clamor for: aligned screw heads. The five screws affixing the sapphire crystal dial to the movement are aligned in relation to each other and the movement.
The lower two two are aligned to the Grande Seconde dial, while the upper three are aligned to the hour-and-minutes dial. All of the slots are pointing to the center of their respective dials, creating a minor (yet difficult) radiating visual detail not often seen.
When watch lovers complain that screw heads aren’t ever aligned with each other or a specific feature they are usually told it is too hard to achieve when assembly tolerances are so tight that adjustments to the heads of screws could put the movement out of whack. Some individual watchmakers attempt it for some pieces, but it is a very annoying and ultimately needless step to take for most watches.
But that didn’t stop Jaquet Droz from picking the most visual screws (that, may I remind you, only hold a sapphire crystal dial in place and shouldn’t affect functionality) and spending the extra time to align them for added visual impact.
In creating the first skeleton watch in modern Jaquet Droz history, it pays to focus on some details that might normally be overlooked, and as features go Caliber 2663 SQ is rather simple so attention to detail is as important as complexity.
The automatic winding mechanism had the potential to muck up the entire look of the movement, so the rotor was mostly cut away to leave just what was needed, opening up visual space to see the movement underneath.
Overall the presentation is awesome, even if it was entirely unexpected from Jaquet Droz. The style still feels wholly in line with Jaquet Droz design criteria, and as long as watch fans can suspend disbelief from their own notions of what the brand must be the Skelet-One seems like a piece to open new visual doors.
I would speculate that the response has been pretty positive since it was first announced as a limited edition series and has since become an unlimited part of the collection. That sounds hopeful to me, and it seems that Jaquet Droz took a smart risk trying something new with the Skelet-One. Now I just need to scrape up the requisite dough to get one for myself!
*Cough* Excuse me sir, pennies for the poor? *Cough*
While I wait on my coffers to fill up and the memory of the “Star Wars Holiday Special” to once again fade from my consciousness, how about that breakdown!
- Wowza Factor * 8.9 It’s a great looking watch to be sure, but the wow comes from the unlikeliness of ever seeing this from Jaquet Droz!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 90.8 » 890.444m/s2 It is so simple that it keeps you up at night simply imagining how it could have such a hold over your desire!
- M.G.R. * 60.35 Great movement (not surprising from Jaquet Droz), but in a surprising format!
- Added-Functionitis * N/A Back to time-only pieces, and I’m still giddy about it. But of course, there isn’t much need for Gotta-HAVE-That cream since it appears Jaquet Droz is going for less!
- Ouch Outline * 11.3 Slivers under three fingernails at once!Seriously, just always wear gloves when handling multiple sheets of plywood. After enough sheets, something is bound to happen (and it’ll hurt!). Still, I would gladly take that risk to find one of the Skelet-Ones on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * 68 hours! I will give it one full wind before making sure to book the DJ!
- Awesome Total * 929.33 Multiply the diameter of the watch in millimeters (41) with the numbers of hours in the power reserve (68) and divide the result by the number of versions (3) and it will surely be a significantly awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.jaquet-droz.com.
Quick Facts Jaquet Droz Grande Second Skelet-One
Case: 41 x 12.3 mm, red gold, white gold, or ceramic
Movement: automatic Caliber 2663 SQ with twin spring barrels, silicon balance spring and pallet fork
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Price: $24,200 in ceramic; $33,600 in red or white gold
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Also published on Medium.