Most luxury watches, to a degree, are meant to be seen. They’re meant to be seen on the wearer’s wrist and meant to catch the light in interesting ways. Some do this by flying under the radar – with classic proportions and colors. While others do it by being absolutely massive on the wrist with flamboyant colors. Somewhere in the middle, but in a class all of their own, are skeletonized watches. Their open cases and wild designs capture the eye and draw attention in a way that not many other timepieces can.

What is a Skeletonized Watch?

Skeletonized watches, also known as skeleton watches or openworked watches, feature case and dial designs with large openings to show off the movement and internals. Some have almost no physical dial at all, and others only open a small window to what’s happening underneath. There are truly no rules, as some have opted to make completely frivolous watches that don’t tell time at all, and instead feature detailed tourbillon mechanics or complications in place of time-keeping functions.

Zenith El Primero Skeleton

Watchmakers sometimes focus on making the most elaborate design possible without any regard to legibility. This shows off the skill in movement and case construction. Others choose to open up the watch while leaving the vital elements of timekeeping alone, such as hour markers and date complications.

Though the style has become popular in recent years, it’s hardly a new idea. Skeletonized watches have been a thing since at least the 1700s. Though modern watchmakers only really started embracing the technique during the quartz crisis of the 1970s as a way of standing out from the see of cheap, battery-powered watches. Today, some of the world’s most prestigious and desirable watch brands offer the wide-open watches. Many of these feature intricate designs that seem almost impossibly complicated.

OMEGA Skeleton Speedmaster

Modern skeletonized watches come in all sizes and shapes, and can feature exotic materials in their case construction. It’s not at all uncommon to find titanium, carbon fiber, and precious metals all mingling together in high-end openworked timepieces. There’s also no rule on complications, so it’s easy to find skeletonized chronographs and watches with date windows.

While they may draw attention, most of the time deservedly so, there’s something special about being able to see everything that’s going on inside the watch case. There is no place to “hide,” so to speak. So, the watchmaker has to put significant effort into making sure that every component is finished to a high degree. Seeing the movement do its job is one thing, but seeing a halfway finished movement ticking away under a transparent case isn’t quite as exciting.

When To Wear A Skeletonized Watch

As time has passed and more brands are jump into the fray, it has become easier to find a skeletonized watch for any occasion. The jumbo, sporty watches are still very much a part of the ecosystem here, but now there are several brands making dress and casual watches in the genre. The important thing to remember about skeletonized watches is that they are a bit ridiculous by design. In other words, it’s not a timepiece that someone buys purely for utility. No matter the watch or the occasion, there’s an element of “look at me” that a skeletonized watch brings.

Hublot skeleton watch

Even though there’s a watch for every time and place, their open case designs have the desirable side effect of making skeletonized watches lighter than their traditional counterparts. This makes them especially comfortable for longer wearing and for use during physical activity. The lightness is even more noticeable when the watch construction uses exotic materials, such as carbon fiber or titanium. Brands like Richard Mille and others capitalize on this with sports models that athletes will wear during rigorous physical activity.

At the end of the day, wearing a skeletonized watch, or any watch for that matter, should be about what you’re comfortable with and what makes you happy. If you want to wear a bold skeletonized watch to a formal event, by all means do so. The same goes for wearing one as your daily driver. Watches are extremely personal, and should be something that makes you feel good to wear.

Arguments Against Skeletonized Watches

You could make a few arguments against a skeletonized watch. All of these likely have to do with their appearance and legibility. People who love watches for their traditional style and utility might feel that the removal of as much material as possible to show off the movement makes the watch look too busy or overdone. In the same vein, people who wear watches for the pure utility of timekeeping sometimes complain that it’s hard to read a watch without a traditional dial. Both have roots in the truth. It’s easy to go overboard with skeletonized watches with various shapes and designs in the framework. It’s also true that, without a dramatic contrast between hour markers and hands, telling time with the watches can be difficult.

Cartier Skeletonized Watch

None of that should dissuade you from shopping for a skeletonized watch, however. Think about it like this: By removing dial material and working to make the watch case as transparent as possible, a watchmaker is able to show off its technical expertise in a way that a traditional case design can’t allow. It also opens up the movement and all of the technology that went into making it. So, you’re constantly reminded of the why the watch is special and unique. If we’re being honest, it’s just cool to look at an automatic movement ticking away, too.

Our Picks 

Some of our favorites include the Tag Heuer Carrera, Zenith Chronomaster El Primero, and the Jaeger-Lecoultre Amvox. All three of these timepieces feature an advanced in-house movements. They also have an easily legible dial and unique skeletonized case designs that show off various parts of the movement. JLC is a great example of the diversity in skeleton watches. It has a somewhat hybrid dial, consisting of partially open portions and solid portions. On the other end of the spectrum, the Tag Heuer’s case is nearly completely open. This even leaves the date wheel completely exposed to the wearer.

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