With the rise of mechanical watches as a luxury item, the engineering and finishing that goes into each movement has been brought into focus by watch enthusiasts. An exhibition case back has become a fairly common way for a consumer to see the details in a watch movement, but for a watchmaker the more traditional way to display the movement and show their skill is to skeletonize a watch. For a quick read about skeleton watches check out this article by Chris Teague. Skeleton watches can be made a variety of ways in order to highlight different parts of a watch. Below are six watches that do just that, plus one more just for fun.
TAG Heuer Carrera CAR2A1T – New movement, who dis?
The TAG Heuer Carrera has been a stalwart in the Heuer lineup since it was introduced in 1963. During its more modern iteration under the TAG Heuer brand it did not have its own in-house movement. In 2015 TAG introduced to the world a Carrera with the new in-house Caliber Heuer 01. If a watch brand is going to go through the trouble of making a new movement to go into one of their flagship watches, why not show it off? Instead of the movement, it is the dial on this watch that is skeletonized, omitting any parts of the watch that are not specifically used to tell time, and filling in the space with sapphire crystal. This is the most basic form a skeleton watch can take; the movement is still standard but with more of it visible to the world.
Zenith Defy El Primero 21 18.9000.9004 – I feel the need, the need for speed.
Zenith is known for making the legendary El Primero chronograph movement. If you are going to improve on such a movement, you should allow people to have a peek at what makes it so special. The Defy El Primero 21 skeletonizes the dial and gives a view of the El Primero Caliber 9004. The watch is designed so that the movement is displayed in a transparent dial. It has two different escapements, the first for standard time keeping and the second for the chronograph. What makes this chronograph special is that it beats away at 360,000 VPH, fast enough to time 1/100th a second. Watching the chronograph escapement go into a blur of pure mechanical speed is a sight to behold, and the reason why Zenith made sure to put it on display.
Omega Apollo 8 3188.8.131.52.01.001 – Both sides of the Moon.
The Omega Apollo 8 Speedmaster was released in 2018 on the 50th anniversary of the NASA mission, the first to reach the dark side of the Moon. The watch has a display caseback showing the distinguished Speedmaster 1861 movement as well as a dial that is partially cut back showcasing the movement from the front. The dial and the bridges on the movement are laser engraved to represent the lunar landscape that the astronauts would have seen as they traversed through space. The skeletonization on this timepiece is minimal as Omega is not attempting to show off specific parts of what lies within the watch but instead giving the consumer a matching view of the Moon on both sides, mimicking the view of the Apollo 8 crew.
Breguet Tradition 7057 – If you’ve got it, flaunt it.
When discussing watchmaking legends, one name that must be mentioned is Abraham Louis Breguet. His numerous inventions from almost 200 years ago are still being used today. These include Breguet numerals, Breguet hands, and the Breguet overcoil, the parachute escapement, and of course the tourbillon. The Breguet Tradition endeavors to show as many of these inventions as it can, not by cutting away at the dial, but by shrinking it to show the traditional Breguet movement based on Abraham Louis’ Souscription watches. With the dial out of the way, the gear train is visible along with the overcoil and parachute escapement that he is famous for. The dial does have the visually stunning Breguet hands, but this watch is really about the guts. It is a love letter to the man who impacted mechanical watchmaking more than any other.
Hublot Big Bang Unico Sapphire 411.JX. 4802.RT – Nowhere to run to baby, nowhere to hide.
It is safe to say that Hublot marches to the beat of their own drum. Hublot is not afraid to push the boundaries of material science, they do not make a watch that gets lost in the crowd and do not care who they offend stylistically. The Big Bang Unico Sapphire is no exception. To make an entire watch case out of sapphire is not easily done, certainly stands out, and it is not for everyone. In person, this watch is a stunner. Why take away part of the dial to show the inside of a watch when you can just make the entire watch case transparent? Sapphire is a very hard substance that does not like being cut into so many angles and shapes as this watch case demands. It is why a pure sapphire case is almost unheard of, but Hublot never backs down from a challenge. Not only did Hublot step up to the plate, but they did it several times to make different versions of this watch. If you like to see the inside of a watch from every angle, this is the only watch that can do it, and it will turn heads while doing it.
Cartier Tank Skeleton W5310026 – Where we are going, we don’t need dials.
Cartier deserves some serious credit for not playing it safe with the Cartier Tank Skeleton. It is a true skeleton watch. While almost all the watches in this category are taking parts of the dial or movement bridges away to show more of the running components of the watch, the Cartier Tank Skeleton in contrast has no dial at all. The watch was purpose-built from the ground up to achieve this goal. It is one of the first in-house designed Cartier movements, and to make sure you are aware of this achievement, Cartier built the bridges to be the hour markers, then completely encased the watch in sapphire so that the gear train is on full display. It is very expensive to produce a new watch movement, and Cartier did it just to create an off-the-wall, no holds barred skeleton watch. Cartier Tank Skeleton is the ultimate skeleton watch that does not compromise.
Bell & Ross BR01-92-SA Airborne Skull and Crossbones – Trick or Treat?
Ok, so this may not be a skeletonized watch, but it does have a skeleton on it. Some watches are about complex engineering, hand finishing, and durability. Some watches are just a show of creativity, or for pure enjoyment. The signature big square case that Bell & Ross use is built well and provides one heck of a wrist presence. If skull and crossbones is not your jam, they have plenty of other fun styles in their repertoire. However, if you want a watch that screams your love for all things Halloween then the Airborne Skull & Crossbones is a great option.