Soon the stars of the watchmaking runway will have nothing but the barest of bones to express themselves with. But these skeletons aren’t macabre; on the contrary, they offer vast areas of expression to the watchmakers who have managed to reinvent them.
While the art of skeletonization in watchmaking is very old, it underwent a renewal a decade ago with the arrival of new timepieces intended to rejuvenate this technique of stripping down mechanical movements. Principally purely decorative, skeletonization—or the art of hollowing out the bridges and plates of a movement—has not just changed with the introduction of new component manufacturing procedures; it has been completely transformed. The lase decade has given us a new demonstration of this, while confirming that skeleton movements are well and truly in vogue. To such an extent, in fact, that certain manufacturers who haven’t mastered this art have opted for openwork dials just so that they can give their watches the skeleton name…
A window on the components
Gone are the days of slightly hollowed-out bridges and plates—now they are practically stripped bare! And it should be noted that very few old procedures have been transformed into such spearheads of daring contemporary watchmaking. The old has become sexy and new! Roger Dubuis has played a significant role in this metamorphosis, having quickly decided to explore this path and turn skeletonization into a true signature. In actual fact, the procedures implemented at Roger Dubuis completely changed the very notion of skeletonization, because instead of hollowing out an existing movement (taking care not to modify its structure or strength), they chose to imagine and design skeleton watches from the very first start of their creative process. This naturally allows for more flexibility, perfect calculation of the forces acting upon the movement’s architecture and, above all, calibers that are genuinely produced and visualized in three dimensions. In sum, engraving has been supplanted by chamfering and 3D views. Furthermore, the new products released by Roger Dubuis are still focused on this skeleton theme, as the new Excalibur Diabolus in Machina illustrates.
Other brands have also contributed considerably to the current interest in airy, architectural movements. Richard Mille, in particular, has led many of his competitors down the 3D path, encouraging descents into watch movements. Distant descendents of traditional skeleton watches, these calibers are the result of a modern, transparent concept of watchmaking that lets the mechanics speak for themselves. The new RM 27-04 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal is probably the most extreme example of this approach.
Honor kept intact
Cartier has also explored this approach extensively, designing movements as skeleton calibers from the very outset to such an extent that their openwork bridges now also serve as hour-markers in a concept patented by the brand. The Rotonde de Cartier Skeleton Mysterious Hour embodies this process perfectly.
Traditionally, skeletonization was mainly reserved for ultra-thin movements, and several Manufactures are continuing to innovate in this field, even going as far as to set ultra-thin skeleton movements with gemstones. This is the case for Piaget, who has presented several such models over the last few years including the 1200D caliber, the first automatic gem-set skeleton movement unveiled in 2013. But even in this instance, the skeleton watch is no longer produced as it used to be: the spirals and other curved shapes have given way to ever-more complex geometrical forms (including inside corners, which are always difficult to chamfer), revealing relatively large decorated horizontal surfaces that give these timepieces their strength and character. Piaget is also using the art of skeletonization on other pieces, such as the Altiplano Skeleton watch, an ultra-thin model.
The two Tonda 1950 Skeleton references unveiled this year by Parmigiani Fleurier also demonstrate the current trend for ultra-thin skeleton movements that are contemporary. The women’s version is particularly noteworthy, with its sand-blasted sapphire crystal playing with semi-transparency. This watch leaves things mostly to the imagination and is not completely laid bare—its honor is intact!