Transparency is a good thing, it would seem, in horology as much as it is in business: at least, if the rise in popularity of skeletonised watches is anything to go by
Article by Donald McFarlane Photography by Andy Barnham
Skeleton watches. They are new news, even if they’ve been around for over 200 years. They are brilliantly crafted, they can be shockingly expensive, and they are outlandishly gorgeous.
What makes skeleton watches unique is the open face that allows the wearer, or anyone lucky enough to be admiring one of these exquisite pieces, the opportunity to observe all the moving parts through the front, and sometimes the back, of the watch.
The ‘art’ of skeletonisation is simply (although nothing about these time pieces is simple) scaling back the watch to its barest form. This is where the costs go up, and the true elegance and beauty in design are exposed. These pieces are the work of genuine master craftsmen.
First seen in France in the 18th century, skeleton watches appeared long before in-cased timepieces for the simple reason that full case backs and dials, so popular now, had yet to be invented.
Cormac Ampadu of Watches of Switzerland helped shed some light on the increase in popularity of these unique pieces: “I believe that what makes these unique timepieces popular or desirable is that they are unusual and exposed,” he says. “The owner can wonder at the movement and spend hours observing and appreciating the art of fine watchmaking.”
Riddle had the pleasure of visiting Watches of Switzerland’s megastore on London’s vibrant Regent Street, and got up close and personal with some of the finest timepieces on offer in this rarefied category. Starting at the low end of the range (really?), we have the lovely gentlemen’s Cartier Skeleton, which starts at a healthy £39,500. Next up is the Tag Hauer V4, which is cased in a glorious 13k gold, and will only set the wearer back a tidy £50,000.
Piaget is our next entrant, with their Skeleton Tourbillion bathed in a divine 18k in rose gold. Of course, that level of divinity will set you back the cool price of a Ferrari 458 or a California – and, depending on the options, you might even get some change. That’s right, £192,000 will buy you a nice timepiece for your wrist, or an iconic Italian supercar.
It would be neglectful of us to forget the Pièce de résistance of skeletonisation, the impeccable Roger Dubuis Quattro Tourbillion, of which only 88 were made (making them symbolic of extremely good luck in the Chinese market). The watch has 590 components which took years to acquire, and then months of trained artisans to assemble. The WoS store on Regent Street has the distinct pleasure, at the time of publication, of being in possession of number 52, which could be yours for a paltry 338,000 Quatloos. I mean pounds sterling.
Of course, no list would be complete without the inclusion of a ladies watch, and the venerable Swiss watchmaker Vacheron Constantin enchanted us with their Constantin skeleton – an effortlessly elegant piece of jewellery that could accompany any lady out to a glamorous cocktail party or to the opera. And, at £45,950, it is certainly more affordable than the average gentlemen’s watch in this format.
With most trends, there is always that inevitable recoil, or the reversion to form that generally happens. I’m not sure if that will happen so dramatically as it usually does when it comes to skeleton watches. They are as much works of art as they are functional tools to keep you abreast of the passing of time. And when looking at the market these watches are target at, and the small numbers in which they are produced, it can be assumed that watchmakers are not too worried about over-supplying the market, or skeletons becoming a fading trend. And Hell, if Rafael Nadal wears one, it must mean something…