As any watch enthusiast will only too willingly inform you, the movement of a high-end timepiece represents the very pinnacle of precision engineering, with each one painstakingly crafted from hundreds of disparate pieces to produce something that is far greater than the sum of its many parts. For much of horological history, however, these mechanical wonders have been secreted away, stashed beneath the dazzling dials designed to ensure that the true engine room is seldom glimpsed by the eyes of the uninitiated.
Thankfully, the last few decades have gone some way towards remedying this, largely on account of the rise of the temptingly transparent skeleton dial. Here, the emphasis is on leaving the watch’s fascia wholly unadorned and see-through on one or both sides, allowing the inner workings of these high-end chronograms to be easily – and continually – observed. While many of the manifestations of this particular trend are undeniably marvellous, seven of the current crop are particularly memorable…
First up is Breguet, the innovative Swiss marque credited with creating the world’s first tourbillon, which recently unveiled the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Squelette 5395. Here, the open-worked fascia acts to emphasise the super-slim 3mm-thick Calibre 581 movement powering its new self-winding tourbillon, one that is said to be 50 percent lighter than any of its predecessors. Housed in a fluted rose gold case, this wonderfully slim watch’s carriage weighs in at just 0.29g.
Elegant super-slim design is also the stock in trade of Piaget, as exemplified by the wafer-thin skeletonised lines of its tourbillon-incorporating Emperador Coussin 1270S. Measuring just 5.05mm, its Calibre 1270S movement was custom-built to fit its cushion-shaped white gold case. Here, the skeleton dial reveals the inner workings of its motor and tourbillon, as well as an off-centre four o’clock hour-and-minute subdial.
A more minimalist translucent offering comes courtesy of Jaquet Droz’s Grande Seconde Skelet-One Red Gold, which once again sports the brand’s classic black-on-rose-gold motif. Pride of place on its fascia goes to a smaller hour-and-minute subdial at 12 o’clock and a larger small seconds subdial at six o’clock, both of which overlap to form the brand’s iconic figure-eight emblem. Its transparent caseback, meanwhile, facilitates a fascinating view of the double barrels that house its 68-hour power reserve.
Eschewing classic contours for a more athletic approach is Hublot, with this affectation made manifest in its recently-unveiled Spirit of Big Bang Tourbillon Carbon Blue. Released in a limited edition of just 100, this aggressively-styled chronogram is the marque’s first barrel-shaped model to incorporate blue occlusioned carbon fibre. With its spacious appearance belying its intricate construction, its knowing design provides an unhindered view of its debutante HUB6020 movement. The tourbillon proper, all the while, takes place of pride at six o’clock, while a five-day power reserve indicator can be found at eight o’clock.
Another bold carbon fibre creation is on offer from Ulysse Nardin in the unmistakable form of the Skeleton X Magma. Burnished in an eye-catching lava red, the process of combining carbon fibre with red, marbled epoxy resin is said to make each case quite unique. The skeleton dial here comes punctuated with a rectangle motif – anchored on the left and right by Roman numeral hour markers – through which its UN-371 movement is immediately discernible.
Those of an avant-garde disposition, meanwhile, should ensure they get to properly appraise Zenith’s Defy Inventor. Housed in a titanium case that incorporates a bezel fashioned from meteorite-derived Aeronith, the world’s lightest titanium-composite, the pièce de résistance of its open-work design is undoubtedly the Zenith Oscillato. A groundbreaking single silicon component, this comprises an all-in-one balance wheel, balance spring and lever, which is said to grant the movement unprecedented precision and stability. Regrettably, just 10 pieces of this cutting-edge chronogram are destined to ever see the light of day.
Arguably, superiority in the skeleton dial stakes this time around, though, must be accorded to Armin Strom, the independent Swiss maison credited with creating the world’s first-ever such watch. Intriguingly, its latest offering – the Dual Time Resonance Sapphire – features not one but two separate movements, each tethered to a different time zone, as well as the brand’s revolutionary Resonance Clutch Spring, which connects and synchronises the two mechanisms, ensuring chronographic precision is never compromised. Complete with a 24-hour indicator at six o’clock, its outsized all-sapphire-crystal case facilitates 360-degree observation of the outré movement within – a fitting evolution of the skeleton-dial wristwatch the marque pioneered more than 40 years ago.
Text: Tenzing Thondup