Collection objets

The skeleton watch was in black…

Skeleton watches are very popular among collectors because they offer a continuous sight of the ongoing time. In black, they are even more intense and mysterious. Here is the absolute proof.

By Vincent Daveau

Skeleton watch: Tempus fugit

The movements of skeleton watches have openworked bridges and bottom plates which let the light through to uncover the components. These watches were made possible through the invention of the Lépine calibre, at the very end of the 18th century. Craftsmen and buyers alike appreciated the exercise. This technique was very quickly reused by the Val de Travers watchmakers, in Switzerland. They used a “bocfil” saw to cut out the different fixed parts of the calibres and showed themselves to be very creative to attract a customer base which was made up of many Chinese buyers in the early 19th century.

One of the most beautiful examples of squelettage, combined with a grande complication: the Rotonde de Cartier mysterious double tourbillon watch.

Later, this technique served the cause of delicate movements and evening watches. Many pocket watches, called “couteaux” (knives) due to their incredible thinness, housed these delicate movements, which brought these models back to the very origin of their name. Because the French word for watch, “montre”, comes from Old French “monstrance”, a word expressing the idea of showing. Admittedly, at the beginning of the history of time-keeping instruments, the goal was not to have the exact time, but a kinetic jewel that was able, by its presence, to assert its owner’s power. From the moment of the invention of these objects, their owners liked to show off the fine movements, a testament to their wealth.

The skeleton watch was born to allow enthusiasts to keep displaying the mechanism of their watches without putting the whole calibre at risk. Watchmakers then very quickly invented a new way to highlight their work: removing the dial and case back and cutting broad fabric panels into the material to create an arachnoid structure where the moving components seem to be suspended.

This version of the Cartier Skeleton watch is an understated marvel.

Since the middle of the 19th century, the technique remained nearly unchanged. The saw was simply replaced by a massive electrical discharge machine, but the finishes are still left to talented – and patient – artisans. Filing here, polishing there, engraving where they see it fit, then assembling these intricate parts to make a structure where transparence gives the watches equipped with this type of movement a kind of life, that contradicts the name of skeleton that it was given. Because the idea of skeleton brings something lifeless and sad, whereas a watch that is openworked to the extreme exudes light, joie de vivre, the intoxication of emptiness. Here is a selection of these watches that, with their modernised design and geometric design, celebrate the work of watchmakers and the discerning taste of those who have chosen them for their sublimation of fine craftsmanship.


Cartier –Santos-Dumont Squelette XL Edition 

The Cartier –Santos-Dumont Skeleton watch XL Edition in black DLC.

In this version, the Santos-Dumont Skeleton watch XL demonstrates that a modernised open work pays tribute to the mechanism and changes a simple movement into a kinetic carving. The manufacture 9612 MC calibre with manual winding is cut to the extreme and carefully designed so that the Roman numerals XII, III, VI and IX can be part of the structure. Finished and assembled by hand in the manufacture located at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Most of the 138 components can be seen through the crystal dial and sapphire case back of this 28.6 mm, 3.97mm thick model, which features a regulating group vibrating at 4 Hertz (28,800 alternances per hour).

The Cartier Santos-Dumont Skeleton watch XL Edition also exists in grey gold and rose gold.  

This individually numbered model has a 72-hour power reserve, once completely wound. To protect it from water splatters and dust, it is encased in an airtight (3 bars) titanium case with black ADLC coating, a treatment made from amorphous carbon like diamond that is ultra-resistant to erosion. Both timeless and almost indestructible, this watch in which each detail matters has a panelled crown adorned with a faceted black spinel and is worn on an alligator leather strap fastened by a double unfolding clasp – not in titanium but grey gold, also ADLC coated. 

Price: €51,500

Technical specifications of the Santos Skeleton


The Santos de Cartier collection

Corum Golden Bridge Round 43 mm Edition Dubail

The bridge “baguette” calibre from Corum gives this watch a better transparency than classic skeleton watches.

This baguette calibre was made by Vincent Calabrese after he saw the decorative carriage clocks from Jaeger LeCoultre. Maison Corum offers a pure wonder, a miniature carving contained in a sapphire case. This elegant 43mm black PVD coated titanium piece is only available in 10 exclusive pieces for Dubail, the Parisian family house specialised in high watchmaking and high jewellery.

The Corum Golden Bridge Round 43 mm Dubail Edition is a skeleton watch that gives itself airs of suspension bridge.

In this setup, the manual winding in-line movement is a minimalist masterpiece that nothing disrupts. To avoid being captivated by the surrounding void, the Maison Corum has chosen to set up a tubular structure inspired by suspension bridges around this kinetic jewel. 

A limited edition only available from Dubail in Paris.

In this configuration, the in-line movement with manual winding is a minimalist monument that nothing can disturb. To prevent the eye from being caught up in the surrounding void, Corum has chosen to create a tubular structure inspired by suspension bridges around this kinetic jewel. 

The name of this piece is a nod to its inspiration, worn here on a black alligator strap. Infinitely elegant, this understated wonder follows the tradition of the most beautiful dress watches. Enthusiasts will take them to parties where its transparency and its original baguette movement will definitely make it stand out.

Price: €27,500

The technical specifications of the baguette calibre on another Golden Bridge

The Golden Bridge collection of Corum

Franck Muller – Curvex 7 Days Power Reserve Skeleton Dubail Edition

The ethereal work of the watchmaker masters can be seen on this Franck Muller Curvex 7 Days Power Reserve Skeleton Dubail Edition.

Black is in fashion for the watches designed to come with collectors for their slightly stuffy parties. Here, the colour and the barrel shape, a signature of the piece, will make this model stand out, even hidden under a shirt sleeve. The watch enjoys generous measurements with its 39.6 mm x 55.4mm. This voluptuous model perfectly follows the curves of the wrist. Its carbon case and calibre, open worked to the extreme, are so light you’ll forget it’s even there.

The small red lines along the motion work identify the Dubail limited edition.

The very Parisian Maison Dubail enjoys exclusivity of this watch, limited to only 20 pieces. Satisfying, as we like to say nowadays, its manual winding, openworked calibre, equipped with a 7-day power reserve, features a curved design brings to mind the circular marks left by drops of water on a lake and give the whole thing a certain sensuality. The watchmakers cultivated a contrast which will appeal to collectors, between the fixed, black coated components and the bridges, both openworked and mobile, with their silvery metallic coating. Modern and dynamic, this watch is worn on a black alligator strap to be matched to the rest of this exceptional timepiece that is bound to attract attention among night owls who have the means for their ambitions.

Price: €47,800

The Cintrée Curvex™ collection of Franck Muller