Skeleton watches strip away all but the essential elements of the movement, making a purist statement that elevates the art of the mechanism. With no dial and a clear case back, light flows through the watch, creating captivating voids and drawing attention to moving parts, much to the delight of mechanical gearheads.
Today’s skeletons are usually designed from the ground up, unlike yesteryear when watchmakers cut away at an existing movement to reach its minimalist essence. Traditionally, the remaining structure was decorated with lacy engravings, but modern skeletons are cleaner, bolder, and edgier.
This year, Cartier revived its rectilinear Santos in medium (35.1mm x 41.9mm) and large (39.8mm x 47.5mm) sizes—with a choice of stainless steel, yellow gold, pink gold, or a mix of steel and yellow gold. In the large size, there is also a skeletonized, or open-worked, version in rose gold (US$63,500) or stainless steel (US$26,800). This year’s redesign updates and replaces 2004’s Santos 100 collection. Santos launched in the late 1970s in a bid to join the burgeoning luxury steel sport-watch market. The two-tone steel-and-gold design was a tribute to the famous 1904 wristwatch—claimed to be the first ever for men—that Louis Cartier designed for his friend, Brazilian aviator and bon vivant Alberto Santos Dumont.
While they exude wholly different characters, both versions bear the brand's hallmark Roman numerals. The brushed finishes of the bracelet and case are contrasted with a polished bezel and visible screws, a Santos signature.
The watch comes with a leather strap and metal bracelet that can be instantly sized without a screwdriver, using Cartier’s new Smartlink system. You can also change from bracelet to strap instantly with the brand’s ingenious new QuickSwitch system.
One newcomer to the squelette scene is Jaquet Droz, the boutique brand owned by The Swatch Group. Jaquet Droz’s signature Grande Seconde design takes its characteristic figure-eight dial layout from an ancient pocket watch created by the brand’s 18th-century namesake. A small subdial displays hours and minutes at 12 o’clock, and interlocks with a large seconds sub-dial at 6 o’clock.
In slick black ceramic, the Grande Seconde Skelet-One Ceramic (US$24,200) is a rare automatic skeleton with an eye-catching red-gold oscillating rotor that adds dynamic flair.
Best known for its couture fashion and timeless No. 5 fragrance, Chanel surprisingly has proven it has genuine horological chops in recent years, developing its own movement in 2015, the Calibre 1, to power its first men's watch, the Monsieur de Chanel. This year, the brand unveiled its third in-house movement, the skeletonized Calibre 3, for the Boy·Friend Skeleton Calibre 3 (US$40,600). The blackened lines of the movement form a striking airy structure of three interlocking circles. The octagonal beige-gold case evokes the shape of a No. 5 bottle and the Place Vendôme, where Mademoiselle Coco lived in a suite at the Hôtel Ritz Paris.