Bold Face: Skeletonized Watches

Jens Mortensen

Transparency and clarity expose the soul of watchmaking at its most detailed. 

It’s called skeletonization—accomplished when specialists carve away the majority of the metal in a watch caliber, leaving the beautifully finished bones exposed for the wearer to enjoy and transforming the watch movement (the sum total of parts that power the watch) into a sensational metal masterpiece. The concept of eliminating a dial, skeletonizing the metal, and exposing the watch’s inner workings to the world is not a new one. The first such timepieces date back to 18th-century pocket watches. André-Charles Caron, a Parisian master watchmaker, first exposed watches’ innermost secrets and created more public interest in the mechanics of watchmaking through this transparency. Two hundred years later, the advent of Art Deco inspired more-elaborate skeletonization, and this month the trend returns with pieces from Richard Mille and Cartier. To be sure, this is not an easy process. Once the mechanism has been completed, engravers and other expert craftsmen work slowly and cautiously to remove the metal from many minuscule components. Baseplates, wheels, bridges, and other tiny pieces— sometimes visible only under a microscope—are painstakingly carved to the barest minimum. Metal is chiseled away like marble (with technicians’ hours often triple those for a regular timepiece).