Skeleton watches have become some of the most sought after collectables and biggest signifiers of economic status in contemporary fashion culture. Most of the models go for anything from US$15,000 up to $350,000 and more. Although the concept of a watch becoming more expensive by subtracting an element from it is just as bothersome as the nightmarish inflation of ripped jeans compared to normal jeans, there is actually an age-old method to the madness.
The skeleton watch was first invented in 1760 by Andre-Charles Caron, a Frenchman who would later become the resident clockmaker to King Louis XV. He and his protege son-in-law Jean-Antoine Lepine realised that by revealing the intricate interlocking dials and cogs customers became instantly entranced with the Frankensteinian nature of its construction. Like Ovid’s myth of Artemis, something about the watches exposed nudity seemed salaciously captivating and elegantly enticing to a reserved 18th-century society.
As the rest of the world abandoned their interest in artisanal labours as the age of the internet arrived, Swiss watchmakers like Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Hublot revived the skeletonised style to further cement their unblemished reputation for superiority. Despite their often gaudy public perception, the skeleton watch found a fandom amongst today’s wealthy horological hoarders because of their visual focus on mechanical mastery compared to the saturated field of quartz. The surreal yet by definition conceptually conservative nature of the skeleton watch places emphasis on transparency and the beauty in untouched exhibitions of complex craftsmanship.
In the latter half of the century, watchmakers suffered numerous droughts in interest, causing a severe crisis in the watchmaking world that threatened the long lineage of classic watchmakers. As Japanese quartz brands like Casio and Seiko grew global roots, certain skeleton watches began to reemerge as a formal rejection of the originality erasing principals of the Digital Revolution. Timeless, (pardon the pun), pieces like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Openworked and the Hublot ‘Spirit Of Big Bang’ Skeleton placed analogue at the forefront and insisted that real metal-on-metal mechanics be looked at despite the worlds dogmatic desire to digitise everything.
Much like how the streaming service phenomenon sparked a vinyl record resurgence, the tsunami of digital watches entering the market at the turn of the century created an allure of sleek sophistication around skeleton watches and a longing to be connected to real-world craftsmanship. Brands like Richard Mille and Cartier became synonymous with skeleton pieces, eventually integrating seamlessly into the peacocking culture of the budding hip-hop scene. As artists like Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, Future and Lil Uzi Vert grew so did the cultural currency surrounding those select watchmakers that specialised in skeleton watches, with Richard Millie reigning supreme over them all.
Today, everyone from Lewis Hamilton to John Mayer has added a skeletonised watch to their collection as the unfiltered construction continues to strike a chord with new generations of curators. As the transparency trends continue to dominate different departments of the fashion industry with brands like Louis Vuitton and Nike adopting the seethrough treatment, watchmakers like Audemars Piguet continue to dedicate whole collections and branches of their company to the further exploration of the skeleton anatomy.
A Skeleton AP justifiably may not be everyone’s cup of tea as, let face it, only a select few can actually purchase them. However, I don’t foresee being able to buy Big Ben anytime soon nonetheless I can appreciate that it’s a pretty damn nice clock. Just maybe not as nice as a Richard Mille!