For cen­turies watch­mak­ers have known that the def­i­ni­tion of a time­piece need not in­clude a face. In fact, many de­sign­ers have found that re­mov­ing this façade only en­hances the magic, writes Made­line Hoskin.

Signature Travel & Lifestyle - - Contents -

Th­ese stripped-back time­pieces show­case the artistry of min­i­mal­ism

The skele­tonised watch move­ment has come a long way since its in­cep­tion by An­dré-Charles Caron in the late 1700s. What started as a ge­nius mar­ket­ing ploy to en­chant the Parisian elite with the mys­te­ri­ous in­ner work­ings of a time­piece has now be­come one of the most es­teemed de­sign ethics in the in­dus­try – and when you look at the cal­i­bre of cre­ations pro­duced, it’s not hard to see why.

Up un­til the early 2000s, it took horol­o­gists months of del­i­cate work to achieve Caron’s stripped-down aes­thetic. One would take a com­pleted time­piece and carve each diminu­tive piece down to its el­e­men­tal struc­ture, re­mov­ing plates, di­als and much of the bridge.

Not only was this process time con­sum­ing, it wasted precious ma­te­ri­als. That’s why watch­maker Richard Mille’s break­through in the early 21st cen­tury was so rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

Man meets ma­chine Driven by his love of racing cars and a fas­ci­na­tion with see­ing what lay be­neath their bon­nets, Mille was in­spired to de­velop a watch­mak­ing method that did away with non-essen­tial parts such as base­plates and main­plates. In do­ing so, he de­vel­oped tech­nol­ogy that al­lowed a time­piece to be stripped to its skele­ton by de­fault.

This achieve­ment not only al­lowed for bolder, more dar­ing con­struc­tion, but it also meant the open-worked look was sud­denly achiev­able to a wider num­ber of ate­liers, and they leapt aboard the band­wagon with en­thu­si­asm. To­day, cus­tomers are spoilt for choice when it comes to such de­signs – with every­thing from the stark, mas­cu­line lines of Ulysse Nardin and most of Swiss lux­ury watch­maker Hublot’s Big Bang se­ries to the in­tri­cate de­signs of Aude­mars Piguet and Cartier.

In­ner work­ings The lat­ter par­tic­u­larly proves that Mille’s in­flu­ence does not nec­es­sar­ily come at the cost of ex­ist­ing aes­thet­ics and com­pli­ca­tions. The Ro­tonde de Cartier Astro­tour­bil­lon Skele­ton is a stripped-back marvel, hous­ing its mov­ing parts in a frame of empty space, with the bridge ex­tend­ing el­e­gantly into two skele­tonised Ro­man nu­mer­als.

Al­ter­na­tively, other brands have made bold steps for­ward since adopt­ing skele­tonised forms. The re­lease of Bell & Ross’ BR-X1 Tour­bil­lon Sap­phire marked a turn­ing point in its de­signs. Pair­ing a trans­par­ent ex­te­rior with fly­ing tour­bil­lon, mono-pusher chrono­graph and a translu­cent rub­ber strap, the watch sets a new bar for con­tem­po­rary styles.

Some con­nois­seurs fear that the ‘Mille ef­fect’ has led to the loss of a time-hon­oured art form, but there will al­ways be a place for this her­itage. Patek Philippe, for ex­am­ple, still keeps this old method alive – even if the fi­nal re­sult re­quires 14 months of painstak­ing craft­ing.

This process will no longer be the norm, but the art of the skele­ton is far from dead. It has sim­ply evolved.

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