The Swiss watch industry’s proverbial closet is crammed with skeletons—of the horological variety. Call them open-worked, open-faced, or open-dialed, the number of new timepieces that reveal their inner workings suggests that the trade is collectively, and newly, besotted with an 18th-century aesthetic technique.
There is, however, a key difference between today’s skeleton watches and the classic, exceptionally traditional models of the past: In 2023, skeletons are thrillingly contemporary. Below, we highlight a handful of the best open-faced timepieces introduced this year.
Cartier Santos-Dumont Skeleton
When designing its new Santos-Dumont Skeleton watch, Cartier began with the concept of full and empty space. Strip away the dial and your view of the perfectly balanced movement, seemingly floating within the frame of the case, remains unobstructed. Powered by the brand new 9629 MC automatic skeleton calibre—developed by the brand at its facility in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, over the course of almost two years—the watch harkens back to the original 1904 Santos-Dumont, made for the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, with details such as a miniaturized functional oscillating weight shaped like the Demoiselle, a plane the pilot designed in 1907. Available in a rose gold or steel case, the latest Santos-Dumont watch also includes a limited edition in yellow gold with navy lacquer lining the skeleton’s bridges. Price to be confirmed; cartier.com
Cartier Privé Tank Normale Skeleton
A tasteful reinterpretation of the 1917 Tank, Cartier’s new Tank Normale Skeleton is a case study in symmetry. With a 24-hour time complication, the watch also features an out-of-the-ordinary time-telling experience: Daytime hours appear on the upper part of the dial while nighttime hours appear on the lower part. Note the gradation of shades on the skeletonized bridges that denote the two halves of the dial. Available in platinum and yellow gold in limited editions of 50 individually numbered pieces. Price to be confirmed; cartier.com
Chanel Première Camélia X-Ray
Chanel is wild about camellias — so much so that an 18k white gold camélia-shaped skeleton set with 246 brilliant-cut diamonds takes center stage in this limited timepiece, introduced at Watches and Wonders. Encased entirely in transparent sapphire crystal, the watch’s other big talking pieces include its 18k white gold crown set with 24 brilliant-cut diamonds, its Calibre 2 in-house manual winding movement, and its black patent calfskin strap with a silver lining, and 18k white gold triple-folding buckle set with 30 brilliant-cut diamonds. Price on request; chanel.com
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute Chronograph
If ever a watch lived up to the saying “Business in the front, party in the back,” it’s this striking two-faced Reverso chronograph from Jaeger-LeCoultre. The front dial, with its elegant sunray-brushed finish, is the epitome of restraint. The back dial, on the other hand, features an entirely skeletonized dial, offering a view of the chronograph mechanism, complete with Côtes de Genève-decorated bridges and seconds and minute tracks highlighted in black to maximize legibility. Rendered in both steel and pink gold, the model comes on dark blue and black straps, respectively. $21,400 for stainless steel; $37,400 for 18k pink gold; jaeger-lecoultre.com
Louis Vuitton Voyager Skeleton
The architectural bent of Louis Vuitton’s new Voyager Skeleton is no coincidence. The skeletonized LV60 movement has been designed to recall the brand’s engineering marvels, from its flagship stores to the Fondation Louis Vuitton, whose chrysalis-like glass structure is the brainchild of Frank Gehry. The mechanism embodies the brand’s signature “mechanical minimalism.” When it comes to the bridges and plates, less is more—only the material required for structural integrity has been left behind. The watch’s most elaborate details include a discreet Louis Vuitton monogram on the rotor bridge and the barrel ratchet wheel, whose open-working spells “Louis Vuitton.” Price to be confirmed; us.louisvuitton.com
Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Tourbillon Retrograde Date Openface
This is not your grandfather’s skeleton watch. The half-circle opening beneath this Traditionnelle model’s retrograde display allows a glimpse of the 2162 R31 movement and its ultra-contemporary slate grey surface treatment. The eye is drawn to the vertical hand-brushing on the upper part of the dial, as well as the hand-guillochéd segment on the lower part. The slender 18k pink gold case, 41 mm in diameter, provides the perfect note of contrast. Price on request; vacheron-constantin.com