Hubert Burda Media

Bring Out the Skeletons

Discussing skeletonised timepieces can reveal a chasm, dividing watch lovers into two camps. There’s no sitting on the fence here. You either like it or you don’t. Still, it would be impossible not to appreciate the intricacies that go into creating such works of art. Hate Botero’s large people all you want, for example, but if you cannot admire the the processes that go into his craft, then you may be missing out on the true beauty of art. The process of skeletonisation is a reflection of this meticulous approach to art. Unlike openworked dials that are defined simply by the absence of a dial, thus putting the movement on display, skeletonised watches see the movement itself pared down to the bare bones.

What started as a necessary challenge at a time of material shortage in the late 18th century became a measure of a brand’s ingenuity and mastery of this time-honoured technique. In a skeletonised watch, the plates and bridges of a movement need to be hollowed out, leaving the absolute minimum to hold components together. Cartier has long proven its ability at this craft, even developing an iconic flair for it. One of the brand’s unique traits has been the function of its indices as bridges to support the movement. And this year, Cartier has upped its game by introducing its first automatic skeletonised movement with the new Clé de Cartier Automatic Skeleton 9621 MC.

The ingenuity behind the calibre 9621 MC must be observed from the back. In an automatic timepiece, a rotor is most likely the first component of a movement you may notice when turning the watch around. Most rotors are built solidly so as to be heavy enough to generate power and wind the watch. However this contradicts with the art of skeletonisation. To overcome this, Cartier chose to hide the rotor in plain sight by hollowing it out and building it in white gold for heavier mass and volume. 

Can you spot the rotor?

This means that the watch’s precision is not compromised, giving it the same winding performance and efficiency to maintain accuracy over the three-day power reserve. While another option would have been to create a peripheral rotor (one that skirts along the rim of the case like in the Cartier Promenade d’une Panthère), the head of Cartier’s Fine Watchmaking Department, Carole Forestier-Kasapi shared that all the brand’s skeleton movements were fitted exactly to case sizes, making it necessary to find another option. 

In the Clé de Cartier Automatic Skeleton, Cartier not only shows how skeletonisation emphasises a watch’s movement but also that a step further can always be taken to prove a brand’s merit. While that piece showcased technical innovation, Cartier’s other skeleton offering of the year paid a serious nod to an already big fan favourite.

The story of Cartier’s Crash is a go-to choice of ours when trying to reassure someone that good can always come out of a bad situation (note: doesn’t really work well in more serious ones). The watch was born in 1967, after a Cartier Bagnoire wristwatch was damaged and bent/melted completely out of shape in a car accident. The result? The asymmetrical Crash. The brand took a rather morbid liking to the piece and re-produced the now iconic shape in limited quantities through the years. This year’s Cartier Crash Skeleton, however, comes in a stunning pink gold edition that still bears the manufacture’s signature skeletonisation. 

Because of the weird shape of the case, the skeletonisation of the Crash is perhaps the oddest design Cartier had to create. Symmetry is overrated and the brand shows that here but what is underrated, however, is the attention paid to the finishing of the watch. For us, a material like pink gold tends to reflect the hours of polishing more plainly than any other material. The Crash Skeleton in pink gold sees its sculpted and skeletonised plates painstakingly bevelled, satin-finished and polished one by one for a grander effect. Because the curvature of the watch lies on two axes, a manually shaped mineral glass is used. 

When it comes to seeing through things, Cartier still sets the benchmark of skeletonisation in the watch world. Without a doubt, Cartier will bring the technique to this year’s runaway piece, the Drive de Cartier. We’re waiting with bated breath.

First published in the September ’16 issue of AugustMan