Watches are mechanical wonders and feats of miniaturization, but we seldom get to observe their beauty and see the mechanism in motion. Some watches have open casebacks, so you can see the movement through the back of the watch, but watch dials obscure the majority of watch movements. A skeleton watch — also called a skeletonized or an openworked watch — reveals the watch’s movement on both sides. These watches don’t have traditional dials, but place the full focus on the movement. To create a skeletonized watch, watchmakers remove as much metal as possible from movement components. Some watchmakers design movements specifically to be skeletonized, creating beautiful designs from the bridges, while others focus more on showing their impressive mechanics.
Skeletonized watches put the manufacture’s finishings on display — every component is visible, so each must be perfectly polished. This can take dozens, if not hundreds, of hours, which is why skeleton watches command high prices. There’s no hiding in these watches, so all houses attempt them.
Skeleton watches range from elegant dress watches to wild, futuristic timepieces with bold colors and avant-garde stylings. Here, we’ve rounded up skeletonized watches from the top luxury watch brands.
The Best Luxury Skeleton Watches
Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-plat Squelette 5395
Breguet offers a master class in elegant skeleton watches and impeccable finishings in the Classique Tourbillon Extra-plat Squelette 5395. Not only is every component perfectly finished, but Breguet adds the complexity of a tourbillon. It even finds a way to showcase its expertise in guilloché without a dial by decorating the movement components with a Clous de Paris motif. Many skeleton watches appear busy, but this watch has an airy feel, thanks to several wide-open spaces on the left side of the watch.
Breguet adds even more space to the display by using a peripheral rotor. This small rotor surrounds the outside of the watch, just under the chapter ring, so it doesn’t ruin the skeleton watch’s transparent effect as it turns. Breguet smartly uses a sapphire disk for the chapter ring to display even more of the movement. The watch has blued Breguet hours and minutes hands and shows running seconds on the tourbillon.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked
An openworked Royal Oak is one of the most iconic skeletonized watches in the world. The house is renowned for its expertise in creating openworked movements (and for popularizing the term openworked). As its name suggests, it features two balance wheels for increased precision and stability, which can be difficult to achieve in skeletonized movements due to the amount of metal that’s been removed. The 41mm stainless steel watch has a slate gray chapter ring with pink gold applied hour markers topped with luminescent coating. One reason collectors love skeletonized watches is that they can’t be mistaken for quartz. The inner workings are on full display, and they can have quite an industrial feel. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Double Balance Wheel Openworked is the perfect example of this aesthetic.
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Skeleton
The Octo Finissimo line makes a watch’s thinness a key feature — finissimo means “thinnest” in Italian — and this watch is no exception. The Bulgari Octo Finissimo Skeleton measures just 5.50mm in thickness. While all skeleton watches invite you to marvel at their mechanical movements, this watch is even more hypnotic due to the thinness of each component. It’s a feat of miniaturization to create a movement that measures just 2.35mm, and now you can admire it from every angle. The Octo range blends an octagonal case shape with a round bezel, and Bulgari adds to the effect in this watch with an octagonal chapter ring. There’s also a small open seconds display at 7 o’clock and a power-reserve indicator at 9 o’clock. Open hours and minutes hands add to the transparent effect. The 40mm watch is crafted from black ceramic and has a 65-hour power reserve, despite its thin movement.
Chanel Boy.Friend Skeleton Red Edition
Chanel takes an unexpected approach to skeletonized watches in the Boy.Friend. It combines the maison’s iconic emerald-shaped case with a round geometric motif in the movement. The bright red bridges are at the forefront of the movement, and two of the circles double as time indicators: minutes and hours in the middle, small seconds at the bottom. The golden gears and barrel of the mechanical movement peek out from beneath the red bridges. The 18K beige gold bezel is set with 28 baguette-cut rubies, and the watch is finished with a matching red alligator strap.
Arnold & Son Time Pyramid
The Time Pyramid’s unique movement construction is eye-catching and hints at mystery watches, in which parts of the watch seem to float unconnected to the rest of the movement. It has a harmonious, balanced dial design that is symmetrical from left to right. Even the crown is tucked in at 6 o’clock to keep the balanced feel. The bottom half of the watch has off-center hours and minutes on a clear sapphire disk ringed by a rhodium-plated minutes track, showcasing more of the movement. The clever bridge placement puts more of the components on display, including two mainspring barrels, the escapement, and the balance wheel. A linear gear train leads to a skeletonized flying tourbillon shaped like a pyramid at 12 o’clock.
The Time Pyramid has two power-reserve indicators, which show the power remaining in each barrel. The left barrel initially powers the movement, and when its power runs down, the right barrel takes over. This is the only time the dial isn’t perfectly balanced. The two barrels provide an impressive 90 hours of power reserve. The movement is expertly finished with polished edges, chamfered bridges, Côtes de Genève stripes, and satin finishing. It comes in a polished 44.6mm 18K red gold case with a brown alligator strap.
Piaget Altiplano Precious Skeleton
Few houses craft mechanical jewelry watches like Piaget, a master of both jewelry and watches, and the Altiplano Precious Skeleton is a perfect example. Piaget adds glamour to the openworked watch by setting 219 brilliant-cut diamonds and 8 ruby cabochons on the movement. The rubies aren’t just for show — they hide the screws, adding to the jewelry feel. Of course, the movement isn’t just pretty. It’s an ultra-thin movement, another Piaget hallmark. The movement measures a mere 3.1mm, and the cased watch is 7.34mm. The watch has central hours and minutes hands and shows small seconds at 10 o’clock. The 18K rose gold case is set with 160 brilliant-cut diamonds.
Richard Mille RM 71-02 Automatic Tourbillon Talisman
No article on skeletonized watches would be complete without Richard Mille. The Swiss watch brand puts the mechanics at the forefront of all its watches. Its motto is “a racing machine on the wrist,” so the brand naturally wants to showcase its impressive calibers with skeleton watches. The RM 71-02 features Richard Mille’s first automatic tourbillon watch, and Richard Mille chose to debut this movement in the Talisman collection of women’s timepieces. These models have wild, contrasting colors and intricate gem-setting alongside an integrated tourbillon powered by a diamond-set rotor. It took Richard Mille 1,000 hours to develop this movement and more than six months to create the geometric gem-set designs on each of the 10 models. Despite the dazzling gemstones and tourbillon, the RM 71-02 is made for daily wear.
Cartier Rotonde de Cartier Mysterious Hour Skeleton
Cartier is known for its mystery watches, in which the hour and minute hands appear to float in the middle of the dial. In this beautiful watch, Cartier takes advantage of the open spaces created by skeletonizing the movement to add a mysterious dial. While the hour and minute hands might look detached from the movement, they’re each attached to a sapphire disk. The disks are connected to the movement and the disks themselves rotate as time passes. The disk with the minute hand makes a full rotation once every 60 minutes, and the hour disk rotates once every 12 hours.
The skeletonization is an artistic way of telling time. Cartier designed the bridges in the shape of Roman numerals for the hours 12 through 6. They extend from the mysterious dial to the edges of the movement. There’s also a small minute track. The 42mm watch has a case made of palladium, a rare metal that is an unusual material in watchmaking.
H. Moser & Cie. Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon Skeleton
H. Moser & Cie.’s take on skeleton watches is sculptural and has an airy feel. Instead of striving for thinness, its watchmakers use the openness of skeletonization to highlight a 60-second flying tourbillon with a cylindrical hairspring, which takes 10 times as long to produce as a traditional hairspring. H. Moser & Cie. still finds a way to sneak in its signature fumé treatment by including a small domed blue fumé dial at 12 o’clock, which also hides the bulk of the movement. The three-dimensional theme of the watch continues with applied hour markers that are taller than usual. They are crafted from Globolight, a ceramic that has Super-LumiNova in it. When you look at the watch in the dark, even the sides of the markers glow.