If you remember anything from high school biology class outside of horrifying dissections, you’re well aware that “skeleton” refers to the essential hard inner structure of an organism. Well, it’s the same with watches. In a skeleton timepiece, all of the non-essential material in the movement is cut away (often called “open worked”) and the dial is eliminated to reveal the inner organs, so to speak. What’s left is the “skeleton”, which holds those organs together and gives them structure. Skeleton watches, or squelettes in French, have been made since the pocketwatch days and typically are ornate, baroque displays of artistry. The Tissot T-Complication Squelette ($1,950) offers a far more modern and industrial take on this classic genre. We got our hands on one for a week, and it really got under our skin.
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The real joy in owning a skeleton watch is in observing the second-to-second action that’s hidden from view in a normal watch. It’s an eyes-on lesson on how a watch works. How does the mainspring get wound? Why doesn’t it unwind again as soon as you release the crown? How does the power get transferred through all those gears? Where does the signature tick-tick-tick of a mechanical timepiece come from? Spend some time with a nice big skeleton timepiece based around a movement like the Squelette’s Unitas 6497, where everything seems big enough to get at with a knife, fork, and spoon, and you’ll see plenty of examples within the miniature horological laboratory on your wrist.
The Squelette is particularly special in this regard. All the wheels, pinions, springs and balance have come out to play; the mainspring barrel even has cut-outs, so you’ve got a visual confirmation of whether or not the watch has some power left in reserve, assuming you know what you’re looking for.
Calibre: ETA 6497-1
Frequency: 18,000 vph (2.5Hz)
Power Reserve: 46 hours
Hours, minutes, small seconds
Material: Stainless steel
Case Back: Sapphire see-through
Water Resistance: 5 ATM (50 meters)
Blued steel skeletonized hands
Black leather strap with butterfly deployant
Interestingly, the skeletonizing of the Squelette is not your usual eliminate-every-nonessential-gram piece of work. Instead, Tissot has cut the ample main plate of the 6497 into an angular six-legged pattern, reminiscent of a snowflake or maybe a wheel from a post-apocalyptic automobile. This gives the watch an edgy contemporary feel. The steel-gray color of the remaining metal underscores the mood of the piece.
The case is large and modern, wearing more like a masculine sports watch than a dainty dress piece. The steel is brushed and the lugs thick and angular, echoing the industrial aesthetic of the movement. A curious, almost unnoticeable lack of symmetry on the crown side of the case seems to be a style decision, but was one of our few complaints aesthetically: it made the case seem unfinished upon first glance.
Operating the butterfly deployant clasp on the faux gator strap is a bit awkward, but once the watch is in place, the sensation of a watch on the wrist effectively disappeared. In fact, it felt so natural and comfortable that whenever we checked the time, we got a mild surprise: the watch on our wrist was not our daily wear.
So, with all those parts on display, does one even remember to use the watch to tell time? Frankly, we’ve often had trouble reading the time on a skeleton watch. The hands always blend with the mechanics behind, which, of course, are the real focus of any such timepiece. Yet the Squelette was decidedly easy to read. The large blued metal hour and minute hands, themselves skeletonized, are in excellent contrast to the grey metal cutout background — though the small seconds hand at nine o’clock does get lost in the shuffle.
If you’re looking for an edgy, post-modern watch, maybe to go with your edgy postmodern sleeve tattoos and paracord bracelet, this might be the watch for you. No bones about it.