Openworked vs Skeletonized Watches: Avoiding The Superfluous With Movements On A Diet

THM Desk
8 May 2024 |
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Minute repeaters, perpetual calendars and tourbillons - The watchmaking trade has its own share of ‘flexes.’ The playful yet practical orchestration of artisanal crafts melded with complicated mechanical wizardry yields everyday commodities that are deemed to be fine in the highest regard. I mean, a watch, tracking the mere display of hours and minutes can achieve an epoch of such remarkable scale that it transcends its intrinsic purpose and attains an elevated enticement that is Louvre-worthy.

When a timepiece peaks in demonstration of its creator’s competence, it involves stretching the artistic prowess to a level where even the bare minimum achieves the maximum. This appealing art of deprivation can either be the resulting opus of an openworked creation or skeletonizing. These watches by revealing the caliber internals exhibit the splendor of mechanics and the intricacy of details achieved through meticulous hand finishing. Within the confines of their restricted proportions, they express the watchmaker’s statement, a statement that declares, “behold the spectacle of my watchmaking skill!”

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The skeletonized caliber 240 SQU with hand-engraved decoration - Patek Philippe Calatrava 5180/1R 5180/1R

The Origins of An Artistic Show-Off

The genesis of the art of skeletonizing can be traced back to an age when watchmakers rallied against each other to be noticed by prime aristocracy. In the 1700s when ordinary and unremarkable timepieces were common, standing out required extraordinary craftsmanship. Hence, horological sculptors of the age delved deeper than mere function, giving aesthetics a main stage. Much more than just a surface decoration, skeletonizing revealed the intricate layers of a timepiece’s mechanics by chipping away at the redundant areas, only to retain the bare minimum. In doing so, these watches presented as an ideal exhibit of the watchmaker’s hidden genius.

The 17th-century French clockmaker André-Charles Caron, who served the court of Louis XV from 1720 to 1760, dedicated himself to advancing the craft of watchmaking during a markedly different era. Caron's ingenuity shone in around 1760, influenced by the Renaissance’s enlightenment ethos and recognizing a burgeoning curiosity among clientele, he unveiled the groundbreaking concept of the skeletonized watch. By meticulously exposing the inner workings of timepieces, Caron illuminated the mechanical mysteries, captivating the aristocracy and establishing a new horological standard. This innovative approach propelled his Parisian workshop to prominence, attracting noble patrons eager to possess his marvels and gain an understanding of the complexities of watchmaking.

Skeletonizing vs. Openworked Timepieces

Skeletonizing is one of the most delectable ways to decorate a watch movement and it is also one of the oldest classical disciplines in fine watchmaking. The idea is to remove all superfluous material from the works so that only a skeleton remains as evidence of the watchmaker’s capability. The process eliminates about 50-60% of the total movement material. It demonstrates what the watch contains and how well it is made. The challenge is to not skeletonize too much and risk making the timepiece fragile. Such a trend has made a watch transcend from being something of practical use into something you can savor.

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The effect of skeletonizing on a watch caliber - Credor caliber 6898A without skeletonizing (left) and its skeletonized version caliber 6899A (right)

The openworked timepieces too are somewhat synonymous in execution to skeletonized watches. Capitalizing on the charms of an aesthetic flex and captivating by revealing all or some of the parts that usually occur veiled, an openworked timepiece might not necessarily be extensively skeletonized. Such a timepiece usually features dial cut-outs or does away completely with a dial to reveal part or the entirety of the mechanism beneath. In essence, all skeletonized watches can be considered as openworked timepieces but not all openworked creations are necessarily skeletonized.

A Wholly Aesthetic Ambition

Cutting some bits out of an already existent caliber doesn’t serve any functional purpose but fulfills a remarkable aesthetic feat. It is the way clockmakers can exhibit their handiwork through a medium that leaves nothing to the imagination and is honestly bold, because nothing is hidden. When parts are marked superfluous to the operation of a movement, hacking away the material of those isn’t a straightforward approach. Understanding and analyzing the effect of material removal on a movement’s integrity and its functioning is a prime consideration. For these frail movements easily impacted by even air currents, such an extensive mod could be fatal. Hence, watchmakers need to perform skeletonizing only to a degree permissible for optimum timekeeping and longevity.

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The Blancpain in-house caliber Speciality 1333SQ (right) is a result of extensive skeletonizing on the caliber 1335 (left)

Moreover, a mere hacking of areas isn’t the goal. The art of skeletonizing or the approach of crafts on an openworked timepiece needs to consider the resulting architecture and ergonomics of the piece. The resulting latticed components, especially the bridges, plates and gears, should be embellished with meticulous decoration. An openworked or skeletonized timepiece is a result of a laboriously crafted timepiece demonstrating a higher epoch of handicrafts, synonymous with the codes of classical fine watchmaking. It's all about attention to details, and is such a watch, the details are plenty.

Skeletonized Watches You Shouldn’t Miss

The expansive era of practicing the skeletonizing crafts has yielded innumerable legends. Here we have listed some heavy hitters of the genre.

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Skeletonized watches examples


  • Cartier Santos-Dumont Skeleton Micro-Rotor
    Caliber 9629 MC
  • Blancpain Villeret Squelette 8 Jours
    Caliber Speciality 1333SQ
  • Breguet Classique “Grande Complication” 3355PT/00/PA0
    Caliber 558 SQ1
  • Patek Philippe Calatrava Skeleton 5180/1R
    Caliber 240 SQU
  • Montblanc Star Legacy Exo Tourbillon Skeleton LE8
    Caliber MB M18.69


Openworked Watches You Shouldn’t Miss

A list of openworked timepieces with the varying degrees of their revelation of inner workings has been mentioned under.

Openworked watches examples


  • Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Complete Calendar Openface
    Caliber 2460 QCL/2
  • Breguet Classique “Grande Complication” 5345PT/1S/7XU
    Caliber 588 N
  • F.P. Journe Répétition Souveraine
    Caliber 1408
  • Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Openworked "Cactus Jack"
    Caliber 2936
  • Christopher Ward C1 Bel Canto
    Caliber FS01


Mechanically Basic but Emotionally Complex

In any fine watch caliber, the orchestration of movement finishing is a scope limited by the surfaces, edges and the total area to decorate. I mean, take the case of a Credor caliber 7R14. It’s the finest opus of superlative hand decoration on a timepiece. Even its beveled edges are polished with the type of wood suggested by Mr. Philippe Dufour. Its immaculate finishing matches the codes established by the Genevan master who helped establish Seiko’s Micro Artist Studio in Shiojiri, where Credor timepieces are hand built. Although excellent in all credit to the movement, the lack of ample edge surface restricts the scope of artisanal crafts and somewhat curbs the ocular delights for us. Only if it was skeletonised, would we get the extended version of the distortion-free reflection along its edges, serving an unhindered exhibit of its masterful execution.

As a coherent judgment, skeletonizing and openworking are needless. These redundant crafts however aren’t undesired. While the addition or enhancement of function are absent, the levels of mechanical beauty tangible in skeletonized and openworked timepieces speak volumes about the watchmaker’s competence and expand our delights from their depth and details.