The association between death and time has long found expression in timepieces throughout history. With every tick of the hand, we are propelled closer to the unknown end of our journey. With that said, the watch industry has also seized this “moment,” producing timepieces that pay homage to the iconic ‘Skull.’ Many of these watches make their appearance during the season when Mexico commemorates Dia de Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead.
Indeed, a skull serves as a potent symbol of “memento mori,” a Latin phrase that translates to “remember that you must die.” This concept encourages reflection on the transient nature of life and the inevitability of death. In art and culture, the skull is often used as a reminder to cherish and make the most of the time we have, as well as a symbol of mortality and the impermanence of earthly existence.
Let’s explore some watches that capture that essence.
Chopard: The L.U.C Skull One Calavera Pop Art
This year Chopard makes quite a vibrant appearance with its tribute to the Day of the Dead. Crafted in Chopard’s Lucent Steel™️, with a striking skull motif dial and the powerful L.U.C 96.53-L caliber at its core, Chopard celebrates the Mexican heritage with this collectible. This 25-piece limited edition watch showcases a bold and high-concept design, reflecting Chopard’s boundless creativity and imagination while upholding its legacy of horological excellence.
At its core lies a striking Mexican Calavera, an emblematic skull symbol intricately associated with the annual festival. This pop art-inspired calavera bursts to life with vivid and vibrant colors, elegantly framed within a 40mm black bead-blasted, DLC-coated stainless-steel case. Powering this exquisite timepiece is the L.U.C 96.53-L, an automatic caliber of exceptional craftsmanship, meticulously conceived and crafted within the Chopard Manufacture workshops.
Another tribute to Dia de Muertos is De Bethune’s “Cempasúchil II”. Twin sides! Two dials, two faces, two identities. The first dial is transformed into a dance floor for two Calaveras, indicating the hours and minutes. On the other side of the watch, a dedicated decor (usually hidden behind a secret cover) features a naughty depiction of our two Calaveras ‘in action’.
Animated on demand by a highly complex mechanism (like a small automaton) by means of a button at 12 o’clock, the merry scene conveys a sense of gaiety and mischief… An even closer look reveals a little humorous touch from the two designers as it’s the “girl” taking the lead in this traditional Kamasutra position. The entire engraving work on both dial sides is a nod to the brilliant Mexican engraver José Guadalupe Posada, an artist who made the dead dance in the late 19th century and already inspired Denis Flageollet and Michèle Rothen in 2020 when designing the DW5 Cempasúchil.
De Grisogono: Crazy Skull
Remember this one from 2014? Only Fawaz Gruosi could have tried to add some elegance to a skull. The black rhodium-plated white gold skull is adorned with an impressive ensemble of over 23.00 carats of snow-set black diamonds. Its captivating eyes, embellished with a spiral of white and black diamonds to create a sense of depth, host dual black-lacquered watch dials. Upon activation, the baguette-cut white diamond teeth gracefully part, unveiling a playful pink sapphire tongue adorned with snow-set pink sapphires.
Louis Vuitton: Tambour Carpe Diem
Emerging from the La Fabrique du Temps manufacture is Louis Vuitton’s remarkable creation – the Carpe Diem watch. Featuring a generously sized 46.8mm case crafted from 18k pink gold, it derives its design from the popular Louis Vuitton Tambour case. The initial detail to note about this timepiece is that, unless activated by pressing the snake body-inspired pusher on its side, the watch dial exclusively presents the power reserve indicator.
When the watch boasts a full 100-hour power reserve (requiring manual winding), the golden-colored sand in the hourglass motif appears to occupy the top section, indicating full power. This hourglass-style power reserve indicator is both functional and visually captivating, perfectly aligned with the memento mori theme of the Tambour Carpe Diem watch.
Hermes : The Slim d’Hermès C’est la Fête
In 2021 Hermes introduced Japanese artist Daisuke Nomura’s rendition of the beloved Hermès motif: the horse. In doing so, he incorporated a vanitas/memento mori theme, featuring a top-hatted skeleton figure gracefully astride a skeleton horse.
The dial of this watch showcases the exquisite Paillonné enamel; an intricate technique that involves the application of gold and silver leaf to the dial, creating a raised design. Subsequently, layers of enamel are delicately painted onto the dial and then fired in a kiln, culminating in a vibrant and three-dimensional composition. Within its elegant profile, this timepiece houses the ultra-thin Hermès H1950 automatic movement. It is produced in an extremely limited quantity, with only six pieces available.
Fiona Krüger – The Celebration Skull
Celebrating the profound themes of time, mortality, and the vibrant celebration of life, this is Fiona Krüger’s third “Celebration Skull”. Here Fiona draws the design inspiration from various sources, including the Mexican tradition of Dia de Los Muertos, skull motifs from the 14th and 17th centuries, and the intricately adorned skeleton movements that grace modern luxury watches.
The decorative dial and case of the “Celebration Skul” feature a meticulously hand-painted three-layer construction, adorned with colored lacquer and superluminova. Each color meticulously selected for the watch design carries a distinct significance linked to the Dia de Los Muertos celebration. Additionally, the Superluminova accents, when exposed to darkness, illuminate to unveil an iconic skull emblem.
It’s important to note that people’s tastes and preferences vary widely, and what maybe cringe-worthy to one person may be quite appealing to another. Skull watches are a niche category within the broader world of watch design, and they cater to those who appreciate their distinctive and often unconventional aesthetic.
Whilst being a canvas for artistic creativity, these watches elicit a simple yet strong message – rather than focusing on the sadness of death, emphasise the importance of cherishing life and remembering those who have passed.