10 of the best skeleton watches

10 of the best skeleton watches

Adam Reeder

Being immersed in the watch space can sometimes feel like a never-ending conversation about market values, flex culture, and the perfect watch diameter. While these are all valid topics, they can sometimes distract us from what’s truly special about mechanical watches. The combination of gears, springs, and human engineering that all combine to create a nearly silent symphony of mechanical wonder is quite a sight to behold. Watching a mechanical watch movement in action can be intriguing if not hypnotizing. That’s why skeleton watches are such an interesting sub-genre for watch lovers. While some may find the inner workings of their timepieces all too distracting, many love the idea of seeing every tick and twist, from their origins in the mainspring to that satisfying sweep of the seconds hand. It’s hard not to appreciate something with so many tiny moving parts all working in unison. After all, who among us isn’t at least a little bit of a voyeur? That sounded a lot more creepy than it should have – maybe it’s just me. Nevertheless, take a peep at the following list of some of the best skeleton watches you’ll find anywhere.

Zenith x Time+Tide Defy Skyline Skeleton Night Surfer El Primero

ZENITH DEFY SKYLINE SKELETON NIGHT SURFER TIME TIDE EDITION 45

While we may be a bit partial to this pick, it’s for good reason. Zenith is brand that has always leaned heavily on innovation and precision. The El Primero movement is one of the most legendary of the past century, and it’s almost a crime to not house it in skeletonised format. For all its heritage and history though, this high-beat movement almost seems like just a nice added bonus when looking at how gorgeous the rest of the watch is. It certainly lives up to its Night Surfer moniker, with ample amounts of lume applied to the star-shaped bridges, the hour marker indices, and the hands. It’s the perfect pick for those who want to brave those late night sets and look great doing it. Price: A$18,100

Santos de Cartier Skeleton

For some brands, having a claim to the first ever wristwatch would be an excuse to rest on their laurels. That’s certainly not the path that Cartier has chosen over the past century. The Santos line is legendary and easy to spot in the wild. However, for those wanting just a little more sizzle from their Santos, the Santos de Cartier Skeleton may be worth a second (and third) look. It’s hard not to love the classic Santos silhouette, but it’s virtually impossible to ignore when it’s accompanied by an oh-so-satisfying peek under the hood. This model has all of the signature Santos swag including those bold metallic blue hour and minute hands, but the skeletonised large Roman numerals take the watch’s bold design to the next level. The movement looks almost as good from the front as it does from the back – and so it should, for nearly A$50k.

Vacheron Constantin Malte Squelette

VC Malte Skeleton WhiteGold
Image courtesy of Jackroad.co.jp

Vacheron Constantin is a brand steeped in history and old-world charm. That’s not say, though, that the brand is stuffy. The Vacheron Constantin Malte Squelette is proof of that. A classically sized 35.5mm dress watch, this piece screams to be admired. While the lustrous white gold case offers a stately foundation, the ornate finishing on the movement itself is absolutely divine. The Maltese cross on the barrel, and extensive hand engraving throughout make this watch an absolute masterpiece, with secondary market values in the mid-five figures.

Omega Speedmaster Apollo XI 25th Anniversary Skeleton

OmegaSpeedmaster Apollo11 25thAnniversary Skeleton Platinum
Image courtesy of Phillips

It seems almost impossible not to have a Speedy in a “best of” list – hell, we even have a list of the best Speedies. It would be a violation of some very specific international treaties, and the last thing we need is for Interpol to raid our offices. The Speedmaster has built its name on accuracy in timekeeping and doing that job well can have life or death consequences, on the moon no less. Made from platinum and showcasing the Omega 867 movement, this watch was produced in 1994 and limited to 50 pieces. It’s got the standard Speedmaster tachymeter, twisted lugs, and 42mm diameter, but the incredible openwork was made by legendary watchmaker Armin Strom, making it quite the collectible piece. The example above sold at Phillips for HK$1.8m – about A$350k – but you can save half of that and pick up a Chrono24 bargain for just A$188k. Be rude not to…

Oris ProPilot X Calibre 115

Oris ProPilotX Biogcrown Skeleton Titanium

The ProPilot line from Oris offers a workhorse model from a respected, and usually affordable, Swiss brand. The line also branches out into different materials at times as well. This model, though, feels just a touch more luxurious than most. Made from lightweight and durable titanium, it shows off its wares in a way seldom attempted by a brand like Oris. Even the barrel at 12 o’clock is skeletonised, giving the wearer a bird’s-eye view of the heart of their watch. A diameter of 44mm and 10-day power reserve offered by the impressive Calibre 115 definitely make this one a contender for best bang for the buck – despite it being pricier than most Oris offerings at A$12,200.

IWC Portofino Skeleton

IWC Portofino Skeleton 2701
Image courtesy of Christie’s

While 33mm may not be the most popular size for watches as of late, a pristine 18k gold IWC Portofino Skeleton just might change a few minds on what constitutes the best size for a modern watch. This is the epitome of a traditional dress watch,  as evidenced by the precious metal case. The movement is a work of art, with standard roman numeral indices that offer a more weighty foundation to the intricacies of the movement. It’s also one of the most affordable options on the list, normally found in the low teens, but selling as low as US$8,190 at Christie’s last year.

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Skeleton 8 Days

Bulgari OctoFinissimo Skeleton 8days

The Bulgari Octo Finissimo is one of the most exciting releases in the luxury watch world in the past decade. Based on the classic 1970s integrated-bracelet design, the Octo Finissimo offers a sleek and stealthy option. At just 5.15mm thick, it practically melts into the wrist in the best possible way. The fact that this watch can even be made in skeletonised format is a wonder. The visible movement is the perfect match for the decidedly industrial feel to the Octo Finissimo design. The Arabic 12 and skeletonised dauphine hands are the perfect compliment to the overall design. This one looks like the inside of a widget factory, and it’s absolute perfection. Price: A$41,200

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Open Work Ceramic

Audemars piguet perpetual calendar openworked ceramic

Another option for those with a penchant for industrial integrated bracelet skeleton watches comes from Audemars Piguet. While this option offers a little more heft than the slender Octo, that’s kind of the point of a Royal Oak. It says “I’m here and you’d better recognise that” – not that you wouldn’t. It’s a Royal Oak, after all, designed by Gérald Genta, one of the most influential watch designers. This particular option has all kinds of extra treats as well. It includes a black slate ceramic case and bracelet, a double balance wheel, and rose gold hands. It’s a real crowd pleaser – at least for the price-on-request-crowd, if there is such a thing (pssst – it’s CHF 130,000).

Girard-Perregaux Laureato Skeleton Ceramic

GP Laureato Skeleton Ceramic

For those who want many of the benefits of the AP option above but not necessarily the price tag (or unwanted attention), the GP Laureato may be the right option. Also available in black ceramic, this integrated bracelet beauty offers a slightly more subdued option when it comes to skeletonisation. It comes with a more substantial framework at the front of the dial which gives it a nice weight and offers a slightly less distracting approach to the inherently busy and sometimes dizzying skeleton watch, all packaged in a brawny 42mm case size. To be fair, the Skeleton Ceramic may not be that much of a value proposition anymore, owing to its recent stratospheric climb in aftermarket prices skyrocketing it to over $100k.

Parmigiani Tonda PF Skeleton

Parmigiani 7142 scaled e1660176576961

Parmigiani Fleurier has made waves as of late getting mentioned with many of the “big boys” of Swiss watchmaking. When looking at the Tonda PF Skeleton in Platinum, it’s easy to see why. The movement is pure elegance in a modern case. With rose gold indices and skeletonized alpha hands, this watch offers a little bit of everything design-wise. It looks like it could have come from almost any of the major prestige brands, but they just didn’t think of it. This is a compliment of the highest order, and this watch is borderline astonishing in its simple elegance and pure design language. To top it all off, the Tonda has an incredibly impressive movement and detailed hand finishing throughout.