Feature: 5 Open Dials
The beauty of a mechanical watch comes down to the movement ticking within, and for the most part it’s completely hidden from view. Even with a sapphire case back, it’s a shame to hide the mastery of this centuries-old technology from plain sight, and that’s a thought shared by watchmaker to King Louis XV, André Charles, who cut open his dials to expose the innards. Here are five open-dialled watches that continue the tradition.
Oris Artelier Translucent Skeleton 01 734 7684 4051-07 5 21 70FC
Alongside Longines, Oris offers some of the best value for money on the market. Founded the year before Rolex in 1904—and named after a nearby brook—Oris was a bit of a giant in its day, with factories in Hölstein, Holderbank, Como, Courgenday, Herbetswil and Ziefen—and the company even built a village for its staff to live in.
It’s surprising that Oris isn’t more of a big deal today, especially since, after the death of co-founder Georges Christian, a certain individual by the name Jacques-David LeCoultre became President of the Board of Directors. You may know Jacques-David as the grandson of Antoine LeCoultre, and the man who joined forces with Edmond Jaeger to co-found Jaeger-LeCoultre.
In any case, the brand can be found at the more affordable end of Swiss watchmaking today, presenting a Sellita SW200—a staple of the brands in this arena, and the replacement for the soon-to-be-unavailable ETA 2824—within its sapphire crystal sandwich—only here with a bit of a difference.
As you can see, this Oris Translucent Skeleton does exactly what it says on the tin, relieving the watch of any superfluous material that might hinder the view of the inner workings. At this level, the skeletonisation is performed fairly simplistically and by machine, but it is still ruthlessly performed, allowing a candid view of the beating, ticking, winding parts that give the hands drive.
There’s real thought in the design, too, with the movement suspended in the centre of the case through cleverly placed supports that double not only as the hour markers, but also as the stem tube for the crown.
Maurice LaCroix Masterpiece Squelette Tradition MP6258-SS001-000
Traditional skeletonisation is one of the most skilled undertakings in watchmaking. One slip, one tiny, tiny slip, and the bridge, cock or plate is toast. It’s a laborious process that takes many weeks of sawing, filing, polishing, engraving to reveal the fragile, flowing form hidden within the metal.
The downside of it all is that it costs a lot of money, as you’d expect, but Maurice LaCroix has found something of a compromise with its Masterpiece Squelette Tradition: have a machine do it. Sure, this isn’t the picturesque ideal of the white-moustached watchmaker working at his bench, plying a trade learned over many decades, but it offers much of the result for a significantly reduced price.
Styling preferences aside—granted, this traditional look isn’t everybody’s cup of tea—this is a surprisingly close estimation of what you’d get from the real, hand-worked thing, with the tells only revealing themselves up close. It’s the limitations of the machinery that are most apparent, be it in the lack of variation in depth, width and angle of the engraving; the rounded inside edges in place of crisp, angular corners; and the precision of the shaping and the polish of the bevelling.
The movement itself, a hand wound ETA 6497, is ripe for skeletonisation, the big, lazy balance—here with screwed weights for that traditional look—arcing gear train, and chunky mainspring barrel and click a suitably pleasant arrangement to receive such candid presentation. Master watchmaker Armin Strom, known for his exquisite hand-skeletonisation work, started his own brand on the back of the ETA workhorses—only his versions cost £20,000.
Corum Ti-Bridge 05.0040
Trust Corum to do things not just differently, but completely differently. When you have a great, curving, 52mm-tall case in PVD’d titanium like you have with this Ti-Bridge here, the last thing any watchmaker would think of doing is filling it with the tiniest movement imaginable.
Seemingly taking inspiration from the skimpy bracelet watches popular in women’s fashion during the 1920s and 30s, Corum’s calibre CO 007 lays out the workings of a mechanical watch in a long, thin line, from mainspring, to centre wheel, to third wheel, to fourth wheel, to escape wheel and, finally, to the balance wheel.
The design finds its origins back in 1980, at the hands of Corum master watchmaker Vincent Calabrese. He was challenged, in the face of the demise of mechanical watchmaking, to make a timepiece that put the movement first, celebrated it. The result was the Golden Bridge, and it did just that, the long, skinny movement floating in a sapphire capsule.
It wasn’t the smallest movement ever made—that accolade goes to Jaeger-LeCoultre’s calibre 101 at 14mm long, 4.8mm wide and 3.4mm thick—but it’s pretty dinky, and the most up-to-date version packs, thanks to the tiny balance wheel and big mainspring, a three-day power reserve between its titanium bridges.
If there was one major flaw in the design of the original Golden Bridge, it’s certainly been addressed by the Ti-Bridge—peer between the industrial structure holding the movement in place, and you’ll see just a strip of sapphire in the back through which to admire the movement. Better that than seeing a great swathe of pink, hairy arm.
Hublot Classic Fusion Aerofusion Moonphase Titanium 517.NX.0170.LR
Yes, there are many Hublot watches that are big and brash and loud, but there’s also this, the Classic Fusion AeroFusion Moonphase Titanium. Men’s shaving appliance naming convention aside, this is a Hublot that offers a bit of a change of pace from what’s come to be expected, available in a titanium case as small as 42mm in diameter and 12mm thick, about the same as Speedmaster.
The movement might be recognisable as similar to the one seen earlier in the Oris, and that’s because it is, based on the Sellita SW300 for the basics with a custom module built on top for the additional complications. The baseplate even has ‘SW300’ still engraved on it. But it’s the module we’re more interested in here, because it adds a sizable boon to the off-the-shelf Sellita, namely triple calendar and moonphase complications.
Stripped of a dial, the bit that Hublot—and inevitably, the owner—will pay for is on full show, and the efforts made to minimise adding additional thickness to the SW300’s 3.6mm form are readily apparent. There’s barely enough space to slide a piece of paper between the operational gizzards of what Hublot calls the calibre HUB 1131, which are further exposed thanks to the delicately stencilled day and month displays.
The centrepiece of the dial is surely the moonphase display, which piggybacks off of the date sub-dial and has a pair of engraved depictions of the moon cycling across a deep blue, iridescent background, a pop of colour on an otherwise monochrome watch.
Arnold & Son TB88 1TBAR.B01A.C113A
If you’re familiar with skeletonised and open-dialled watches—which, by this point, you should be—you’ll notice something odd about Arnold & Son’s TB88. Not sure? Give up? Here’s the thing: the TB88 is backwards. All the other watches here—and pretty much every other movement ever made—follows the same basic structure: the powertrain goes at the back.
Now, this is for one very simple and sensible reason: if a watchmaker needs to access the moving parts for inspection or regulation, they can do so by simply taking the case back off. Don’t need to take the movement out, dial off, etcetera, etcetera.
But if Arnold & Son’s other watches are anything to go by, the brand isn’t in the business of making things the normal way, so the TB88’s calibre A&S5003 has ended up flip-flopped around to present what would normally be hidden in the back out at the front.
This isn’t just a random, impulsive need to do things the wrong way; there’s method to the madness. Arnold & Son, whilst not directly linked to the great British watchmaker of the same name, has spent every scrap of time it has making watches that honour the man.
Here, ‘TB’ refers to true beat, a single pallet mechanism that drives the second hand one tick per second, a feature used on the marine chronometers John Arnold built to assist navigation at sea. ‘88’ is a nod to the earliest known John Arnold pocket watch, a number that can be seen on the dial in the form of the twin mainspring barrels, balance wheel and seconds sub-dial. And every bridge and cock—and there are many, one for every pivot—is straight-cut, just the way John Arnold used to like them.
Whether your budget is a few thousand pounds or £40,000, if you’re looking for an open-dialled watch, there’s plenty to choose from. It’s a proud tradition, and a revealing one, that offers a better insight into what defines mechanical watchmaking from its electronic counterpart. Considering this old collection of wheels and springs managed to see off the advancement of technology to become one of the most desirable industries in the world, it’s surely worthy of having the spotlight shone on it every once in a while.
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