Pierced Watchmaking Brief History

Over the past 20 years, openworked or Skeletonised watches have gone through a process from rare to uncommon. So, we can’t help wondering how cutouts have become a key feature of modern watches?

Vacheron Constantin Tourbillon Maltese
   The concept of hollowing can be traced back to the establishment of the watch movement architecture. In the 1760s, the French watchmaker Jean-Antoine Le ́pine invented the bold idea of ​​making thin pocket watches. The movement substrate and bridge structure he created have continued to this day, and they are famous in history. The master (and father-in-law) of Jean-Antoine Le ́pine, Andre ́-Charles Caron, realized that by revealing more mechanical mechanisms, he could arouse customers’interest in pocket watches, which were then Paris courtiers. This was also the case in the 1980s and 1990s when the watchmaking industry sought to revive.
   In the past, only a few watches were skeletonized-Vacheron Constantin’s archive mentions a 1964 ultra-thin skeleton watch (uncarved), and a series of watches equipped with Caliber 1003 in 1970. But in general, the concept of hollowed out did not flourish until watchmaking brands emerged from the quartz crisis. About 20 different types of skeletonized watches are all the rage. The craftsmanship of excellence and the magnificent baroque style are perfect for an industry that has been repositioned as a luxury. There is no doubt that the skeletonized watch is unique in its charm. It is not only a masterpiece of timepieces that needs to be tasted through a loupe, but also a wonderful elf that can attract attention by swinging the wrist. The watchmaking industry embraced perforation, as did other great decorative techniques such as enamel, carving and inlay.

Arnold & Son, hollowing out starts from the substrate
   Like other disciplines, hollowing out faces the problem of scarce craftsmen. At that time, Armin Strom was a watch repairer and used his free time to create. At the Baselworld Watch & Jewellery Show in 1984, Armin Strom exhibited his first skeletonized watch, which also became the pillar of his career. By the end of the 1980s, he focused on hollowing out various Omega Speedmaster watches into formal watches. In 2006, Armin Strom went a step further and created its own brand, whose core business is hollowing out. Another well-known master Jochen Benzinger, on the one hand, provides cut-out customization services for other brand watches, and on the other hand, uses the old prototype core to independently create complex cut-out designs.
Avant-garde brand


Richard Mille RM035
   At the turn of the century, Richard Mill founded the eponymous brand with the support of APRP (partial ownership of Audemars Piguet, complex movement factory). Since Jean-Antoine Le ́pine, Richard Mill has taken the lead in breaking through the mold, almost completely abandoning the base plate, designing a bridge frame that integrates all parts with minimal metal, and the purpose of building a hollow movement is self-evident. Creating a skeleton movement from scratch is not only a technological breakthrough, but also the biggest change in the design of watches and clocks in decades.

A Richard Mill movement is being assembled
   In describing the dominant idea of ​​this groundbreaking method, Richard Mill stated, ‘First of all, the guiding idea of ​​this method is derived from my passion for racing and airplanes. I am deeply fascinated by what is under the hood and want to see Knowing how everything works, so from the beginning I decided to adopt a skeleton movement design. Moreover, almost everyone today is consciously or unconsciously technology-oriented. ‘Regarding his influence, Richard Miller said,’ Maybe it can Say I dispelled the industry’s ‘fear’ or restraint about bare cores, and now everyone is free to try this design. ‘

Angelus U21 watch
   When the watchmaking industry realized that the processing technology had reached the point where the middleman in the hollow-out process could be eliminated, the school became bigger and bigger. As you might expect, from Angelus to Manufacture Royale, from Armin Strom to Roger Dubuis, avant-garde independent watch brands are the most loyal practitioners. But this trend has spread and is getting farther and farther.
   For example, Grafner’s faceted design is like a giant gemstone wireframe, and the Athens watch manager series shines in a rectangular frame. Another example is Louis Vuitton’s first Geneva-inspired tourbillon watch, Chanel’s elegant camellia watch, and Ralph Lauren skeleton automatic watch, which has become the design language of fashion brands seeking to enter the world of fine watchmaking. Even Raymond Weil, not famous for fashion, launched a tourbillon limited edition watch in 2016, and embarked on an open road.
   The opening of the movement and the disappearance of the dial have penetrated mainstream sports watch manufacturers, thanks to Jean-Claude Beaver. In 2009 Hublot launched the brand’s first skeletonized watch. The former Tag Heuer and today’s Zenith also needed a pin of stimulant, and it is most intuitive to discard the dial. This is a signature feature of the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 watch and a potential theme for Zenith El Primero Defy Lab watches. It is not limited to LVMH Group brands. When Bell & Ross wanted to take on a new look, the BR-01 watch dial no longer exists.
   But how does this affect brands that traditionally see cutouts as protected areas? In the past, hollowing out had to be done by hand, only for high-end celebrities; now, more affordable hollowing out watches have emerged, what will the former do?
New style

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Watch

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak skeletonized movement
   For those more traditional watchmaking brands, the design has become deeply entrenched, and it is difficult to suddenly switch to Richard Mille-style futuristic cutout style, but it has also presented a less extreme modern cutout style. One by one, watchmaking brands gradually abandoned engraving and hand polishing, and switched to black and gray anodized bridges, relying on matte, grainy and satin finishes to achieve exquisite finishes, such as the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak watch and Girard Perregaux. Laureato watch.

Cartier Mysterious Hour Skeleton Watch
   In some cases, this new cut-out style blends perfectly with existing designs-the best examples are Cartier cut-out Roman numerals, and ultra-thin cut-out timepieces from Bulgari and Piaget. Nowadays, few brands deliberately cater to the traditional concept of hand-carved / skeletonized watches. The fact is that few people do this in the traditional way: when the machine can reduce consumption by 90%, it is illogical to stick to manual cutting of the bridge. Both Vacheron Constantin and Jaeger-LeCoultre confirmed that technology has worked, even though the exterior remains traditional. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Stephane Belmont revealed: ‘Since 2008, we have been immersed in the laboratory and redesigned the hollow-out movement to make it more accurate and reliable. But we still make prototypes and cut bridge plates by hand, just as before.’

Vacheron Constantin, sculpted substrate
   Vacheron Constantin’s file may contain the largest number of hollow-out models. It is precisely the brand that introduced hollow-out technology into watch manufacturing. It will evaluate the hollow-out potential of any new movement. It should be noted that even in the case of fine watch brands, they rarely rely on in-house manual labor to complete all sculpting and finishing work. That’s right, before Vacheron Constantin, the craftsman took the lead to start the process.
   The only exception seems to be Patek Philippe. Philip Barat, head of brand watch development, said, ‘We first process the entire substrate in the workshop, and then cut the extra parts. The manual retouching steps are mainly performed in the workshop, and some may be independent professional Craftsman finished. The chamfering of the hollowed out parts takes three times longer than the engraving. Compared with the same type of movement (such as Calibre 240 ultra-thin self-winding movement), it takes 5 months, so a total of 14 Time of month. ‘
   Brands like Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Glashütte Original have all emphasized their commitment to the traditional look of skeletonized watches and acknowledged the incompatibility of superb handmade retouching and new, industrial style timepieces.

A Jaeger-LeCoultre skeletonized pocket watch from 1928

   Stephane Belmont pointed out that the popularity of technology has reduced the reputation of traditional style skeleton watches, ‘there are many very simple and unrefined movements on the market. The public is a bit confused, just like tourbillons; they were once unique Exclusive, but the continued emergence of more affordable products on the one hand, and the poor level of retouching and reliability on the other, makes the situation confusing. ‘
   Today, Jaeger-LeCoultre produces between 100 and 200 skeleton watches each year. Stephane Belmont readily acknowledges that the transition that began with the Richard Mille effect has been ‘more masculine, stronger, and grander,’ but there is no sign that Jaeger-LeCoultre will follow suit.
   As always, even if technology is behind the scenes, there will always be a traditional place in the watchmaking industry. But if we continue to pursue the definition of modern watches, I believe that there will be more and more elements of hollow retouching and discarding the dial.