Some haute watchmaking houses have talents capable of differentiating them from all the others and making them unique in certain respects. One of the main characteristics that distinguishes Audemars Piguet is, without a shadow of a doubt, its ability to skeletonize movements. All the collections of the Le Brassus brand, from the Millenary to the Code 11.59 passing through the Royal Oak, have at least one skeletonized model and the last one presented, at the beginning of October 2019, is the 26585CE, that is a perpetual calendar with moon phases in black ceramic.
Let's try to better understand what we are talking about and ask ourselves some questions.
What is a skeletonization?
By skeletonization we mean all those operations aimed at remove unnecessary metal from the gauge until leaving only a slight frame which can act as a structure for the mechanical organs and which allows the vision of what lies beyond it. This operation mainly involves the bridges and the plate and is still carried out mainly by hand, which is why it is an expensive activity and reserved for watches of a certain importance, usually in limited edition.
How is a framework analyzed?
To analyze a framework, 3 factors are taken into consideration:
- Il degree of transparency achieved in accordance with structural needs
- THEinteraction of transparency with the clock design
- Il level of finishes and decorations used to finish the caliber
These, then, will have to be balanced according to the complications that the watch brings with it. A single time will be able to have a much higher degree of transparency than a chronograph or perpetual calendar given the reduced number of components and the reduced intrinsic complication. The more a caliber is “transparent”, well worked and technically innovative, the more valuable and prominent the skeleton is.
Why do movements skeletonize?
There are many reasons why calibers are skeletonized. The first of these can only be aesthetic / artistic. The execution of such complex style exercises, in fact, is linked to the display of the skill and talent of the master watchmakers who work for a certain maison. To stop at this aspect, however, would be an understatement, especially considering the direction that the watch market has taken in the last 15 years. There are numerous, in fact, the examples in which the skeletons come used to show particular technical solutions, see Panerai's Scientist, or are exploited to achieve a certain goal, such as weight reduction or impact resistance (see Richard Mille).
The skeletonization then becomes a means to experiment and innovate, where artistic mastery and balance are not the protagonists but fundamental means to increase the preciousness of the watch and raise it to a higher level.
Where does Audemars Piguet fit into all of this?
The concept of skeletonization according to Audemars Piguet belongs to the second category previously exposed and is called Openworked. All the skeletonized models of the brand have this adjective in their name. The maison's philosophy is to create very balanced skeletonized calibers, symmetrical and without the use of excessively artistic finishes which would weigh down the final result. All the observer's attention must be focused on the technique and mechanical solutions used.
Mechanics is the protagonist of the watch and Audemars Piguet's talent lies, in addition to using the solutions mentioned above, in manipulating it properly to obtain aesthetically balanced and pleasing to the eye creations, in accordance with the criteria described above. The ability to refine the caliber is indeed present, there are anglage and manual polishing of the highest level, but it is not the first detail that appears at the sight of the watch. Hiding the true preciousness of one's watches behind more striking features, to leave them to true watchmaking enthusiasts, is one of the signatures of Audemars Piguet.
In order to understand the different types of skeletonizations present to date in the collections of various brands, I will analyze with you three watches: theRM 055 by Richard Mille, theAudemars Piguet 15407 and Cartier Santos de Cartier. All three are skeletonized only time.
Cartier Santos de Cartier
Equipped with the hand-wound skeletonized in-house caliber 9611 MC. The large Roman numerals at 12-3-6-9 along with indices indicating the missing hours help create the support that the movement literally clings to. The plate has therefore become the actual skeletonized dial of the watch. The degree of transparency is very high and the skeleton design is well integrated with the watch. There are no particular decorative finishes that would make it difficult to view the time.
The RM055 features the hand-wound RMUL2 in-house caliber. This watch is technically superfine as well skeletonization is a means of reducing the masses and inertia involved; its purpose is, in fact, to resist the violent accelerations to which the golfer Bubba Watson subjects his watches while using the drive. Transparency is high, as is the variety of finishes used ranging from PVD coating to Tytalit treatment and manual polishing. The entire caliber anchored to the case by means of 4 supports equipped with shock absorbers capable of dampening the shocks perceived by the caliber itself.
Audemars Piguet 15407
The star of this reference is the skeletonized manufacture caliber 3132 with automatic winding. Despite the use of the bluing of many components to highlight the technical innovation of the double balance wheel with its pink gold bridge, this caliber has a excellent degree of transparency (naturally reduced compared to the other two watches given the addition of the automatic winding) which is perfectly integrated with its design. The finishes are totally manual and very varied, we can in fact find polishing, anglage and perlage on almost all the components.
All three of these watches are united by the fact that the respective calibers have been directly conceived to be skeletonized, but have different solutions and purposes of the frameworks themselves. If with the Santos we notice how it is possible to reach remarkable levels of beauty and harmony through intelligent design solutions, with the RM-55 we are catapulted into an extremely technical world where every detail is aimed at achieving a specific goal. In the middle of these two diametrically opposed worlds is the 15407 by Audemars Piguet in which the symmetry, the balance of colors and shapes and the high manual finishes serve as a vehicle to highlight the high technical innovation represented by the double balance wheel.
As can be deduced from this brief analysis, the world of watchmaking is large enough to accommodate different declinations and philosophies of thought within the same world of skeletons. Undoubtedly, however, Audemars Piguet turns out to be a step ahead of the competition: it manages to mix art and technique in a unique way.