The demise of the wunderkammer has deprived us of the opportunity to marvel at the eclectic specimens from the natural and scientific worlds assembled in these cabinets of curiosities, and perhaps ponder who once “owned” the skull that stares down from its shelf. Still with us, however, is the philosophical and symbolic portent of these bare bones. The day of the dead is a tradition observed by many civilisations, and particularly celebrated in Mexico with the calavera. A skull is also a memento mori: a reminder that we are all moving towards an inevitable end. No object captures this idea more succinctly than a watch as it counts the seconds slipping by, never to be recovered. Yet it also encourages the observer of time’s danse macabre to live every moment to the full. This ambivalence — that we should savour time but also lament its fleetingness — is given a canvas in timepieces which, like those chambers of wonders, provoke that same frisson of excitement.
Bell & Ross BR 01 Cyber Skull
When Bell & Ross launched its Skull collection in 2009, it adopted the symbolism of the skull in recognition of the bravado of pirates flying the Jolly Roger but also the extraordinary courage of military personnel. The latest addition to the range is the Cyber Skull — a version in sapphire realised CHF 220,000 at the recent Only Watch 2021 charity auction. The angular skull is a nod to the facetted fuselage of US Air Force stealth fighters. A manual-winding movement, which mirrors the shape of the skull, is supported by a mainplate whose four “arms” are concealed under the femurs. For gravitas, Bell & Ross has given the Cyber Skull an all-black livery, including the ceramic case. And for those who like to laugh in the face of death, the skull’s jaw opens in a grin when the movement is wound.
Bomberg Bolt-68 Neo Calaveras
Bomberg celebrates Mexico’s Day of the Dead in suitably colourful style with a Calaveras chronograph, powered by the Concepto tri-compax 9901 automatic movement. Partially concealed by the skull are the 30-minute and 12-hour chrono counters, respectively at 9 and 3 o’clock. Small seconds are incorporated into the skull’s jaw at 6 o’clock, vertically aligned with a date aperture. The chrono pushers sit on each side of the crown at 12 o’clock. Both the steel case and the integrated metal bracelet are treated with black PVD, allowing the reds, yellows and violets of the skull to really stand out.
Chopard L.U.C Full Strike “Día de los Muertos”
Each year Chopard celebrates Mexican culture with a timepiece created in honour of the Day of the Dead. For 2021, a single-piece edition of the L.U.C Full Strike minute repeater displays a characterful skull motif inside an entirely hand-engraved case in ethical white gold. Baguette-cut sapphires adorn the bezel. The exceptional purity and clarity of sound produced by the sapphire gongs was rewarded when the Full Strike received the 2017 Aiguille d’Or; the highest distinction presented at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. This in addition to the Poinçon de Genève hallmark. Visible on the dial side, the two hammers and the inertia regulator for the strike sit across from the double power-reserve indicator.
Corum Bubble X Ray
The very first Bubble formed in 2000 in the mind of Severin Wunderman, Corum’s owner at that time. Since then it has earned its place in the watchmaking Hall of Fame for its head-turning domed crystal and creative dials, including early examples on a skull theme. Carrying on this lineage, a realistic X-ray image of a skull takes over the dial of the Bubble X Ray. When the lights dim, it reveals its somewhat disconcerting charm by glowing green. Visible through the sapphire back is the black PVD-treated movement with automatic winding for 42 hours of power reserve.
Fiona Krüger Black Skull
As the originator of the modern skull watch, Fiona Krüger has made the skull a leitmotiv of her designs, with cases that mirror its bony contours while dials borrow decorative themes from Día de los Muertos festivities. She equips the skeletonised (appropriately) watches she imagines with finely crafted movements to produce whimsical, quirky, even caustic timepieces that leave no doubt as to their mechanical pedigree. The originality of the Black Skull, a limited edition and her second creation, stands out day and night thanks to the hand-painted Super-LumiNova detailing on the dial.
Slim d'Hermès C'est la fête
Debonair in top hat and tailcoat, the grinning skeleton that poses with its horse on the dial of the Slim d’Hermès C’est la fête offers a modern vision of the vanitas, imagined by the artist and illustrator Daiske Nomura who weaves his favourite manga and videogame references into his designs. The dial associates paillonné enamel, where gold or silver spangles are inserted between layers of enamel to create effects of transparency and light, with miniature enamelling, where layers of glass powder are successively applied then fired in the kiln. As for the horseman and its mount, both are relief-carved in gold.
Louis Moinet Heat
Louis Moinet’s Heat travels thousands of years back in time to the moment when man discovered how to make fire, hence the engraving of an Australopithecus’s skull on the dial of this unique piece. The Australopithecus was one of the first human species, over four million years ago, to use fire. The theme is echoed in the skull’s ember-red eyes as well as in the engraved and miniature-painted flames that lick the red peitersite dial. According to Louis Moinet, the conquest of fire represents “the perfect union of man and nature”. It should also serve as a reminder that our future is entirely dependent on the planet’s future; unless we want to go the same way as our ancestor, the Australopithecus…
Louis Vuitton Carpe Diem
Louis Vuitton writes a new chapter in the history of jacquemart watches with this Carpe Diem. Time is given, on demand, not with hands but by skull and snake automata. When the pusher is activated, the dial springs to life: the snake lifts its head to reveal an opening in the skull’s forehead for the jumping hours display, while the tip of its tail flicks across the minute scale positioned under the sandglass that measures power reserve. Meanwhile, the skull winks to reveal a Louis Vuitton Monogram flower at the same time as its jaw opens in laughter to deliver a message: “Carpe Diem”. A lesson worth remembering.