Large institutional firms may have held their ground, but everyone else cast aside all restraint, allowing the skull to become one of the main catalysts for watchmaking creativity between 2000 and 2020.
It’s a straightforward, immediately recognisable feature that can be etched, sculpted, or set with jewels; it can be placed on the rear, on the dial, and on any material; and it can be accompanied by storytelling ranging from punk rock to philosophy – in short, a golden opportunity. It would appear that the late lamented RJ (Romain Jerome) was one of the first firms to use the skull as a feature to illustrate the Día de los Muertos, aimed at its Mexican market. On 1 November 2012, All Saints Day, RJ unveiled two sets of 25 timepieces with a calaveras motif – the skull-shaped candies that Mexicans give each other as lucky charms throughout this holiday period. As yet, the style was quite simple (a colourful appliqué on the dial), but the idea was born: on that day, the brand sowed a seed from which the entire industry was to reap the harvest.
Each firm then proceeded to come up with its own take on the skull. One of the closest, in spirit, was Chopard, with its L.U.C Perpetual T Spirit of La Santa Muerte. Another firm that drew on the same source of inspiration for scores of models was Hublot, with its Big Bang Sugar Skull, Big Bang Broderie Sugar Skull Fluo, Classic Fusion Tourbillon Skull, and Skull Bang: displaying unrivalled enthusiasm, the Nyon-based Manufacture birthed a skull wave that’s still crashing over watchmaking breakwaters.
L.U.C Perpetual T Spirit of La Santa Muerte © Chopard
There was however something different about this particular craze: a retailer, none other than Laurent Picciotto of Chronopassion, was borne on its tide. Some Hublot Skull models were even made to measure for him, including the Classic Fusion Skull Bang Chronopassion in 2012, with a limited edition of 100 pieces. The Parisian trendsetter then did the same thing all over again with Bell & Ross. The case and dial of the BR 01 Skull were in patinated bronze, making the timepiece look as though it had been underwater for several decades.
At the same time, independently of its collaboration with Chronopassion, Bell & Ross developed a whole host of skull timepieces: in privateer style, featuring sabre-shaped hands; full black; Maori, with a Burning Skull engraved on the case; and some with complications, such as the Skull Tourbillon and the Laughing Skull, whose jaw rises and falls depending on how far the barrel is wound.
BR 01 Skull © Bell & Ross
Creativity went even further in some independent firms. At HYT, the skull established itself at the heart of the watch, with the characteristic hour-marker fluid flowing around the edges. The effect was stunning, all the more so in that the skull’s eyes indicate the power reserve on one side, and the seconds on the other! The principle of dividing up the work between the eyes was also used by the now-defunct de Grisogono on its 38-carat Crazy Skull S02 timepiece featuring a movement in each eye. Equally sensational is the highly creative work of Fiona Krüger, an independent designer and probably the only one (along with CLVII) to have produced a watch for which the case itself is skull-shaped. Richard Mille, meanwhile, has gone for high-tech skulls, notably the RM 52-01 Tourbillon Skull Nano-Ceramic and the RM 052 Tourbillon Skull.
Skull Vida (2017) © HYT
*On the occasion of GMT Magazine and WorldTempus' 20th anniversary, we have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years in watchmaking in The Millennium Watch Book, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. The Millennium Watch Book is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English.