While we may not have seen as many skeleton watches this year at SIHH as we did last year, quite a few brands like Cartier and Vacheron Constantin did introduce some impressive models. I like to think that shows like SIHH and Baselworld tend to reignite our passion for skeletonized movements since these are the two times each year that we tend to see a lot of them together. There is strength in numbers that can get us excited, but the price tags on these pieces are intimidating. Good looking and accessibly priced skeleton watches are difficult to come by since all that finishing adds tremendous cost to the final product.
Last year, Tissot, a brand often regarded for its marketing efforts toward promoting its T-Touch series and racing sponsorships, launched its T-Complication Squelette (French for skeleton) skeleton watch at Baselworld to much fanfare. Later in the year, Tissot defended its 160-year watchmaking heritage when the Squelette took first prize in the Classic category at the International Chronometry Contest held at the Museum of Time in Besançon, France. It’s understandably an innovative prize-winner because the Squelette is unlike most skeleton watches and certainly unlike anything Tissot normally produces.
Case & Dial
In most other watches, everything the Squelette has to offer would be tucked behind a dial and, maybe if you’re lucky, the see-through case back would offer some hints as to how your watch keeps ticking. With the Squelette, the entire show is on display and it’s beyond beautiful–it’s educational. If you’re the hands-on type, then this watch is a worthy means of fully understanding how a mechanical watch works because everything–I mean everything–can be witnessed through the front and back sapphire crystals. How does the crown actually power the watch? Wind the crown and notice the mainspring wind through a cut-out half-way between the six o’clock marker and the pinion. How does the movement know to release the power in a steady and controlled fashion? The fully exposed escapement is alone a valuable lesson in how a watch works.
A domed and anti-reflective sapphire lens covers the dial. The stainless steel case is mostly brushed with a polished bezel and signed turbine-style crown that reflects the general turbine shape of the skeletonized movement. It’s sized at 43mm x 46mm x 12mm, and when you consider its modest bezel, the Squellete is a watch with bold but not obnoxious wrist presence. Horned lugs add to its novel aesthetic, and if you look carefully you’ll notice the right side of the case is asymmetrical with the left. Further, the top-right of the case is asymmetrical with the bottom-right as the case smoothly transitions to the top-right lug.
With only a thin chapter ring around the dial and a small logo at the two o’clock position, Tissot lets the skeletonized movement anchor the design. Large blued and skeletonized steel hands, filled only at their tips with SuperLuminova paint, stand out against the movement. A fully skeletonized sub-seconds hand rests at nine o’clock and mostly fades into the background. I usually find skeleton watches to be illegible, but reading the time on the Squelette is not at all difficult.
A sapphire exhibition case back provides a view into the back of the movement, which is skeletonized like the front but also just as minimally decorated. The back of the movement does provide a slightly more colorful view since a large number of blued screws and jewels are exposed. While telling the time is easy on this skeleton watch, I suspect that much of its legibility is because the eye isn’t distracted by the same type of ornate finishing you find on most skeletonized movements. If you expect more intricately skeletonized components, then the Squelette will disappoint you; however, if you appreciate a watch that lets its movement speak for itself then you’ll appreciate its steampunk-inspired design.
The skeletonized movement is an ETA 6497-1, a venerable hand-wound movement used in large and pocket watches for decades. While you won’t find a lot of manual wind movements in Tissot’s collection, it’s certainly an affordable choice for Tissot and helps keeps the end price in line with what you’d expect from the brand. Much of the joy of owning a skeleton watch is, of course, to see a mechanical watch actually working right before your eyes, and in that respect the choice of movement upholds that promise. Certainly there is quite a bit for the eyes to take in, but also the ears. Since the watch’s movement isn’t cased within much steel, its engine ticks away rather loudly. To me, that’s a good thing since I prefer seeing, hearing and feeling that my mechanical watches are alive. Expect about 46 hours of power reserve when fully wound.
Style & Comfort
On my 6.75″ wrist, the 43mm case is noticeably large; however, the lugs don’t hang over the sides of my wrist. Personally, it’s too big for my tastes, but a 7-7.25″ and larger wrist size could pull this off more easily. The brushed deployment buckle that comes on the black alligator grain strap is a much higher quality buckle than that you’ll find on a PRC 200 or the Visodate. It’s meatier, better finished with no sharp edges, and has a push-button release system. The strap is comfortable, but I wish it used real genuine alligator skin to match the higher quality look and feel of the rest of the watch.
The Final Word
With the Tissot T-Complication Squelette, you’re getting a skeleton watch that combines past and present in that it offers both Tissot’s award-winning watchmaking tradition and an innovative, minimalist skeleton design in a single package. At a retail price of $1,950, it’s not your most affordable option from the brand, but most worthy Swiss Made alternatives are situated in the same price range or higher. I won’t go as far to say that it’s a value for its mechanical specs, but it certainly is a novel skeleton watch and, although it clearly conveys the time, I can guarantee that you will completely forget its primary purpose. us.tissotshop.com
- Model: Tissot T-Complication Squelette (T070.405.16.411.00)
- Dimensions: 43mm x 46mm 12mm
- Case: 43mm stainless steel
- Dial: Skeletonized movement and blued, skeletonized hands
- Crystal: Sapphire, domed
- Case back: Transparent sapphire lens
- Lug Width: 22mm
- Strap: Black alligator grain leather
- Movement: ETA 6497-1
- Water Resistance: 50m
- Retail Price: $1,950