The Art of Skeletonizing

Horological skeleton instruments are an art form that communicate the decorative function of science and time.

A skeleton watch materializes our most intrinsic appreciation of the watchmaking craft. The functional element of the watch is simultaneously the most decorative element. We love watches because the art of making and measuring something is in itself, beautiful. The ability to keep time, to actually have a grasp on the natural forces of the world, is art. A skeleton watch lets this understanding of time speak for itself. 

Independent brands like TWC have an advantage when it comes to making timepieces that embrace the artform of our understanding of time. Due to the lack of limitations we endure from mass-distribution and production, we can actually put the time into glorifying the measurement of time with a skeleton watch. Our team of watchmakers experiment with broadened horological ideas for their personal collections just as much as they do design and assembly for the Chesapeake and Mission Collections. This creates an endless realm of creative possibilities for what we can offer in the Master’s Collection.

Our watchmakers almost exclusively use vintage tools and machines that they grew up learning on in Germany. This approach to the craft allows for maximum attention to detail and personalization. The 10mm Schaublin and Boley lathes found in the TWC workshop are used to mill small components of the movement with precision. These machine-tools allow us to modify the surface areas of the disassembled Unitas 6498 movement components in order to make the Half Skeleton. The bridges and balance cock must be skeletonized, engraved and plated with gold and rhodium. These alterations lead to several other complications that must be dealt with. The movement is completely turned into something else. Every Half-Skeleton has a different unique interior artwork and is plated in various metals.

The lathes are also used to manufacture smaller tools that Hartwig makes pinions and staffs with. They allow us to easily make custom fine thread taps from tool steels when repurposing movements.

When making a skeleton watch, it’s important to have a complete arsenal of tools. A mini lathe has more mass and power with a trade off of less "feel". It was designed for larger size parts, such as clock parts, and can remove metal faster by taking larger cuts. Also, due to more size, strength and power, a larger lathe will have less deflection from the cutter pressure, thus providing more repeatable accuracy on each cut.

We use the Levin gear cutting machine to make a new click spring. Cold forging makes low carbon steel harder by increasing its molecular density. We use this method  to make the spring. The balance cock, foliot (bar-balance), ratchet wheel, counter potence and the wall of the barrels are all hand made from iron using a saw, files, gravers and small pieces of Arkansas stone. The pigs bristle in the regulator, acting as a device to change the amplitude of the foliot’s oscillation, was taken from a good quality paint brush. 

A precision 3 axis milling machine is used to engine turn the 3/4 plate and engrave it with TWC in the small oval field. The balance cock, escape wheel bridge and chronograph bridges are also hand engraved. The pillar plate bears a perlage finish, still left over from the original state of the movement.  A new balance was made and installed. A new hour rack was made and installed. 

Milling of the square for the winding stem.
TWC rose engine in the Baltimore workshop.

The screwed-on back, securing the case to the center plate, has a sapphire crystal in order to enable the display of the movement. Center plates underside bears the names of all participating artists and craftsmen. The silver dial is engine turned and treated with a heat-application to achieve the frosted effect. We work with our close collaborator in Buenos Aires, Juan Carlos, a silversmith and one of the world’s experts in repousse works. 

The limited edition Quarter-Skeleton is one of our most innovative mechanical sculptures, featuring the rear-end of the movement's plate as the dial. Hand-pressed and turned is an intricate pillage pattern that has been finished with heat-application, bluing and further processes to produce a green effect. A decorative piece that explores various colors, reflective points and textures. With the ruby jewels, sterling silver outer dial, skeletonized white cathedral hands, dial layering, pillage and guilloche, the Quarter-Skeleton couldn't do a better job at exactly what it was made to do...keep its wearer in endless awe. 

"Horology is the science of time, timekeepers and timekeeping. It is also a category of art, as a horological masterpiece is a representation of the creative vision vested in our understanding of the world. Talent, creativity and vision produce the artistic identity of a horological instrument. To create something special, mechanical instruments of beauty and precision, was always our dream. Our partnership allows us to produce horological works of art, in which George calibrates the time while I craft it."

  • Hartwig Balke

When a watchmaker focuses on extending the artform of our understanding of time with his or her creation, what results is the purest appreciation of the craft. The art isn’t vested in some exterior decorative element that functions for fashion, the art lies within the utilitarian motives of the unit, which when executed properly, encompasses all the reasons for why we love watches. 

Horological art entails a certain level of exclusivity that can’t be achieved with consumer-good watches burdened by mass distribution and production. ‍Skeleton’s appeal directly to the principle of individualization, which oftentimes is a significant motive behind the purchase of a fine timepiece. A watch functions as a unique representation of its wearer. It speaks for the values of its wearer. All TWC Skeleton models are produced in very limited numbers, with only about ten to twenty units produced each year. Nonetheless, every wearer of a TWC timepiece can look down at their wrist and know that not a single other individual has that exact same watch or taste as them. We may all measure time the same, but we all have a different grasp over it. 

Our Skeleton Collection has always featured the same 42mm heritage style round case with the same structural specifications for the most part, with most differences found between the dials, decoration and skeletonized artwork. For all of our collections, consistency in design has been a principle respected by TWC's leaders for the past twenty years and will continue to be forever. Nonetheless, and as already stated, these principles and standards do have some breathing room, and sometimes we just can't help but put elements found in various collections into collaboration with one another. The driver watch seen above is an example of one of these past collaborative endeavors, in which we reconditioned the Full-Skeleton dial + movement design into our former "Drivers Series" within our Limited Collection. This limited edition of 50 commemorates an era in which American watchmaking was at the forefront of the industry. This classic design, in which the dial lies off-axis, was originally designed to aid drivers on the road. Our version is a bit different...still utilitarian nonetheless.

This timepiece is yet another that was produced in collaboration with Jochen Benzinger, the master guilloche artist out of Germany and longtime friend of TWC founder, Hartwig Balke. The outer dial is made of solid sterling silver, with applied black indices atop of the elegant brushed finish. The inner dial is uniquely skeletonized, exhibiting a dynamic layout of hand-guilloche outer-dials that overlap with one another, forming a sense of single-plane sculptural abstraction. The skeletonized dial also features rose gold elements, adding a formal elegance to the timepiece. Last but least, a lone second hand, painted in red, completes the complex aesthetic with a bold statement of contrasting tone. 

An outstanding Full-Skeleton made back in 2019, with a limited production of five pieces. The dial features masterful hand-guilloche style with a dynamic and multidimensional feel. The beauty about a Skeleton watch is that two canvases rest on one piece. A skeleton functions to produce an entirely new experience every time you look down at your wrist. There is always something new to explore in a TWC skeleton. A look at the exhibitionist case back of the limited edition "Full Skeleton" made back in 2019. A true of horological abstraction. A mechanical painting.
Similar to the Quarter Skeleton we discussed earlier in this article, the Half-Skeleton below features a flipped bezel, in which the caseback appears on the front of the watch. Whether you like it or not, it is something only an indy watchmaker like TWC can offer to its clientele. We have no restrictions. We can make whatever we want to make. That is what makes it art. 

Back in 2007, Tiffany and Co. commissioned TWC for a limited collection to be sold exclusively at Stauer in New York. Inspired by the original Towson Classic, Tiffany wanted us to make a sterling silver hand-guilloche dial using their movement. They wanted to work with an American watch company while retaining the Swiss accuracy featured in the rest of their collections. Tiffany movements were sent to the TWC workshops. We began by disassembling each to further skeletonize the plates, engrave the bridges and plate it all with gold. Brands like Tiffany will always look at TWC as one of the few American watchmakers capable of producing the level of individualization and care that their customers crave. An organic collaboration fueled by pure passion, creativity, and love for the craft. 

A rare vintage rose-engine in the TWC workshop. Used for dial and movement guilloche. (Engine-turning)
Hartwig preparing his instruments to apply pirlage on the balance plate for a Half Skeleton.

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