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Watchmaking or the temptation of art – IV
Watch Stories

Watchmaking or the temptation of art – IV

Friday, 09 September 2016
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Pierre Maillard
Editor-in-chief, Europa Star and film-maker

“Watchmaking is where industry and craftsmanship flow into one. It is the perfect reflection of its era.”

Born in Geneva in 1954, Pierre Maillard is both a watch journalist and a film-maker.

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6 min read

Suddenly they are everywhere. A sign of the times, perhaps? Skulls emerging from the dark corners of our epoch to remind us that ours is a fleeting existence. Here are some of the most recent models to link arms with Death. Would you “die” for them?

Bell & Ross BR01 Skull Bronze

A grinning skull not suitable for all wrists (46mm). Inspiration, says Bell & Ross, came from the skull insignia worn by paratroopers with the US Airborne division, as an intimidation and a talisman when accomplishing their death-defying mission. Each watch takes on a particular aspect, according to the rate of oxidation. “Without any alteration to its lifespan,” Bell & Ross assures us. Whose lifespan would that be?

Bell & Ross BR01 Skull Bronze
Bell & Ross BR01 Skull Bronze
Richard Mille RM052 Skull

Death is not the intruder but rather the support on which these mechanics are built, with a skull that doubles up as bridges and plate (in surgical-approved grade 5 titanium). Thus incorporated into the movement, this allegory of Death holds together the components that give life to this mechanical brain, and reminds us of the mechanical nature of our own maxillo-facial architecture. The back of the skull forms the centre bridge, much like under our own skull. The skull is an old favourite of Richard Mille, who has taken its technical and artistic possibilities further still.

Limited edition of 21 comprising 15 in titanium and 6 gem-set unique pieces in red or white gold.

Richard Mille RM052 Skull
Richard Mille RM052 Skull
Peter Speake-Marin Skull Face to Face Tourbillon

“Life is short, and shortly it will end; Death comes quickly and respects no one, Death destroys everything and takes pity on no one.”

Peter Speake-Marin may quote a song from the medieval manuscripts in the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat (1399), his Skull Face to Face Tourbillon is more suggestive of the misty moors of Shakespeare’s native land. A previous watch already boasted four shiny silver skulls, set top-to-tail on a scattering of diamonds. Here, twin skulls flank the tourbillon, firmly grasped between sarcastic jaws. Hamlet doesn’t know which way to turn. Not to be… Not to be… is the message from Death’s grinning companions.

Skull Face to Face Tourbillon is an 8-piece limited edition.

Peter Speake-Marin Skull Face to Face Tourbillon
Peter Speake-Marin Skull Face to Face Tourbillon
Fiona Krüger Black Skull

Are male and female skulls different? A question few people ask, it would seem. So many virile armies have marched themselves into the ground that only palaeontologists and police officers really care. Yet here we have a decidedly feminine skull. An intricate mechanical skull; a graceful mask that bares its tombstone teeth in a rather mocking smile. Like Mary Queen of Scots (whose skull-shaped watch inspired Fiona Krüger) kicking up her heels on Mexico’s Day of the Dead.

With deftness of hand, Fiona Krüger weaves Death into a precious canvas. Her subtly sculpted skull, covered with black PVD, encloses a delicate weft of decorations and mechanics.

Fiona Krüger Black Skull
Fiona Krüger Black Skull
HYT Skull Bad Boy

A black liquid runs through the veins of this Bad Boy. The skull, which has the appearance of watered silk, is hewn from Damascus steel, a metal renowned since the Middle Ages for producing the most fearsome blades. It rests on a Clous de Paris bed with indices in Gothic font. Death comes to us on an alligator strap fastened with velcro, preferably against a (wealthy) biker’s leather jacket. With blood this dark that absorbs all light, the Skull Bad Boy can only be read in the brightest conditions. But Death is immune to compromise and thrives on obscurity. A 50-piece limited edition.

HYT Skull Bad boy
HYT Skull Bad boy
Hublot Classic Fusion Tourbillon Skull

Death is a master of disguise and will slip into even the most high-tech materials. In this case, it “fuses” with ceramised aluminium. This means taking a plasma discharge in an electrolyte bath, from which it emerges coated in hard, dense, adhesive ceramic which is then sanded to make it appear older than it is. Now it is ready for the 3D machining that will form the plate and bridges that sit like bones above the skeletonised movement. The tourbillon heart of this Fusion beats beneath a skull that looks you right in the eye.

Hublot Classic Fusion Tourbillon Skull
Hublot Classic Fusion Tourbillon Skull
RJ-Romain Jerome by John M Armleder

In the mind of John Armleder, the Swiss artist who imagined this series of skulls for RJ Romain Jerome, “these watches appear to resemble each other and are therefore perfectly suited to death, which is the same for everyone; it simply comes at different times.” They are in fact distinguished by the contours of the skull, which is applied to the hammered metal dial and whose underside is lacquered in a single, different colour each time. “The skull is an allegory for the passing of time, and as such is as relevant to art as it is to watchmaking,” says Armleder. Death as both multiple and unique.

RJ-Romain Jerome by John M Armleder
RJ-Romain Jerome by John M Armleder
Daniel Strom Agonium Memento Mori, Carpe Diem watch

A watch that has been described as looking like “Big Ben from a nightmare”. Son of Armin Strom, himself a specialist in skeleton watches, Daniel Strom, his father may have said, “first dyed his hair black, then painted his nails black, then started wearing Nine Inch Nails t-shirts and staying away from sunlight. We got really concerned when he started craving blood, but he soon gave up that idea after tasting some and got into watchmaking instead.” A wise choice: rarely has a watch been so authentically Gothic, pulled from a Victorian catacombs, sculpted medieval-style from silver, gold, and even palladium studded with diamonds (which are, we are told, for ever). Brrr.

Daniel Strom Agonium Memento Mori, Carpe Diem watch
Daniel Strom Agonium Memento Mori, Carpe Diem watch
Hajime Asaoka with Takashi Murakami, The death takes no bribe tourbillon

Hajime Asaoka, who is a member of the Académie des Horlogers Créateurs Indépendants (AHCI), teamed up with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami to create this watch, whose tourbillon beats unperturbed and seems almost to elude Death behind its serpentine minute hand. “Death takes no bribe” is inscribed beneath the two skulls taking refuge at the top of the dial. Their bulging orbits set with the whimsical flowers that are a hallmark of Murakami’s art seem to suggest otherwise. As though terrified by the incessant sweep of the snake-like hand, they appear only too willing to bribe time and escape their morbid mission. If only it were possible.

Hajime Asaoka with Takashi Murakami, The death takes no bribe tourbillon
Hajime Asaoka with Takashi Murakami, The death takes no bribe tourbillon
de Grisogono Crazy Skull

Death has always been a grotesque figure in this great carnival of ours, alongside fantasists and fools. Laugh while you can, seems to be the message from the diamond teeth of this devil-may-care Crazy Skull. Enjoy, because I’m watching you. Those two hypnotic eyes, behind which time whirrs not once but twice, are there to remind us that time will always outpace our laughter. Granted, anyone wishing to benefit from the wisdom of this Crazy Skull must shell out a small fortune (between $622,000 and $810,000), but in the face of Death, there is always a price to pay.

de Grisogono Crazy Skull
de Grisogono Crazy Skull
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