While Halloween and the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the latter celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2, may have us thinking about skulls, the motif has been popular in watches for centuries. These memento mori , which translates from Latin to “remember that you must die,” remind us to carpe diem , for life is fleeting.
Today’s skull watches embrace a sense of colorful whimsy and sci-fi flair compared to their gothic predecessors from which they take their cues. One over-the-top historic example is the 16th-century pocket watch that Mary Queen of Scots gave her maid of honor, Mary Seaton . The sculpted skull case is elaborately engraved with the figure of Death and lines from Homer, and a hinged jaw opens to reveal the dial with a single hour hand.
These modern incarnations are almost as jaw dropping.
De Bethune DW5 Cempasúchil
To commemorate its recent participation in SIAR (Salón Internacional Alto Relojería), the annual watch fair in Mexico City, De Bethune honored el Día de los Muertos with an elaborate one-of-a kind piece for its Maestri’art Collection.
The DW5 Cempasúchil (US$305,000) pays tribute to the legendary 20th-century Mexican engraver José Guadalupe Posada , with a contemporary reinterpretation of his work by Swiss master engraver Michèle Rothen .
Named for the cempasúchil (marigold) blossoms that line alleys to guide the spirits of the deceased on their journey home, the unique piece offers a phantasmagorical spin on the brand’s futuristic DB5.
Engraving in titanium, which is tougher than steel, is already a daunting challenge, but fusing it with delicate, malleable gold inserts significantly upped the level of difficulty of this piece.
De Bethune’s master watchmaker and founder Denis Flageollet played with different 18K alloys—white, yellow, rose, green (18K with a hint of silver), and a new “marbled” gold, blending white rose and yellow—to accentuate the edginess of the scenes.
The brand’s signature spherical moon phase, composed of two hemispheres in blued steel and palladium is positioned next to the minimalist digital hours and minutes display under a hand-cut crystal cabochon. A large skull spans the case back, where you can see the balance-spring pulsing through one of the eye sockets.
Christophe Claret X-TREM-1 Calavera
Christophe Claret also brought a unique piece to SIAR this year, a new version of its X-TREM-1 redesigned in the colors of Mexico.
A diamond-set skull on the top of the black grade 5 PVD titanium case is
appointed with an octagonal emerald and pigeon’s blood rubies serve as the eyes, matching the two polished steel beads that move up and down the scales on the side of the rectangular case to display the time.
The X-TREM-1 Calavera (US$490,000) embodies Christophe Claret’s extreme approach to high horology. The time display system is driven by magnetic fields, traditionally the bane of a mechanical watch movement. Two small hollow steel spheres—one for hours and one for minutes—are suspended in tubes controlled by precision magnetic fields generated by two miniature magnets moved by cables. Made from hundreds of Dyneema nanofibers contained within an ultra-high-strength polyethylene gel, the cables are incredibly thin, flexible, and capable of withstanding tensile forces of up to a kilogram (2.2 pounds).
The piece’s flying tourbillon is fitted with double-ceramic bearings to enhance its shock-resistance and inclined at a 30-degree angle to heighten visibility for the wearer. Plus, the manual-winding movement is powered by energy from two barrels—one for the tourbillon and one for the time display—so as not to impact the watch’s precision.