The skeleton watch is to watchmaking what the visible engine bay is to the supercar. It provides a complex view of the magnificent engine that lies within. Typically, the skeleton watch features a partially or even fully removed dial that normally obscures the view of the gorgeous movement below. In some cases, the movement itself is “skeletonized” by trimming away non-essential metal on the bridge, plates, wheel train or other mechanical part. Often, the remaining structure is beautified through engraving, beveling or specialized decoration. Every time you look at your wrist, you see the micro-engineered machine that powers your glorious timepiece!
If the watch case is the body of the timepiece, and the dial its face, then the movement would be its organs. Like the human heart, the movement contains a precisely engineered balance spring that gently twists back and forth many thousands of times an hour. In fact, over a year, most modern mechanical wristwatches beat approximately 200 million times. This gentle beat is powered by the mainspring, a tightly coiled flat spring that acquires its energy from the winding of the crown or the rotation of an attached rotor (found in self-winding watches). Fully wound, the mainspring can produce many hours of energy to the movement, and in the case of the automatic or self-winding watch, normal human movement is sufficient to keep it wound almost indefinitely. Through a system of wheels and gears, the energy from the mainspring is transferred to the balance and in turn to the seconds, minutes and hour hands. Watch movements may contain hundreds or even thousands of microscopic parts, each painstakingly designed to fit and collaborate with each other. Well-maintained, a mechanical timepiece will provide a lifetime of reliable service.
The mechanical watch movement with its hundreds of tiny parts is a delicate machine. As such, it requires a measure of care and attention to ensure its uninterrupted service. Moreover, a mechanical timepiece is no longer the most accurate timekeeping device. Certainly, a century ago, the mechanical clock / watch was the state of the art. But as technology has changed and advanced, so too has the ability to measure time. Using carefully monitored and precisely configured next generation atomic clocks, we as a society are now able to measure time to within one part in a million-trillionth of a second (10^18). That’s about 10 billion times more accurate than even a fairly accurate quartz watch. Mechanical watches vary in accuracy; most are accurate to within about a minute per day, with some of the more perfectly regulated (and therefore more expensive) timepieces providing accuracy to within about 5 seconds per day.
Taking care of a mechanical timepiece is relatively simple. One should not expose the watch to strong magnetic fields – they are all around us in all sorts of appliances, but especially in common household items like speakers and vacuum cleaners. Don’t knock or drop the watch – this will unsettle the parts inside, and although many modern timepieces have a shock absorption device, it is not always sufficient to protect against damage. Always set the date between 3AM and 9PM. Date wheels are finicky; they don’t like to be manually adjusted close to midnight, and may be irreversibly damaged. Remember, your watch is a precisely engineered micro-machine. It requires and deserves thoughtfulness and care.
The value of an automatic timepiece cannot be overstated. Unlike its quartz counterpart, it contains hundreds of tiny mechanical parts working in synchronicity to apportion and display discrete units of time. Each part was individually manufactured using many distinct and complex procedures. These parts were then painstakingly assembled into a singular movement, then regulated and tested. Every mechanical timepiece embodies countless hours of dedicated and precise workmanship. The mechanical timepiece will survive long after quartz watches or smart watches are no longer operable or even serviceable. The mechanical timepiece has been around for hundreds of years, and will be around for hundreds of years more. It exemplifies man’s mastery over the micromechanical realm and surpasses mere functionality. A mechanical timepiece combines artisanship, engineering and design. It is functional, wearable art!