A watch’s beauty often comes from its dial, but as with the majority of things in life, and especially with mechanical watches, there’s much more hidden underneath the external appearances. It’s behind the dial where the most important part of a timepiece lies.
Remaining unseen in all but a few watches, its mechanical heart, the movement with all its gears and springs and dozens of tiny pieces working together, usually goes ignored.
But that’s why skeleton watches have come to exist.
They aren’t a new concept, as their roots go back to 1760 when a French watchmaker called André-Charles Caron decided to showcase his craftsmanship and the beauty of his mechanical movements to his clients.
It’s this reasoning that led other watchmakers later on to do the same thing. And today, we’ve got some marvelous skeleton watches waiting to be admired, and for good reason too.
Skeleton watches are some of the most interesting timepieces on the market. They’re extremely charming and often present a unique dial that stands out in an ocean of similar concepts, which is to be expected when you think of the limitations imposed by the very small size of a wrist watch.
But limitation also enhances creativity, which is why some manufacturers have come up with mesmerizing ways to show it. And one of this ways of showcasing your craftsmanship and creativity is a skeleton watch. But..
What Exactly is a Skeleton Watch?
Shortly put, it’s a work of art. For some, both brands and individuals, it’s an identity, one that speaks of state-of-the-art watchmaking, Haute Horlogerie, or simply the appreciation for the mastery of the craft and the exceptional attention to details.
Technically, a skeleton watch is just a mechanical timepiece that has its moving parts inside entirely or partially visible through the dial, the case back, or both.
Some have only parts of the dial cut out to reveal the beauty of the movement inside, while others don’t have a dial at all, offering complete transparency to the heart of the watch.
The term skeleton has been attributed to them because typically, non essential parts of the movement itself are removed, so the excess of metal on the plates, bridges, wheel trains or other mechanical parts of the watch is gone, leaving behind a minimal skeleton of what’s needed for the full functionality of the movement.
And that’s where the creativity of the watchmaker comes in. The movement is a work of art, but the way you present it to the world is also an art in itself. That’s what makes skeleton timepieces from the best watchmakers in the world extremely expensive.
But not all of them have to be expensive to be charming, and that’s exactly what we’ll explore in this article. So we’ve rounded up a few affordable skeleton watches that enthusiasts on a budget might want to take a look at.
15. Lucien Piccard Loft
The Lucien Piccard Loft is one of the most affordable skeleton watches we could find that also looks decent enough. Priced at $50, we feel you get more bang for your buck with it than with others, so if you’re willing to enter this world without risking paying too much, this one is a good first skeleton watch to have.
On the downside, its 45mm case might be too big for some wrists, and the overall quality might lack when compared to timepieces ten times more expensive. The company is Swiss and older than you might expect, but after it filed for bankruptcy, it was bought by a Chinese company, which might be the reason behind such an affordable price.
14. Invicta 1090 Russian Diver
An extremely interesting watch in general is the Invicta 1090 Russian Diver, a tribute to an older timepiece of the watchmaker that came out in 1959 and was commissioned by the Russian Naval Fleet at the time.
The 1090 Russian Diver is large, and by that we mean 52mm case diameter large, so make sure you have enough wrist for this hefty timepiece. Also striking is the pull-push crown with oversized screw down cap. The beauty of the skeleton movement is easily visible since the dial is basically non-existent.
Despite the diver part in its name, the watch has a water resistance rating of only 50m, which is unacceptable for a diving watch. But you can’t complain at a price of around $125.
13. Hamilton Khaki Field Skeleton Auto
The most expensive watch on our list, priced at $1,295, is the Hamilton Khaki Field Skeleton Auto, a timepiece that’s part of a different tier, higher than most other watches on this list.
The Khaki Field Skeleton Auto comes with higher end features, among which a sapphire crystal glass, a high quality H-20-S Swiss self winding movement, impressive decorations, and a stunning multi-level dial that will impress even the harder to impress people.
The problem is that this timepiece has been discontinued. The good news is that you can still find it on the used market.
12. Hamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic Automatic Skeleton
We’re sticking to Hamilton for a little while, because there’s also the Jazzmaster Viewmatic Automatic Skeleton, priced at around $918, a nice and sleek 40mm timepiece that presents its inner heart with incredible attention to detail.
It’s an elegant watch, one that can be worn almost anywhere and that can impress anyone. The visible movement inside adds a touch of wild sportiness to it, balancing the elegance of the rest of the watch.
11. Seagull Double Skeleton
Seagull is a Chinese company, and we all know to run away from the “Made in China” label. But that’s not always true. Some things are good enough, and way cheaper than with other brands. The Seagull Doble Skeleton watch, at $235, is one such good enough thing.
It’s one of their best looking timepieces, it comes with a decent ST1602 self winding movement, with good accuracy, and an impressively well made dial, with a chapter ring and blue hands for increased legibility.
It may not be the right choice for many, but for those who don’t want to pay too much, it’s an option worth taking into consideration.
10. Bulova Sutton 96A208
A variation of the classic Bulova Sutton, with small second and 24h subdial, priced at $477, is a worthy investment. The movement is just a bit visible through the dial, but the watch is still impressive enough aesthetically, especially with the multiple subdials which break symmetry in a nice way.
The movement is better visible through the exhibition case back, adding to the overall appeal of the watch.
9. Bulova Futuro Blue
The $300 Bulova Futuro in Blue is a quirky one, but even so, it has a beauty of its own, and we find it very attractive. The combination between that blue hue, the perfectly round case, and the H-Link stainless steel bracelet, all make for quite an appearance.
The dial only shows the skeleton, or the movement inside, partially, through several cut-outs, all different in shape and size, creating an asymmetric but very attractive dial design.
The case is 42mm in diameter, so it might not fit every wrist, but those with a good fit will enjoy wearing it tremendously.
8. Fossil Grant Automatic
If you don’t want to invest in something like a Hamilton, the Fossil Grant Automatic is among the cheapest options for a decent looking skeleton watch. It’s priced slightly above $100 mark, and it’s a very good alternative to the more expensive timepieces.
The classic design of the dial, with large Roman numerals, isn’t something that stands out from the crowd, but the central part is open and allows you to admire the movement inside, which may not be the best, but it’s good enough, especially for that price.
On the downside, the watch is too big for smaller wrists at 45mm, and the hardened mineral crystal that covers the dial is prone to scratches, but at that price, you can’t expect sapphire crystal either.
7. Swatch Unisex Skeleton
The Swatch Unisex Skeleton watch is simple, classic looking, and very affordable at only $185. The material is plastic, but the skeleton dial is impressive for such a low price.
The movement is quartz, so fans of mechanical timepieces will discard this from the very start, but for those who don’t know if it’s worth investing money in a more expensive watch, this is a good start.
6. Bulova Aerojet Classic
For only $450, you could get a very elegant and sleek looking timepiece, the Bulova Aerojet Classic. It’s a 41mm watch, with a minimalist aesthetic, and an open heart type of cut-out at the 6 o’clock position to show just a little bit of the mechanism inside.
It’s not a full skeleton in the real sense, but it’s nonetheless a very attractive timepiece. The matte gray dial, combined with rose gold markers and hands create a superb visual style.
Besides the open heart design, the case back is transparent, so you can admire even more of the movement that ticks inside.
5. Stuhrling Anatol 371 Automatic Skeleton
The Stuhrling Anatol 371 Automatic Skeleton, part of the brand’s Legacy Collection, is an impressive timepiece, both from a stylistic and a features point of view.
The dial, though quite crowded, manages to be aesthetically pleasing, especially through the symmetry achieved by placing complications at the 12, 6, 3 and 9 o’clock positions.
When it comes to functions, this is a dual-time watch, with a second time zone subdial and rotating am/pm indicator. And it only costs $250.
4. Bulova Maquina Automatic
The Bulova Maquina Automatic probably one of the best affordable skeleton watches from the brand. Its sporty design makes it desirable for active individuals, and the gunmetal finish on the 46mm stainless steel case and bracelet speaks of ruggedness and masculinity.
For the Bulova fans, the skeletonized dial will look very familiar, but without becoming boring.
The watch has a 100 meter water resistance rating, and the self winding movement visible through the dial comes with a decent 40 hour power reserve. It’s more than ideal for every day wear, and the price rises to $695.
3. Orient Bambino Open Heart Automatic
The Orient Bambino is a well known collection, and the Open Heart Automatic is a timepiece that shouldn’t be overlooked. There’s a small cut-out in the dial, at the 9 o’clock position, that shows a tiny bit of the watch’s heart, contributing to the overall beautiful aesthetic of the piece.
The Orient Bambino Open Heart Automatic is a refined and classic timepiece that will look good at those dressy events, and that for a mere $200. The dial might look a little bit dated for some, but the beautiful simplicity is sought after by others.
Inside, the Japanese automatic movement ticks with precision, so it should give you no troubles whatsoever. On the negative side, the 30 meter water resistance is a bit low, but you’re not buying a watch like this to go sailing, are you?
2. Bulova Sutton Classic
The Sutton, priced at $484, is one of the best and most interesting skeleton watches from Bulova. The watchmaker has combined visible parts of the dial with the inner workings of the movement to create a superb mix of elegance and display of craftsmanship.
Legibility is often times something that skeleton watches suffer from, but with the Sutton, Bulova has addressed this issue through large and bold Roman numerals in a blue tone. The hands are also blue, which make reading time easier.
The Bulova Sutton is on the larger side, with a 43mm case, so it might not be a good fit on smaller wrists unfortunately.
1. Hamilton Jazzmaster Open Heart
This list wouldn’t have been complete without the Hamilton Jazzmaster Open Heart, which is perhaps, the best skeleton watch in the affordable price range. It costs $750, but you get so much watch for those money.
The dial of the Jazzmaster Open Heart is unique and intriguing, straying away from the usual designs and giving the watch a very pleasing and elegant aesthetic, one that’s not at all crowded, helping a lot with legibility. It’s one that shows you just enough of the inner workings of the watch, without going over the top.
Also, the 40mm diameter of the case will be a good fit for most wrists, which is a big advantage over most other skeleton watches. Paired with a nice leather strap, it makes for a very good dress watch.
Skeleton watches don’t have to be expensive, but sure, don’t expect to find extreme designs here, as some will look just like any other option. But with some careful selection, you might find a very decent looking skeleton watch for a very affordable price.
There are some relatively unknown brands that do other skeleton watches, but our inclination will always go towards the best brands, especially to Hamilton. They’re a little more expensive, but they offer a lot more than you’d expect, and the quality is top notch.