RM056 FM10Y

Time in full transparency

Watchmakers have always enjoyed skeletonizing either a part of or the whole of their work. For a long time now, they have also played with the transparency of certain materials to put their craft in the spotlight. Cristal clear!

By Vincent Daveau

Some novices and professionals sometimes forget that human skills know almost no limit and that, in the past, craftsmen achieved technical feats with limited means. Indeed, if we look through the pages of watchmaking history, we shall find that watchmakers have, for a long time, found many ways to emphasize their skills. This is especially reflected in the use of naturally transparent materials in watch cases. As from the 17th century, "vanitas” watches, so-called by some, were equipped with either cross-shaped or skull-shaped cases that were cut from blocks of natural quartz.The precious transparency of those cases thus allowed observers to see the fragile components that skilled watchmakers of the time had created one at a time.

Movements – which back then had only average precision – were thus treated like jewels and mechanics were also protected from dust or clumsy handling. Further, to some extent, transparency contributed to increasing the passion for a technology that was then still in its early days.

Omega De Ville Hour Vision Omega DeVille Hour Vision

We have to acknowledge that Guy Ellia, a watch-aficionado jeweler, was a pioneer in the field. He was the first to create a watch case made of sapphire glass. After that, the idea became widespread and Omega released the DeVille Hour Vision, equipped with a middle produced from a sapphire block. The idea was in the air and Richard Mille decided to produce for his clients a replica of these trends that craftsmen such as Christophe Claret mastered. The creative artist, who was at the origin of the passion for futurism in a traditional craft, made good use of transparency and successfully communicated with his surroundings by introducing his first models with a case entirely made of synthesized sapphire. His refinement lied in that he detailed the manufacturing process by emphasizing that transparency is complex to achieve and it can hence be expensive.

Guy Elliy Zephyr 2007 Guy Elliy Zephyr de 2007

His honesty enabled him to put these glass instruments on sale at prices that defied any competition. But in a certain way, they reverted to what the “vanitas” of the past represented: tools created to make sure their owners were acknowledged as visionaries who anticipated the future during their lifetime.

It should be noted that the aforementioned brands were not the only ones to use the process. In fact, a few years ago, Dior created a tourbillon which had a movement with bridges made from a block of slightly colored sapphire. Chanel also played with transparency by equipping its J12 tourbillon with optical glass. It is also known that Kerbedanz added Koi, a tourbillon watch, to its catalog whose hand-wound and transparent caliber is driven by a tourbillon manufactured by Kerbedanz and Concepto. It also features a white gold dial worked in bas-relief to display the Koi carps as if they were in a tiny pond.

Kerbedanz Koï Kerbedanz Koï

Once again, with the brand new RM 056, Richard Mille has reminded us of its expertise in the production of sapphire cases. And it successfully proved it with the timepiece released to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its partnership with Formula 1 driver Felipe Massa. The piece sports a three-part case entirely made of transparent sapphire and a strap produced in a transparent synthetic material. It also draws attention to the complex hand-wound mechanical chronograph caliber that features a fly-back complication and which is made of over 500 components. The trend was set and Grisogono also worked with this hard and attractive material for the cases of its EXO and New Retro watches.

Dior Chrystal Tourbillon Diamants noirs Dior Chrystal Tourbillon Diamants noirs

Let us hope that we will see more of these products, as the watchmaking universe shall keep on asking more from brands whose prices keep on increasing. In such cases, we do agree that it is key for consumers to get value for money.

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