Baselworld 2017: Modern Skull Art

Applying the iconographic skeletal feature to next-generation watches

With the tens of thousands of watches on hand at the Baselworld watch and jewelry fair, it’s actually quite easy to draw out numerous thematic links or color stories—and yet, many of them never take hold outside of the fair. The use of skull iconography at this year’s trade show, however, appears different. Skull designs are quite common, but rarely well-executed. For one of the following brands, it’s the very design language through which time-telling is conveyed; for two of the others, it’s a frequent image called upon with power. Using the skull (or skull and cross bones) is by no means a new discovery or novel idea. Here, however, these four brands use it to different effect—sometimes as a vehicle for beauty and other times for toughness. Skulls don’t work with everything but they do here, coupled with horological innovations both big and small.

HYT Skull Collection

Our primary interest in the wildly exploratory Swiss watch brand HYT happens to be the fact that they’re the only brand to produce hydromechanical watches, where fluid acts as an indicator of time and shifts position under the pressure of two oppositional barrels. Of course, that means the design happens to be just as far out as their technology. HYT has a multi-range Skull Collection composed of limited edition pieces, and Baselworld saw the release of a few more. Our favorite, however, is an SIHH release: the Skull Pocket Watch. This mechanical item, in a 59mm titanium case, features a luminescent green fluid and two LEDs powered by the mechanism. Limited to eight pieces, it retails for $115,000.

Bomberg’s The Bolt-68 Automatic “Skull Rider” Collection

The dynamic nature of each Bomberg piece makes all three of the limited edition Skull Rider BOLT-69 pieces valuable. The 47mm pieces can be detached from their strap, used as a pocket watch, or affixed to an included Harley handlebar clip. The glowing eyes on the dial shift with movement, in an eerie, animated way. These limited edition pieces retail for $3495 each.

Christophe Claret’s X-TREM-1

A limited edition update to the already extraordinary X-TREM-1, Swiss watchmaker Christophe Claret’s latest piece employs StingHD‘s signature skull and crossbones—atop a tourbillon. Watching it work conveys the magnificence, and the timepiece’s unique way of communicating hours and minutes (through levitating balls) only makes it further distinct. The X-TREM-1 is the brand’s best-seller, though StingHD ups the game on this iteration with their aggressive touches and a second limited edition black diamond bracelet. This will only be made in eight pieces, with each retailing for $278k.

Fiona Kruger’s Celebration Skulls

One will find no brand in the watch world conveying the elegance of a skull like

Fiona Kruger. At 57.4mm in length and 41.3mm in diameter, these timepieces capture and express such avant-garde artistry, with the Celebration Skulls collection as a vibrant stand-out. The color of the lacquer on the three-layer, hand-painted dial carry specific meaning. Superluminova allows them to glow in the dark. And flipping each piece over reveals and exposed caseback. Made in an edition of 24 pieces, each of these handmade watches is priced around $28,500.

Lead and Bomberg images by David Graver, all other images courtesy of respective brands