Is there a place for skull motifs in your life? What about on your wrist?
For many people, this familiar symbol might conjure cartoonish images of leather-clad bikers, aging rock stars or pirates — but there's a way to understand the appeal other than trying to look badass, especially when it comes to watches: It turns out that timekeeping has been particularly associated with skulls and death themes for centuries.
From memento mori mottos on sundials and medieval clocks to art featuring skulls with hourglasses, ruminations on time and mortality have proven an enduring motif. Famously, Mary Queen of Scots was said to carry a pocket watch shaped like a three-dimensional skull, the cranium of which would hinge open to reveal the dial. Though viewed as rock-n-roll or rendered in playful pop-art styles today, such themes had more philosophical meanings through most of their history.
Not to be confused with skeletonized watches, skull-adorned watches remain surprisingly popular today. Here are a few of the best examples.
The term memento mori is used to describe phrases or symbols reminding one of death. In a nod to the history of associating this theme with horology, the British company Mr Jones placed those words on the hour and minute hand of a watch called The Accurate. The Last Laugh follows this watch's success with a skull motif showing the hours and minutes in the skull's teeth via disks. Using a Chinese-made automatic movement, the hour jumps when it changes rather than slowly turns.
Movement: Seagull TY1723 automatic
Styles inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead are a popular sub-genre of skull-related art, which naturally fits into watchmakers' fascination with the theme. Chopard's top-tier watches in its L.U.C family offer high-end and high-quality examples with lacquered finishes, refined details and excellent in-house movements. The Skull One isn't the first such example from the brand, but its steel case and lack of complications makes it relatively attainable — and, like other L.U.C watches, a strong value considering the level of workmanship offered.
Movement: Chopard L.U.C 96.53 L automatic
Introducing a totally new case design for Bell & Ross, the Cyberskull mixes the brand's series of skull-and-crossbone-themed watches with a distinctly modern rendering. Positioned at 12 o'clock (in the skull's forehead), the movement's balance wheel is visible from the dial side and the blacked-out, geometric case and skull interpretation all come together for an edgy, avant-garde result. When you wind the movement via the crown, the skull's jaw moves up and down.
Movement: Concepto / Bell & Ross BR-CAL.208 automatic
Scottish artist Fiona Kruger kicked off her watchmaking career with a unique watch case actually shaped in the outline of a skull, with a dial design to match it. The shape made for bold-wearing proportions, so the Petit Skull brings this size down to accommodate more slender wrists. It maintains the case shape, and the eyes, nose and mouth are cutouts that reveal the Swiss automatic movement inside.
Movement: Soprod A10 automatic
Even in a long line of skull watches, HYT's Soonow is kind of mind-blowing and seems to suggest some philosophical ideas about time and death. How do you read the time, you ask? The hours are displayed by the meniscus separating two different-colored liquids and marked by the numbers written out along the tube. One eye rotates like a seconds hand and the other indicates the power reserve. The bellows driving the liquid are partially visible between the skulls teeth. The watch does not display the minutes, which you have surely transcended if you are wearing such art on your wrist.
NOTE: HYT unfortunately declared bankruptcy in 2020, but their watches, including the Soonow, can still be found for sale on the secondary market.
Movement: Chronode manual