If you want to impress a watch novice, show them a skeleton watch. As a concept, I must admit, they are pretty cool. It is enlightening to see all of the intricate components of a mechanical movement working in concert. Since the movement is the star of the show, it is almost always dressed for the occasion, decked out in its Sunday best, all polished and plated, blued and engraved. If I am at dinner with my fellow watch nerds, our collections strewed about the table, the wait staff will generally ignore the mess - unless one of us has a skeleton watch, at which point they are suddenly full of praise and questions. Skeletons are remarkably popular and for many, they are the gateway into the watch hobby. I just don't like them.
It's a style thing, really. Skeleton watches tend to be a bit too ornate for my taste. All that gold and gingerbread puts me off. Many rely on the exposed movement to carry the design and ignore the rest of the watch. Legibility often suffers. Movements with abundant open spaces that look cool when you hold them in your hand become ugly freckle and arm hair frames when placed on the wrist. There are exceptions, of course. Wilk Watchworks makes some real beauties and I swooned over the Maki and its sinister black ETA 6497. Still, as of today, I do not have a single skeleton in my collection. They are not watches I would ever seek out, so imagine my surprise when Thomas Earnshaw sent me not one, but three skeleton watches to review: the Bauer Shadow Skeleton Mechanical, the Longitude Skeleton Mechanical, and the Longitude Shadow Automatic. This was going to be a challenge.
The three watches reviewed here are separate models but they share more than a few commonalities. Each of their stainless steel cases is available in a variety of different finishes; the samples were all IP rose gold. All have the Earnshaw name engraved on the side. Water resistance is 50m, which is more than ample for a dress watch. The straps are stiff, crocodile print leather, 22mm wide tapering to a 20mm signed buckle that mimics the double E logo. Thomas Earnshaw does not list the movements' manufacturers or country of origin, but given the "Made in China" leads me to believe they are Chinese, probably Hangzhou.
The Bauer Shadow Skeleton Mechanical (ES 8061) is a two-hander with a domed mineral crystal, bun-shaped crown, faceted dauphine hands, and bar markers dressed up by the double E logo at 12 and a Roman 6. It is the smallest of the three, measuring 42mm wide and 11.5mm thick, and also the most reserved. With the markers on an outer ring and only the brand name applied to the dial, the Bauer presents an uncluttered face. The transparent dial is tinted brown and goes translucent when the light catches it just so. The resulting color wash tones down out the movement's decoration, hence the "Shadow" designation.
It works to the extent that it mutes the movement's brightwork and improves contrast for better readability; however, the trade-off is that you give up some of the elements can make a skeleton watch appealing. For example, an open view normally lets you see the escapement wheel at work, but you have to squint to see it on the Bauer. The movement is really more of a backdrop on this watch, and while you might think that would be a good thing for someone like me, I found it bland and uninspiring. I could not tell what material the dial was made of, but the promotional materials described it as a "film" and the frosted effect looks plastic and not at all appealing.
The Longitude Skeleton Mechanical's (ES-8062) 44mm case is a full size larger than the Bauer's, but only a half millimeter thicker. It features a fluted onion crown, Breguet-style hands, a double E tailed second hand, and a clear view of the hand winding movement through its two flat, sapphire coated, mineral crystals. An open framework rings the face, forming hour markers. It is dominated by oversized rose gold Roman numerals at 12, 3, 6, and 9.
To my eye, this is the least appealing of the three review samples. The elements are all too large and the overall layout would be better suited to a mantle clock than a wristwatch. The hands have two tiny lume dots of dubious value. The glow is weak and short-lived, and because the hands are so similar in length, it is nearly impossible to discern which is which in the dark. Nothing about this watch worked for me. It even failed as a timekeeper because the hour hand was misaligned.
Like the Longitude Skeleton Mechanical, the Longitude Shadow Automatic (ES-8063) has a 44mm case and Breguet hands. It also features a translucent dial and faceted markers like the Bauer. This watch is most complicated of the three, including a day/night indicator, second time zone, and a prominently displayed flywheel. An applied brand name at 3 o'clock fills the fourth quadrant. It is a busy yet balanced dial. Between the tinted dial and the other elements occupying its face, the movement is relegated to little more than a peek. Out back, the display window is decorated with gold stripes, further downplaying the movement although you do get a good view of the plated and engraved rotor.
Oddly, I found this last watch to be the most appealing of the three. Yes, it is still gaudy, and a day/night indicator is perhaps the least useful complication imaginable, but at a glance, the elements are in balance, nothing is oversized, and the mechanical background is better integrated into the overall design than it is on the Bauer, where it must carry the whole show. Would I buy it for myself? No, I would not.
I said at the outset that these watches are not my style, so it should come as no shock that they didn't win me over. That said, I am sure many of my readers are feeling quite the opposite, liking what they see, and wondering if the Thomas Earnshaw watches are worth the price. My answer to that is "maybe." They have not yet released the two Longitude models reviewed here, but the Bauer is on the Thomas-Earnshaw.com for £470 ($587 USD). That is mighty steep for an unidentified movement and plastic-looking dial; however, these watches are frequently discounted. Previous Bauer models sell for less than half of their list price at online retailers. I found one on sale for $139, which is far more palatable. If you really like the look of a Thomas Earnshaw skeleton, take your time and shop around. As for me, I'm keeping my skeletons in the closet. ⬩