Few might know about Kees Engelbarts here, and it is true that his work will probably always remain low key, however for very good reasons (that we’ll explain later). He himself says that he can only produce 6 to 8 watches a year, as each one is hand-made, unique, and usually commissioned. But, believe us, you do need to know about Kees Engelbarts and his work, and his latest piece, the Psychedelic Tourbillon, is a perfect demonstration of what proper skeleton watches really are.
In today’s state of the industry, the word “skeleton” mostly refers to openworked watches, meaning pieces that offer an intricate view on their movement and the pieces that compose it. With opened dials, cut-out bridges, sapphire plates… there are numerous techniques to create skeleton watches. Yet, sadly, most of these pieces are nowadays created thanks to an entire movement, or at least some of its parts, that are partially open. These movement’s parts are milled, usually by CNC machine, and might ultimately be finished by hand (might…) This is where the difference between openworked and proper skeleton watches becomes apparent.
On the other side of the “opened watches” range are true skeletonized pieces; watches that started their lives with a standard movement (meaning plain bridges and plates) that will later be reworked and opened manually. “A true skeleton watch starts its life with a normal non-openworked movement that is skeletonized by the skilful hand of a master-engraver” to reveal its intricacies, says Frank Geelen, our editor-in-chief. This is what Kees Engelbarts does is, of course – and even more.
For the Psychedelic Tourbillon, Kees starts with an out-sourced tourbillon movement manufactured by the specialist “Cercle des Horlogers” – a 72h power reserve, hand-wound movement with a tourbillon positioned at 6, under a long and thin bridge. Then, Kees takes it not just one step further, but miles away. The main-plate, as well as all the bridges, are replaced, meaning that only the technical and moving parts of the movement are retained. The main-plate and bridges are then rebuilt but with an entirely different material, in that case, a combination of yellow gold and silver Mokume Gane.
Mokume Gane is one of Kees’ favourite playgrounds. This specific material could also be named in English “wood grain metal“. Mokume Gane is an ancient Japanese metalworking procedure which produces a mixed-metal laminate with distinctive layered patterns. Mokume-gane is a product made by fusing several layers of different coloured precious metals together to form a sandwich of alloys called a billet. The billet is then manipulated in such a way that a pattern resembling wood grain emerges over the surface – when not yet fully engraved and untreated, this is the material you can see in the photo above (left side).
The plate is then manually and painstakingly engraved by Kees to obtain a sort of “organic” design, complex, rich, and far from everything you have probably ever seen in a watch… However, instead of leaving this metal nude or simply rhodium-plated (like most movements), Kees then plays with acids and several techniques to oxidize the metal and coax out some incredible colours, ranging from yellows to greens or purples. Also, under the effect of this oxidation, some of the layers are more “attacked” meaning that some granularity and some textures appear. The same engraving process is applied to the gold hands, yet without the oxidation process.
The rest of this Psychedelic Tourbillon, mostly the case, remains very subtle, in order not to distract from the work done on the dial. The 40mm case is done in white gold and has a brushed matte finish. The crown is a bit more complex though, even if at first quite simple looking. It also results from Mokume Gane – a combination of white gold and silver mokume.
This Kees Engelbarts Psychedelic Tourbillon is a unique piece, hand-made and signed only on the back, just like any artist would do. If you feel interested by the world of Kees Engelbarts, whether this watch or one that you could have in mind, you can contact him through his website (kees.ch) or Facebook page.
And just to be sure you really understood how complex Kees’ work is, take a look at the video we did a few months ago: