When you think skeleton watches, you probably have in mind old school, traditional and rather loaded watches, full of decorum, arabesques and engravings. Yes, these types of watches are nice but certainly not modern. It isn’t the kind of timepiece you want to adorn on a weekend at beach or with sneakers and short sleeves. When it comes to find a skeletonized watch with a modern and casual approach, potential candidates are very limited but you’re probably aware of one, which we showed you several times here: Armin Strom. In order to experience the combination of skeletonization and high-end watchmaking with a sporty approach, we wanted to review the Armin Strom Skeleton Pure – and we went for the sportiest one, the Air, with a titanium case.
Brief History of Armin Strom and details about the brand
Armin Strom was founded by Mister Armin Strom, born in 1938. After obtaining a degree in watchmaking, he opened his first business in 1967, a watch store in the old city of Burgdorf, next to Bern, Switzerland. Besides selling and restoring watches, he soon began to create his own timepieces, in a workshop behind the salesroom. His first masterpiece was a gold pocket watch with hand-engraved movement. It is in 1983 that the true DNA of Armin Strom started, when he introduced his first skeleton watch – something that later became the hallmark of the brand. In 1991, Armin Strom even entered the Guinness Book of Records with the smallest hand-skeletonized watch. Aware of Mister Strom skills, several major brands went to him in order to create skeletonized watches.
Armin Strom, as a brand, was born in 2006, when the company was incorporated. Not only the brand was created but also the concept of the actual collection and the idea of a modern manufacture. In 2008, owner Serge Michel and director Claude Greisler decided to develop their own in-house movement and in 2009, the new manufacture was inaugurated, in order to build the new Calibre ARM09. This was the real starting point of the actual Armin Strom collection, which now relies mainly on modern skeletonized watches, with high-end finishes and in-house movements.
Overall concept of the Armin Strom Skeleton Pure Air
Overall, let’s be honest; the Armin Strom Skeleton Pure Air is not a watchmaker’s watch. Breath in, breath out. There’s absolutely no offense in this statement. What has to be heard here is something different from a game of complications, meaning a watch that is impressive because of its technical features. There’s none here. Yes, the Armin Strom Skeleton Pure is a simple watch, in terms of display. It’s a 3 hander (hours / minute / small second) with, as only complication, a indication of the power reserve (but yes, a very long power reserve…). Don’t expect here to see the inspiration of a watchmaker – and here the name watchmaker should be heard as someone who develops a movement and the complications that it features. The Armin Strom Skeleton Pure is in fact a finisher’s watch (what French people call a finisseur) because all its magnificence is in the work done to make this calibre look superb, aerial, sculptural and worthy of being called a “haute horlogerie” movement.
The beauty of the Armin Strom Skeleton Pure Air comes from the work done on skeletonization, anglage, polishing and assembly. Not that this movement isn’t technically interesting but what sets it apart is its execution. And the best comes from the association into a watch that is far, very far from being traditional and dressy – and when you say “skeletonized”, “bevelled angles” or “haute horlogerie”, you immediately have in mind dress watches. Not here. Tidy the tuxedo up, take out your sneakers and sweaters. The Armin Strom Skeleton Pure will be your connoisseur’s weekend watch. You don’t see it often and that’s properly enjoyable.
Case and Strap of the Armin Strom Skeleton Pure
If you remove the skeletonized movement from the equation, the Armin Strom Skeleton Pure has all the attributes of a sports watch. To accentuate even further the contrast between the overall concept of this watch and its impressive movement, we chose to go for the Air edition – the Fire edition, because of its gold case, looks more dressy. Here, we have a case in brushed titanium, something that usually is the appanage of rugged and toolish watches. Finishing of the case on the other hand isn’t as raw as the material let you think. Amin Strom uses grade 5 titanium, a specific alloy that allows to have mirror polishings (on the contrary of the usual and cheaper grade 2 that can only be brushed or satined). Here, the case is enlighten with polished chamfers, which brings the right dosage of refinement.
The shape of the case is the same as all the other watches of the collection, a sort of signature – a common thread that helped the brand to create a DNA. This case is rather large – 43.40mm – and thick – 13.00mm – and the lugs are not short either. However, once strapped, it remains easily wearable, balanced and, even if not made to be hidden under a cuff, it never felt problematic. On the other hand, such a watch deserves presence on the wrist, considering the overall sporty, modern and masculine concept (and you have to consider the size of the movement too… We’re not in front a small one). Last detail: the lip positioned at 6 o’clock on the bezel. This lip can be used by future clients to engrave their initials, a logo or a number…
Comfort is also enhanced by the strap. Not only it is supple but it’s also highly original – something that all the Armin Strom watches have in common. Straps are too often underestimated but here, it participates to the look of the watch. It’s thick, it is made in alligator horn-back leather (in dark grey to match the case and the movement) but it’s extremely pleasant to wear. Despite it’s strong visual character and the boldness of its design, the Armin Strom Skeleton Pure Air is friendly on the wrist.
Dial and hands of the Armin Strom Skeleton Pure Air
A dial? What dial? Indeed, there’s no real dial in the Armin Strom Skeleton Pure Air – and that’s a common fact with entirely skeletonized watches. Well, if there’s somewhere we should’t judge the quality of Armin Strom watches, it would on dials. The entire collection is indeed composed of skeletonized watches and thus, dials are not their real speciality. Again, no offense, it’s part of the concept. However, on the contrary of some skeletonized watches that don’t even feature a track to read time – like this one for instance – Armin Strom decided to integrate tracks, in a way that leaves the view on the movement. Thus, on top of this skeletonized calibre, we can see transparent sapphire rings to determinate the exact hours and minutes. Another ring circles the small second and the power reserve. in certain situations, these rings are entirely transparent, in some others they slightly reflects light, increasing visibility on the indications.
As usual with Armin Strom, the main track for the hours and minutes is slightly off-centered – positioned on the left side, to follow the position of the axis of the hands. The small second hand is very simple (a polished baton) and so is the power reserve indicator (a small arrow with a red tip – simple but clear). The main hands are large, sporty and original in their shape. Both are largely filled with white luminous paint, for a good night-time readability.
However, we have to note a potential lack of day-time legibility. Indeed, the hands are made in white metal (polished stainless steel) and, in the case of the Armin Strom Skeleton Pure Air (this isn’t the case on the Fire Edition), the elements of the movement (gears, wheels and bridges) are rhodium plated – thus, hands and background are in the same colour. There’s clearly a lack of contrast that can be troublesome in certain conditions. A point that Armin Strom should rework. What is however a feast for the eyes is the view through the movement – yes not a view on the movement but through… you can properly dive in it.
The movement of the Armin Strom Skeleton Pure Air
Well, you’ve guessed it… here comes the masterpiece of the Skeleton Pure Air: its superb movement. Before going into the look and finishing, let’s first talk specifications. This Calibre ARM09-S is large – it measures 36.6mm – and it features two barrels – that can be seen through the dial at 1 and 5 – and that deliver 8 days of power reserve. Clearly, this is a very comfortable reserve of energy, which allows you to forget your watch during an entire week, pick it up for the weekend and it will still be running. For the rest, this hand-wound movement remains rather simple, with only the display of the time and the indicator of energy. Its escapement is a bit old-school as running at 3Hz (18,000vph) but nicely executed.
Thus, the amazement isn’t in the specs but rather in the execution, the design, the conception and the finissage. First, keep in mind that Calibre ARM09-S is a real in-house movement, designed, developed, finished and assembled by Armin Strom, in their own manufacture. It makes sense because when you look at it, you can immediately feel the smartness of its conception. On the contrary of numerous skeletonized movements, we here talking about a calibre designed from scratch to be opened. Thus, it explains the architecture, both modern and technical, achieved by Armin Strom. All starts with the main plate – visible in matte anthracite grey in the movement – with its complex shape. On top of it are attached all the technical elements (barrels, gear train, escapement) and the bridges. All are here rhodium plated.
What impresses most is how technical, almost architectural and opened this movement is. It’s far from being traditionally skeletonized. Then, it’s lively. Of course, you’ll see the escapement beating. But there’s also the winding operations and then, when turning the crown, you’ll see an impressive ballet of the wheels over the barrels turning in opposite directions and you’ll see the springs winding into the barrels. Very cool!
And finally, there’s the finishing. All the bridges, the wheels (especially the barrels’ wheels, with their 6-spoke in-house design) are chamfered by hand and highly polished, contrasting with the straight graining on flat surfaces. You’ll be able to enjoy multiple internal angles, proving the haute horlogerie pedigree of the Armin Strom Skeleton Pure Air (these kinds of details can only be achieved by hand). Overall, whether you look at this movement from the dial or through the sapphire caseback, it is superbly finished.
Conclusion about the Armin Strom Skeleton Pure Air
Our journey with the Armin Strom Skeleton Pure Air was highly surprising. The strength of this watch is clearly to combine two opposite concepts: a haute horlogerie skeletonized movement, entirely in-house and hand made, with the look and feel of a sports watch. Many tried it, few achieved it – and Armin Strom mastered this blend. All comes from the smartness of conception of the movement and from the beauty of its design. Such a level of integration between a design and a calibre can only be achieved when done in-house – and here comes the answer to the question “why in-house matters?”.
The Armin Strom Skeleton Pure Air matches words that are usually not best friends: aerial, technical, internal angles, rugged, sporty, bold, perfectly finished… The best of both worlds. Each part feels well conceived or adapted to the concept and it makes this watch a very balanced cocktail of casual piece and connoisseur piece. Is this watch perfect? Certainly not, as there’s room for improvement in terms of legibility. Then, with such a diameter, it deserves to be assumed as a highly masculine piece. Finally, at 35,400 Swiss Francs, and for a 3-hander in titanium, it’s quite an investment – justified of course by the work on the movement… but still, it requires to be explained. But overall, what a piece of modern horology.
- the perfect balance between sports attitude and haute horlogerie
- the smart conception of the movement, made to be opened from scratch
- the superb finishing
- the comfort on the wrist
- the strap
- day-time legibility could be better – Armin Strom should reconsider the contrast between hands and movement
- the size, possibly a bit too large for some
- the price – quite an investment for a 3-hand titanium watch
The Armin Strom Skeleton Pure exists in 4 other editions: Water (stainless steel case, blue movement, 32,400 CHF), Earth (PVD steel case, black movement, 32,400 CHF), Fire (pink gold case, brown movement, 45,400 CHF) and in white gold (white gold case, grey and blue movement, 43,200 CHF). You can see all the collection here.