Watchmakers pay tribute to the night sky with moonphases

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 April, 2015, 12:12pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 April, 2015, 12:26pm

The night skies have always held a particular fascination for those who have sought to measure time. Besides the joy that can come from gazing at heavenly bodies, there were technical needs that required the ability to plot, time and predict what was going on overhead and when. 

In modern times, the night sky that appears on watches as a moonphase display is more a badge of honour for the abilities of the watchmaker and the tastes of the watch enthusiast. This popular complication is far more intricate to create than one might expect. 

The watch mechanism works on standard rotations of 60 seconds per minute, 60 minutes per hour, 24 hours per day. The way the moon moves across our skies and the way in which it changes shape based on the shadow of the earth are two completely separate schedules from timekeeping, just as the day and date aren't constant either - 30 days one month, 31 in others, then a leap year to make things even more challenging. 

Watches have precisely designed and created gears and wheels that have adjustments based on different schedules. Any paper almanac or smartphone app can tell you if the moon is full or not so that historical data can be projected out for generations, while modern technical abilities make the production of the tiny watch gears more accessible and consistent. 

Esteemed Geneva watchmaker Patek Philippe uses its 175th anniversary to launch an amazing new moonphase complication. The World Time Moon's reference 5575G in white gold for men and 7175R in rose gold and diamonds for ladies take the maker's already coveted world time complication launched in the 1930s and put in a moonphase display in the centre of the dial using the calibre 240 HU LU. The golden moon travels in a circle orbiting the centre of the watch set against a night sky of golden stars on a sapphire crystal disc. The gentleman's watch is limited to 1,300 pieces and the ladies' watch to 450 pieces. All are engraved with special lettering on the caseback commemorating 175 years of Patek Philippe.

A deeply complicated moonphase for ladies comes from Breguet in its Reine de Naples line. This oval-shaped family of watches is inspired by an early bracelet watch that Abraham-Louis Breguet created for Napoleon Bonaparte's sister Caroline, the queen of Naples. The new moonphase reference 8998BB/11/874 D00D uses a Breguet wheel to represent the sunset against a deep blue disc with a full moon and contrasting white clouds. Rather than being hidden completely, the moon goes below a semicircle bridge that shows the numerals from 10 to 2 for the blue Breguet hands that are slightly below centre of the watch dial. This reference is in white gold with diamonds set in the bezel, dial flange and crown, and is also available in rose gold.

IWC recently released a version of its classic Portofino as a midsized wristwatch, pairing the moonphase complication with a new choice of faces and cases, all with diamonds. 

The Portofino Midsize Automatic Moonphase is available in steel with a white mother-of-pearl dial on a dark blue Santoni alligator strap that works well with the full circle of the night sky at the 12 o'clock position. Other combinations include red gold with white mother-of-pearl and a more traditional half-moon sky of blue, and white gold with black lacquer, again with a full-circle sky. Both versions have black Santoni alligator straps. Another red gold model with white mother-of-pearl uses a Milanese mesh red gold bracelet.

The Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage Moonphase is a classically designed and clean wristwatch that uses faceted hands of dauphine shape and a bombe dial with a sunburst finish for a very elegant look. 

A sub-dial at 6 o'clock uses a blue pointer to tell the date, while the two other hands are gold or silver to match the gold or steel cases on offer. 

The moonphase is a traditional half-circle aperture within the upper half of the date sub-dial and shows a gold moon and stars on a field of deep blue.