12/03/2015
 3 minutes

Moonphase Watches – A Testament To Another Era Of Watchmaking

By Isaac Wingold
Chopard LUC Lunar Big Date
Chopard LUC Lunar Big Date

The moonphase has always been, and always will be, a special complication of sorts—one that holds a substantial amount of significance in the world of horology. While to some it may seem like just another interesting dial to look at on the face of your watch, in truth it is actually a testament to another era of watchmaking and a demonstration of a manufacture’s abilities and strengths. In the earliest days of this craft, horologists were ultimately constructing clocks and timepieces so that they could track the movement of the moon and celestial objects in order to learn more about the vast and mysterious world around them.

With that in mind, the fact that moonphase watches are still produced and celebrated today is quite special and deserves some recognition. Regardless of how you perceive your moonphase complication, questions about how a moonphase indicator is to be interpreted and how it functions often come up, and today we are going to answer them, along with a selection of manufactures that celebrate the moonphase complication in a way like no other.

How It Works

Before getting into the wide range of moonphase watches that are currently available for sale, let’s focus on the basics and figure out just how a moonphase works. Using a system of gears and cogs, a watchmaker will integrate an additional complication into a watch’s movement and make sure that an entire revolution of the system is equal to approximately 29 and a half days. Why? Because that is roughly how long it takes for the moon to complete a regular lunar cycle. For increased accuracy, some watchmakers will often choose to make the components used in displaying the moonphase larger, such that there is more room for progression in smaller increments.

Another pertinent matter when talking about moonphase complications is how to read them. Traditionally, a full moon is indicated when the moon is fully visible on the complication. When the moon is advancing to the left of its full position, it is waxing; when it is positioned to the right, it is waning. However, the way that a moonphase indicator is meant to be read is somewhat open to interpretation, as some watchmakers choose to make their moonphase pieces in new and exciting ways.

Alternative Independent Moonphase Watches

On the current watch market there are a few brands that are really producing excellent moonphase watches backed up by well-designed mechanics. Two independent brands that you could say are taking an alternative yet exciting approach to this type of complication are Sarpaneva and the Lucerne-based manufacturer of painstakingly simple timepieces, ochs und junior. Finnish watchmaker Stepan Sarpaneva has always been captivated with moonphases, and so he incorporates them into almost all of his highly limited, industrially inspired watches—but in a unique way. Instead of using a traditional moonphase design on the component, Sarpaneva has designed his own cartoon-esque moon face in pieces that feature it in small (Korona K0 Northern Lights) and big (Korona Moonshine) ways. His moon face has since become something of a brand icon. Ochs und Junior has taken a similar route with their moonphase, in that it is displayed in a crescent-shaped aperture with just a single circle to indicate the moon, becoming more full as it reaches the center of the crescent.

More Traditional Offerings

H. Moser & Cie Endeavour Perpetual Moon
H. Moser & Cie Endeavour Perpetual Moon, Image: H. Moser & Cie

On the other end of the spectrum, many watchmakers today choose to produce their moonphase timepieces in a more established and timeless manner while still managing to captivate the interest of collectors. The HM Perpetual Moon from Arnold & Son is a perfect example of such a piece. Though it is a classically designed and finished watch (complete with stepped lugs and a restrained, simple dial), what sets this piece apart from the rest is its detailed, massive moonphase indicator, with the physical moonphase disc measuring a whopping 29 mm. This indicator is then mirrored by another display on the movement itself, which makes for easier reading and setting using the pusher on the side of the case.

H. Moser & Cie also makes a “Perpetual Moon” of their own, but where this piece differs from the rest is that the moonphase must only be adjusted every 1,030 years—compared to the standard rate of 122.5 years. This tremendous accuracy, precision, and longevity was achieved through the use of Moser’s renowned and advanced in-house mechanics. The complication is produced in classic Moser style with a mysterious blue fumé dial.


About the Author

Isaac Wingold

Isaac is a photographer and author from Toronto with a passion for extraordinary timepieces. He covered a wide range of topics while writing for the Chrono24 Magazine …

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