The moonphase: the enduring and enchanting appeal of this poetic watch complication

The moonphase: the enduring and enchanting appeal of this poetic watch complication

Sheer lunacy

Text: Karishma Tulsidas

There are some watch complications that are simply functional: the date, for instance, or even the chronograph. Watchmakers have certainly attempted to sex them up, but let's be honest, an aperture that features a jumping date simply isn't exciting. On the other end of the spectrum, there are some complications that are not as helpful as the date, but add an enchanting element to the dial - tourbillons and moonphases come to mind. It's no surprise, really, that watchmakers have fallen for the charms of the moon, and have sought to recreate its likeness on their dials. The moonphase is truly where the watchmaking atelier's artistic skills and technical mastery collide, as it is as much an exercise in design as it is in mechanical savoir-faire.

A brief history
The tracking of the moonphase was invented even before the clock - back in 205BC, the Greek conceptualised this ground-breaking mechanism called the Antikythera, which could record the position of the moon and known planets, and the day, month and year. Before the advent of clocks, the moon would indicate the passage of time, and was useful for nautical travellers to determine the tide.

The moonphase has remained in the watchmaking lexicon since then, and has become an anachronistic pleasure in the galaxy of horology - how many of us actually look to our mechanical watch to determine the waxing and waning of earth's satellite? Still, watchmakers continue to launch new iterations of the moonphase: some tinkering with its appearance, others with its technical engineering.

The thing is that lunar cycles usually last about 29.53 days, and the traditional gear system engineered by watchmakers was only accurate for two years, seven months and two weeks. Punctilious watchmakers of course could not bear such an atrocity, and engineered smarter accuracy solutions. The moonphase's current and most common avatar, used by many high-end watchmakers, is now accurate for 122 years. Some boast an even longer lifespan longer, as in the case of Andreas Strehler who built a moonphase accurate for 2 million years - just remember to leave a note for the great-great-great-great-grandkids.  

Lunar calendar
While a number of watchmakers have tackled the complication and have engineered their own iteration of the moonphase, it has evolved into an expression of the brand's creativity. Some watchmakers, like Blancpain and Stepan Sarpaneva, have depicted the moon in a cheeky manner. The former's version of the moon reminds us of a sassy emoji, with a side-eyed glance and a cherubic demeanour. Sarpaneva's is modelled after his own face, with exaggerated features engraved upon a gold disk, as seen above.

Others borrow from the mid-century Bauhaus style, featuring a gilded circular moon and stars - eloquent, yet undeniably pretty. Some seek realism, and have emulated the craters on the moon. Regardless its many avatars, the moon adds undeniable poetic appeal to the timepiece.