Mid-autumn festival – also known as mooncake festival – is celebrated annually on the 15th day of the eighth Chinese lunar month when the moon is at its fullest and brightest. Historically, the festival is associated with moon-worshipping and the completion of harvest. Today, it is mainly a time for family reunions, thanksgiving, moon-gazing, lanterns and of course, mooncakes.
As a child, mooncake festival meant two things to me: family time, and walking around in the courtyard at night with a candle-lit paper lantern. Eventually, I outgrew the colourful lanterns, but as the budding, sweet-toothed foodie in me would have it, I grew fond of mooncakes. These round, delectable pastries often come with all sorts of fillings ranging from the classic lotus seed or red bean paste, to the more contemporary (and somewhat bizarre) taro or durian paste.
And much like these mooncakes, moon phase watches come in many forms – some are bewildering, while others are downright bewitching. While the moon phase is arguably one of the least useful complications in horology today (alongside the equation of time and sky chart), it remains the most poetic and endearing of them all. There is just something whimsical about being reminded that even as we go about our daily lives, our favourite satellite is continuously and unfailingly orbiting the “Pale Blue Dot”, our planet. In conjunction with mooncake festival, I have compiled an incomplete list of 5 watches carrying the moon phase complication that have caught my eye and left me waxing lyrical. Without further ado:
Patek Philippe World Time Moon Reference 5575G
On the 14th of October 2014, Patek Philippe unveiled a collection of watches to commemorate the manufacture’s 175th anniversary. As one would expect, the limited edition commemorative collection was nothing short of breathtaking, for it included watches like the Chiming Jump Hour Reference 5275 and the Grandmaster Chime Reference 5175 which, at the time of writing, is the most complicated wristwatch ever produced by Patek Philippe. These are watches that would make the knees of all but the most stone-hearted watch enthusiasts go weak. But as amazing as the References 5275 and 5175 are, there is one watch from the commemorative collection that this writer feels is the most soul-stirring of the lot: the Patek Philippe World Time Moon Reference 5575G.
The world timer has long been one of Patek’s most iconic watches; nothing stirs up wanderlust and the romance of travel quite like it.
Marrying the iconic world time complication with the moon phase was a first for the Geneva manufacturer, and this inherently comes with a risk. But it had to be done. The moon was once relied upon by old-world explorers for navigation, so its pairing with the ultimate travel time complication – the world time – makes sense. The result of this union is an exceedingly poetic, and more importantly, well-received Reference 5575G.
The moon phase display of the Reference 5575G is located at the centre of the dial. It is composed of two very thin, superimposed discs of mineral glass. The lower disc, adorned with a large photo-realistic moon set in a star-studded night sky, completes a rotation in a lunar month. The fixed upper disc acts as a mask; its outline serves to reveal the changing visible portions of the moon. The heart-shaped design of this mask is rather ingenious as it allows for the phases of the moon to be depicted very realistically and accurately.
This special design also means that only one moon is required on the rotating disc as opposed to two in the traditional aperture/moon phase disc configuration.
Patek Philippe describes the Reference 5575G as a “voyage in time and space”, which sounds very Disney-esque but roughly boils down to: “nice watch bearing Geneva’s most famous world time mechanism and a novel, thoughtfully re-engineered moon phase display”. At the end of the day, regardless of what one thinks of Patek’s decision to make this a 1,300-piece “limited” edition, the Reference 5575G is a timepiece that is Patek through and through, and is worthy of a place in the 175th anniversary commemorative collection.
A. Lange & Söhne Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase
The Grand Lange 1 Moonphase is a 2014 novelty was not the first timepiece in the Lange 1 family to have a moon phase function, but it was the first to display the complication in a less-than-conventional spot on the dial. Instead of being relegated to the small seconds sub-dial as per convention, here, the moon phase display is elevated to the larger hours/minutes sub-dial and becomes the star of the show. A. Lange & Söhne is one of the best in the business when it comes to moon phase displays, so it makes sense for the Saxon manufacturer to let this astronomical complication take centre stage in one of its iconic Lange 1 watches.
Lange cuts no corners when it comes to the quality and aesthetics of the moon phase disc, which is made of solid gold. A patented blue coating that eliminates all non-blue hues of incident light is applied to the moon phase disc to create an intense blue tone for the eye to behold. A laser is then used to cut out 382 stars of various shapes and sizes, thus producing a glorious imagery of the night sky. As if that is not impressive enough, the moon phase display is also continuously-driven by the “hour-wheel continuum” and accurate to 122.6 years (instead of the standard once-a-day progression with 2.5 years accuracy), after which the display would only have to be corrected by one day.
It is quite sobering when you realise that the accuracy of this Grand Lange 1’s moon phase complication is destined to outlive you and possibly your children – all that’s left to do now is to find a way to keep the watch running without service for the next century or two (highly not recommended)!
A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar “Terraluna”
Next on the list is yet another 2014 novelty from A. Lange & Söhne. The Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar “Terraluna” is a timepiece par excellence, though it may not be immediately apparent.
As with the Tourbillon “Pour le Mérite” and the newly released Jumping Seconds models, the Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar “Terraluna” displays time on a regulator dial, inspired by the Chronometer No. 93 crafted by Dresden watchmaker Johann Heinrich Seyffert in 1807.
The instantaneously jumping perpetual calendar is displayed by means of 3 plain window cut-outs for the day, month and leap year indicators and of course, the iconic Lange outsize date. The twin mainspring barrels of the calibre L096.1 that powers the Terraluna provide a whopping 14-day power reserve, indicated by a disc housed within an arc cut-out at the bottom of the dial. The movement is also equipped with a constant force escapement which releases a set amount of energy every 10 seconds to ensure that the torque – and thus accuracy – remains consistent throughout the entire span of its long power reserve.
Up to this point, each important feature of the watch has been accounted for – all except the “Terraluna” bit.
For that, we have to take a look at the other side of the watch, where you will see a large display with an artistic representation of the Earth (Terra), the moon (Luna) and the celestial sphere, composed of 3 separate discs. This unique orbital moon phase display not only shows the phases of the moon but also depicts the relative location of the moon to the earth and the sun.
Now, you may be wondering where the sun is. Well, because the sun is the centre of the solar system, Lange poetically chose the balance wheel – considered to be the heart of any watch movement – to represent the sun! In addition, the 24-hour scale on the periphery of the display serves not only as a day/night indicator but also allows the observer to tell the approximate time in each location on the globe as the earth disc makes a full rotation every 24 hours. As an added bonus, this moon phase display also has an accuracy of 1,058 years before only a one-day adjustment is required. To put that into perspective, 1,058 years ago, the German king and first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Otto I the Great, was still alive and kicking. Just let that sink in.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre Sphérotourbillon Moon
Jaeger-LeCoultre is known by many street names in the watch world, the most prominent of which are “the Grande Maison of the Vallée de Joux”, and “the watchmaker’s watchmaker”. The truth is, Jaeger-LeCoultre is the kingpin when it comes to technical know-how and innovation, and nobody can dispute that. This was further enforced when the brand released the magnificent Duomètre Sphérotourbillon Moon at SIHH 2015.
The Duomètre series of watches embody what is called the “dual-wing concept”. This is Jaeger-LeCoultre’s elegant answer to the age-old problem of timekeeping versus additional complications. To ensure that the power available to the balance is as consistent as possible, two separate main spring barrels are utilised – one just to run the complications and one dedicated to powering the regulating organ. This way, timekeeping remains undisturbed by any activity of the complications.
The Duomètre Sphérotourbillon Moon features dual power reserve indicators, one for the time, the other for complications (naturally); flyback seconds, for accurate time-setting; a 24-hour indicator; a bi-axial tourbillon with a cylindrical balance spring; and of course a moon phase display. The contrast between the blue of the lapis lazuli and the gold of the moon on the moon phase disc is intensely beautiful, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that this is one of the most accurate moon phase displays around; this technical masterpiece is accurate to within one day every 3,887 years. I cannot imagine what the world would look like in three millennia but I do know that this moon phase display will, in theory, still be accurate!
One lesser known fact about this watch is that it doesn’t only depict the ever-changing phases of the moon – it also illustrates the precession of our beloved earth. You see, the earth rotates once a day around its rotational axis (which is tilted at about 23.4˚). This axis itself actually rotates (like a toppling top) and completes a rotation in about 26,000 years. The movement of the bi-axial tourbillon in the Duomètre Sphérotourbillon Moon enacts this phenomenon, albeit at a 20˚ tilt and a speed of 4 rotations/minute. Combine this with an aesthetically-pleasing, ultra-accurate moon phase display and you get a timepiece that truly is “poetry in motion”. The quarter-of-a-million-Euros price tag might put a crater into your wallet but let’s agree that this is an haute horlogerie timepiece where for once the price is actually less astronomical than the watch.
Blancpain Villeret Carrousel Moon Phase
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Blancpain is the carrousel. After being left in the wilderness for over a century, the carrousel was revived and brought back to the attention of the watch world by Blancpain with the unveiling of the world’s first flying carrousel on a wristwatch in 2008. The carrousel looks similar to the tourbillon at first glance and even shares the same goal of averaging the effects of gravity on the balance wheel. The distinction between the two mechanisms lies in their construction. In a nutshell, the carriage and escapement of the tourbillon are linked to the mainspring barrel by one gear train while in the carrousel, they are driven separately by their own gear trains. For a more detailed insight into the two mechanisms, I recommend reading this article by our chief editor.
As a whole, the Villeret Carrousel Moon Phase – which debuted in Baselworld 2014 – is a very charming, well-balanced dress watch.
True to the Villeret collection, the timepiece features a double-stepped case, hollowed feuille hour and minute hands, and a blued steel serpentine hand for the date.
To add to the exquisiteness, Blancpain ornates this piece with a cambered grand feu enamel dial. The thickness of the enamel dial can be appreciated by observing the edges of the apertures housing the star attractions: the carrousel and the moon phase display. The carrousel is located at the 12 o’clock position while the equally-iconic Blancpain moon phase display is located at 6 o’clock. According to Blancpain, just like the carrousel, the moon phase was facing a total eclipse until the manufacturer brought back the complication in the early 1980s.
In typical Blancpain fashion, a gilded moon with the trademark smiley visage adorns the moon phase disc in the Villeret Carrousel Moon Phase. One wonders if the Blancpain moon is smiling because of the number of terrible moon puns used in this article (three so far), but I digress. All in all, the Villeret Carrousel Moon Phase, with the appearance of two Blancpain icons on one dial, is a stunning timepiece that celebrates the contributions of the manufacturer to modern-day horology. Any Blancpain enthusiast would be over the moon to have this one in their private collection, of this I am sure.