Timepieces: Starry starry night
A number of interesting astronomical events have caught our attention this year. It seems that whenever you switch over to the news, or check your social media updates, there something happening in the skies above.
In September the so-called “blood-moon” lit up the skies as well as social media, while earlier in the year we saw NASA’s New Horizons probe sending back images of Pluto and news channels covering the total eclipses of both the moon and sun.
There is something particularly charming about the mysteries of the night sky, something the horological world watches explores better than most. It’s no surprise that timepieces that contain celestial elements – such as a moon phase display – remain popular around the world. It is as if the complex macrocosm of the starry skies finds the perfect expression in the microcosm of a wristwatch.
Since records began, mankind has grown evermore aware of the mathematical principals governing the movements of objects in space, and as our knowledge has deepened watchmakers have found ingenious ways of replicating this cosmic symphony in miniature form on our wrist.
The first wristwatch to have a moon phase complication is believed to be the Breguet Perpetual Calendar No. 4244, created in 1929. Before this model, however, these types of complications were regularly found in pocket watches and clocks. Famed watchmakers including Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Universal Genève and Breguet all created increasingly complex moon phase watches in the decades that followed, and since the way the movements of the moon, stars and planets are displayed on the dials of wristwatches has come a very long way indeed.
This article takes a look at some of the more remarkable examples:
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Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon
When it comes to watches that display the movements of the celestial spheres, you can’t ignore this one. Patek Philippe are the masters of grand complications. The Sky Moon Tourbillon is a masterpiece. Extremely complicated, and rare, this watch stands in a class of its own. The ref. 5002 dates back to 2001, and the ref. 6002 is more recent, but these complex designs are the culmination of years of engineering excellence.
The dial is made from a thin disk of gold, which is painstakingly crafted using a champlevé enameling process. The cratered surface of the moon is carefully crafted in shades of white, gray and black. The case is carved by hand from a white gold blank. Every detail is flawless, and the heavenly movement is accurately recreated.
A starry sky (Northern Hemisphere) decorates one side of the watch, while the other side shows the moon phase, sidereal time, and the meridian passage of Sirius. It is a notable work of art, and a fitting tribute to the harmony of the spheres. The price tag is set at way over $1 million.
Christian Van der Klaauw’s Planetarium watch
It has been called “the smallest planetarium in the world”. Boutique watchmaker, Christiaan van der Klaauw produces a very limited number of watches per year, but what he creates is remarkable. The small sub-dial tracks the movements of six planets throughout the year – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and all of it in real time.
“Goldfluss” or aventurine glass creates a star filled sky on the dial. The sub-dial contains the planetarium, with the Sun and Earth standing out from the other planets. Mercury, closest to the sun, completes one full orbit around it in a mere 87.97 days, while its slowest sister, Saturn, takes a full 29.46 years.
The Atelier where these watches were made is in Heerenveen, The Netherlands, where master watchmakers labor over every tiny detail with the greatest care. All van der Klaauw’s timepieces have at least one astronomical complication. This is his signature.
It is truly a remarkable watch, and I can’t wait to see what the Dutch masterminds come up with next. Who knows? Perhaps even Pluto might find its way into one of these designs in future.
Sarpaneva Watches’ Korona KO Northern Lights
There is more to the sky than the moon, stars, planets and sun. Solar activity triggers a reaction with the earth’s magnetic field, creating a magic show near the poles, from time to time – the Northern (and Southern) lights.
Finnish independent watchmaker Stepan Sarpaneva created a watch, taking inspiration from this natural magic show. What makes this timepiece so unique is the luminescence – a special process developed together with a Canadian company called Ambient Glow Technology. The entire dial lights up, instead of just the hands.
It comes in three color variations, and is set underneath the steel plate. There is also a moon phase complication, which incidentally, looks vaguely like the watch’s creator!
Citizen’s Astrodea Range
This is not a watch for just any stargazer. In fact, it comes with a 10 X magnifying glass, which is necessary to get the full benefit of the incredible detail on the dial. It rotates in real time and shows 1,109 stars and 169 cluster galaxies, and that’s not all. It indicates the equinox, sunrise and sunset, the meridian, ecliptic, and the list goes on.
If you’re an amateur (or professional) astronomer, this is the one for you. Other watches in the collection emohasize different aspects of the skies above – such as the Astrodea Moon Phase, which, as the name suggests, focuses on the moon.
Cyrus Klepcy’s Mars watch
In 2012 the Mars Rover landed, and started sending incredible images of the weird Mars landscape back to earth. It was a major achievement for us earthlings, and captured the imagination of the world.
Taking inspiration from the red planet, Cyrus Klepcy created this unique watch.
The miniature red planet, hand painted in detail, actually rotates at the same speed as the planet Mars itself. It is only 7.6 mm in diameter, and protected by a saphire cage. The dial also features the famous “face on mars” detail between the 9 and 10 –o-clock positions.
The Mars face was the subject of many oddball theories over the years, and adds a quirky touch to a great watch. Another nice touch is the engraving on the back of the case – it depicts the ancient legend of Cyrus on a winged horse setting out to conquer Mars. Only 33 of these watches were made.
All of these watches have one thing in common – they were inspired by the regular rhythms in the visible heavens. From the earliest moon-phase wristwatch, up to the super-complicated Sky Moon Tourbillon, and watches that feature the planet Mars, the imagination and prowess of these watchmakers is astounding. Watches hold a strange fascination for me.
As we delve ever more deeply into the mysteries of the cosmos, our understanding and our creative abilities will keep progressing. Just imagine what the future will hold for both watchmaking and astronomy. The sky is the limit!