Unlike the celestial body whose movement it tracts, moonphases aren’t just to be worn when the sun goes down
Zenith Elite Lady Moonphase
As humans we are fascinated by the moon. We strove to land on it; we’ve used it to navigate our place in the world and we’ve put its face on watch dials as moonphases.
As with most complications, bar chronographs and calendars, the moonphase’s usefulness to a modern watch wearer is pretty slim. We don’t navigate our journeys by the heavens anymore (though, at times, that it might be more reliable option than Apple Maps), but it is still a complication that endures, probably due its romantic notions and connections to time measurements early days.
It is thought that an Ancient Greek mechanism called the Antikythera, which was recovered at the beginning of the 20th century, dates back to 100 BC and is the first analogue computer and orrery, was able to measure the moon’s cycle.
Fast-forward 600 years and, in the 16th century, the moophase complication as we would understand it, appeared on clocks, for the wealthy to use when planning journeys at night. From there it was downsized to fit onto pocket watches and then migrated onto wrist watches, where, although no longer relevant as a guide, it served as a reminder of the history of timekeeping.
Although usually combined with a perpetual calendar, for obvious reasons, there are many watches, particularly ones aimed at women, that exist to showcase the moonphase and few brands do it as well as Zenith.
Its Elite Lady Moonphase, which was launched this Baselworld in a smaller 33mm version, features diamonds, steel and mother-of-pearl but manages to do it in a way that doesn’t preclude everyday use. That it houses the Elite movement, Zenith’s lesser-lauded successor to the El Primero that was launched in 1991 and was the first watch movement designed by CAD, suggests it is more than capable of coping with the stresses and strains of modern life.
It’s quite a traditional take on a moonphase – the complication subdial is at six o’clock, which is usually where you’d find it – but the small seconds at nine o’clock transforms the design from the usual to the unusual.
Then there’s the added luminosity courtesy of the pearlescent dial and sinuously smooth chain-link bracelet, all of which adds up to a watch whose style stakes are definitely not on the wane.
Opting for a slightly less traditional take on the complication is the Piaget Limelight Stella. This is Piaget’s first-ever complicated watch made solely for women (yes, the Altiplano 900p did make many women’s wishlists but technically it was for both sexes) and also the winner of the Eve’s Watch award for Best Complication.
And it’s easy to see why it took home that award. The moonphase on this watch is larger than most – taking up almost the whole of the upper half of the dial’s inner ring and is also accurate to one day every 122 years. It houses the 584P, which has been designed entirely in-house by Piaget is its most complicated women’s movement to date.
The other beautiful feature is the trompe l’oeil caused by gradient size of the diamonds, which makes the dial appear as an oval inside a round case.
This year Bulgari has entered lunar landscape with the latest addition to its Lvcea collection and has opted for the very on-trend enlarged moon at the top half of the dial.
Explaining his reasoning for this, Fabrizio Buonamassa, chief watch designer for Bulgari says: “I’ve always thought that having a moonphase at six or nine o’clock makes the dial look strange and I wanted ours to be the main actor.”
And it certainly demands attention. The enlarged moon is set against an aventurine or ruby sky that is inset into a mother of pearl dial with diamond indices. Gone is the architecturally scaled bracelet that, on the original Lvcea, referenced the House’s iconic Serpenti, and is replaced here with a leather strap, to make this more of, in Buonamassa’s words, an “everyday watch.”
While these pieces are absolutely beautiful, their prices are a little sky high. However there are moonphases now available from brands without such lunatic prices.
Skagen’s take on the complication is as modernist and minimal as you’d expect from this Skandi brand, while Shinola’s Birdy Moon Phase is the sort of retro design you’d imagine gracing the wrist of one of Gatsby’s crew.
The key to making these stellar watches into a more casual proposition is to play up their roots in natural phenomena.
Team with butter soft tan leather bags, cotton trench coats and denim. You could even go as far as a pair of Stan Smiths.
The beauty of this style, though, is you just switch the trench for a velvet blazer, throw on a pair of bejewelled Blahniks and suddenly the moonphase’s celestial beauty comes to the fore and you’re ready to party the night away.