Although they may not be totally necessary, the moonphase can easily be considered one of the most captivating complications in the world of horology. For this reason, prestigious watch brands continue to offer them and we, the watch aficionados, remain fascinated year after year.
In its own right, a moonphase aperture can be the centerpiece of a watch dial. Likewise, it may also be balanced by the registers of other complications. In fact, moonphases are traditionally a component of perpetual calendar watches.
Within this page, we will be reviewing the history of the moonphase, giving a conceptual overview on how they work, and then presenting our top picks from various brands:
Best Moonphase Watches
- Patek Philippe Moonphase Nautilus – Adding romance to the sporty Patek Nautilus
- Omega Speedmaster Moonphase – A different (better looking?) type of “moonwatch”
- Rolex Cellini Moonphase – Rolex’s take on this exquisite complication
- IWC Moonphase Big Pilot “Le Petit Prince” – IWC pushes the Big Pilot model to new limits
- Longines Master Collection Chrono w/ Moon Phase – Affordable moonphase watch from Longines
- Hermès Arceau L’Heure De La Lune – Innovative moonphase display released at SIHH 2019
The links above can be used to jump directly to each model.
Alternatively, continue reading for the full experience. We’ve focused on models that highlight the fact that a moonphase can be sporty or dressy. It can be coupled with a constant-force tourbillon just as well as with a retrograde date, and seem appropriate in both settings.
See Bespoke Unit’s Watch Reviews
Who Invented The Moonphase?
When one considers that humans have been gazing at the night sky for hundreds of thousands of years, it’s no surprise that at some point we’d attempt to model it mechanically on earth. Unfortunately, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly who invented the moonphase, though we can look back and trace its origin.
In the earliest examples, the moon accompanied the sun and other known planets in astronomical clocks. As the geocentric theory lost popularity, these clocks likewise faded, though the moonphase tracking component persevered.Around the 1500s, it would once again reappear in English and German clocks and, naturally, in wristwatches a couple of centuries later.
The simple mechanics of the moonphase almost pale in comparison to the intricate engineering required for more sophisticated complications. If a watch or clock has an hour hand, a moonphase module can easily be implemented.
How Does A Moonphase Watch Work?
Given the moon’s ~29.5-day cycle, a gear must be crafted with 59 teeth (29.5 x 2, since you can’t have a .5 gear tooth). This disc will shift once per day with 24 rotations of the hour hand, and complete one full rotation after exactly 59 days.
The disc must also be adorned by two moons for the two cycles. Overlaying the moon disc we generally have the dial acting as a sort of stencil, with two half-circles that imitate the waning and waxing of the moon.
The simple method mentioned above produces a moonphase model that must be corrected every ~971 days. In the modern day, technology and computer modeling have allowed watchmakers to push the accuracy of moonphases to new limits. Therefore, with perfection as the objective, this error rate is absolutely ludicrous.
The goal is unchanged, yet the accuracy and the means of achieving it are ever-evolving. Inventive watchmakers have crafted movements that only need to be adjusted once every 122, 1000, and even millions of years. Similarly, as we will see later on, different watch manufacturers have employed different techniques, materials, and attention to detail to produce a wide gamut of moonphase displays.
Altogether, it appears that the moon that has fascinated us hanging in the night sky will continue to do so on our wrists.
Top Moonphase Watches
1. Patek Philippe Nautilus 5726/1A
The Patek Philippe Nautilus 5726/1A has made its way to the top of our list, and not just because of its recent release at Baselworld 2019. The Nautilus model line in general has seen an explosion in popularity essentially unmatched by any other model. So much so, they’ve become almost unobtainable.
Unless you’ve got the cash, of course. They’re trading at double their retail price on the secondhand market. The 5726/1A, a close relative of the Nautilus 5711, is a step above its brethren with an annual calendar complication.
In this case, the moonphase aperture is perfectly balanced by the calendar apertures across the dial. A very sporty watch, and one which has now been thrust even further into that realm by its integrated bracelet, is elevated to elegance by its complication.
- Brand – Patek Philippe
- Model – Nautilus Moonphase (see on Patek’s site.)
- Reference – 5726/1A
- MSRP – $45,930
2. Omega Speedmaster Moonphase Master Co-Axial
Our second best moonphase pick may reveal that we’re a bit biased toward time-tested models enhanced with complications for dubious applications. What kind of astronaut needs to be aware of the phase of the moon back on Earth?
Regardless, the Omega Speedmaster Moonphase Moonwatch is a truly beautiful watch. Once more, the Speedmaster essence has evolved and now is augmented by additional date and moonphase complications.
The highlight here may just be that, the moonphase. The actual illustration of the moon is strikingly realistic. Not to be overlooked are the blue ceramic tachymetric bezel and blue sunray dial, both of which are stunning as well.
While seemingly out of place, the moonphase complication actually adds to the romance of a Speedmaster. A timepiece historically linked to space now bears a picture of it on its face – that’s kind of poetic.
- Brand – Omega
- Model – Speedmaster Moonwatch Master Chronometer Moonphase Chronograph (see on Omega’s site.)
- Reference – 304.33.44.52.03.001
- MSRP – $10,600
3. Rolex Cellini Moonphase
While Rolex makes arguably the most recognizzable wristwatches on Earth, they’re not necessarily known for pushing the limit when it comes to complications.
Yet there are times when Rolex shows a soft side. They give us a peek into their creative nature. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen often.
When it comes to Submariners, Daytonas, and GMT-Masters, Rolex rarely goes out of the box with style changes. This should not be interpreted as negative, though. The staple Rolex models are marvelous, timeless designs and Rolex has known exactly how to drive their evolution.
But with the Cellini line, the creative geniuses at Rolex are seemingly given a bit more latitude. And when this happens, we get masterpieces like the Rolex Cellini Moonphase.
Even when they create a moonphase complication, one that’s not considered their bread and butter, Rolex performs impeccably. Markedly, they put forth a blue enamel moon disc with a meteorite moon. Yes, actual meteorite. From space.
The execution is flawless. There’s no doubt we don’t wish Rolex would make more watches like these. On the other hand, the exclusive nature makes them that more special when they’re released.
- Brand – Rolex
- Model – Cellini Moonphase
- Reference – 50535
- MSRP – $26,750
4. IWC Big Pilot Constant-Force Tourbillon Edition “Le Petit Prince”
Like Omega, IWC is well-versed in crafting hefty model names. Also, the word “moonphase” isn’t even in there. Maybe this alludes somewhat to the part that the moonphase plays in this model.
The constant-force tourbillon is the main event. Flanking it on the radiant blue dial are a power reserve at 4:30 and the moonphase at 1. Surrounding the dial is a watch case crafted in what IWC calls “18-carat hard gold”, reportedly a more durable variant of 5N red gold.
In this instance, the moonphase complication plays a secondary role. Even then, it holds a secret. The moon illustration present is, at closer look, not a normal one.
In its place is an illustration reminiscent of the watch’s source of inspiration, the Le Petit Prince book. A boy can be seen standing on the golden moon within the complication aperture.
While not the center of attention, the moonphase still plays a critical role in this limited edition IWC Big Pilot. At the same time that it adds dial symmetry, it also brings a touch of class to an already modern wristwatch.
- Brand – IWC
- Model – Big Pilot Constant-Force Tourbillion “Le Petit Prince” (see on IWC’s site)
- Reference – IW590303
- MSRP – $250,000
5. Longines Master Collection Chronograph With Moon Phase
This Longines Master Collection is the most affordable moonphase watch on our list. Still, the company that this automatic moonphase keeps should speak volumes of its quality.
Which in turn speaks to Longines as a whole. The brand produces consistently desirable watches, of all styles and in all categories, and at competitive price points.
This Master Collection automatic moonphase watch is no different. Once more the moonphase complication is more of a component of the whole calendar rather the point of focus. And once more, it brings its own subtle element of luxury.
The remaining calendar components, along with the chronograph functionality, make for a handsome and refined timepiece.
- Brand – Longines
- Model – Master Collection Chronograph With Moon Phase (see on Longines’ site.)
- Reference – L27734783
- MSRP – $3,550
6. Hermès Arceau L’Heure De La Lune
The Hermès brand generally makes bigger waves in our men’s fragance section, yet their latest SIHH 2019 watch release was impossible to omit from our list.
The Arceau L’Heure De La Lune boasts an inventive moonphase display unlike any of the ones on our list, and unlike most moonphase watches out there.
Let’s begin with the fact that we have an indication of the moonphase specific to the hemisphere you may be situated in. The realistic moon discs themselves are actually static, too.
What moves to cover them, and therefore indicate the moon phase, are the mother-of-pearl dials, one of which holds the time while the other records the date. The dial, either in meteorite or aventurine depending on the version, offers a dark and complex background making for clear legibility.
The creative moon and time display are protected by a sleek 18K white gold case. The case itself, characterized by the design of the lugs, is 43mm in diameter. This Hermès Arceau is not too big, not too small, and most importantly, not too expensive, considering that this kind of complication under any other brand would easily command a $50,000+ retail price.
- Brand – Hermès
- Model – Arceau L’Heure De La Lune
- MSRP – $25,500
Moonphase Watches By Price Point
Prices indicated are the MSRP unless otherwise noted.
Moonphase Watches Under $10,000
- Cartier Drive De Cartier Moon Phase Watch – $7,850
- Girard-Perregaux 1966 Date And Moon Phases – $9,200
- Glashutte Original Senator Panorama Date Moon Phase – $9,900
Moonphase Watches Under $5,000
- Longines Master Collection 44mm Automatic With Moon Phase – $3,900
- Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonphase 3576.50.00 – $3,000-5,000 (Pre-Owned)
- Omega Speedmaster Moon Phase 3575.20.00 – $3,500-5,000 (Pre-Owned)
Moonphase Watches Under $2,000
- Baume & Mercier Clifton Automatic Moonphase Chronograph 10328 – $1,995 (Pre-Owned)
- Oris Artelier Complication 01 781 7729 4031 – $1,730 (Gray Market)
- Oris Pointer Moon Date 1 761 7691 4051 – $1,655 (Gray Market)
Moonphase Watches Under $1,000
- Certina DS-8 Chronograph Moon Phase – $850
- Orient Sun And Moon Version 2 – $230
- Sea-Gull Classic Moonphase Automatic M308S – $550
From the varied selection of moonphase watches we’ve included, we imagine that at least one of these will help you answer the question “what moon phase is it tonight” without the need of an online search engine. That’s as long as you keep it wound, of course.
On a more serious note, moonphase watches are some of the more “romantic” complications that are available. And they just may play a part in you spending less time staring at a screen, and more time staring at your wrist. Maybe it’s because they’re just cool to look at, or maybe it’s cause celestial objects have always held an element of mystery and wonder for most of us.
Whatever the case, there’s no doubt that the watch brands included here, as well as the dozens of others left out, will continue hatching new horological creations and implementing the moonphase in novel new ways. If it means more watch content for us to consume, we’re just fine with that.
Do you have a favorite moonphase “grail” watch? Let us know in the comments! Also, check out our other watch pages below:
- Patek Philippe Brand History & Model Lines
- Review Of Longines Legend Diver On Mesh Bracelet
- German Watchmaking History & Top German Watch Brands
- All Of Our Luxury Watch Reviews
"One of the most alluring watch complications! Every collection needs at least one example of a well-executed moonphase."Rating: 5.0★★★★★