Who Invented The Moonphase Watch?
When one considers that humans have been gazing at the night sky for millions 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 watch 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 mechanical component that tracked the lunar cycle persevered.
Around the 1500s, moon phase displays would once again reappear in German and Egnlish clocks
and, naturally, in wristwatches a couple of centuries later.
The simple mechanics of the moonphase indicator almost pale in comparison to the intricate engineering required for more sophisticated complications. In fact, if a watch or clock has an hour hand, a module to display the phases of the moon can easily be implemented.
How Do Moon Phase Watches 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 display that must be corrected every ~971 days. In the modern day, technology and computer modeling have allowed watchmakers to push the accuracy of the moon phase function 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.
How Do You Set A Moon Phase Watch?
Setting a moonphase watch is easier than one might think, however, some specific tools are needed to accomplish this.
First, you’re going to need a pusher tool. Most moon phase watches include these tools in their box set. If you’ve misplaced yours, a toothpick should do the trick while preventing accidental scratches or gouges to your watch.
Next, you need to locate the small dimple on the flank of the watch’s case. This small “button” is what you will depress with your tool to cycle the indicator through the lunar cycle to the correct setting. It’s possible that your watch has more than one of these buttons, so reference the owner’s manual to ensure you’re pressing the right button, otherwise, you may inadvertently change the date on a perpetual calendar or other complication.
Moonphase Complication Adjuster. Image: Rolex.com
Lastly, you need to know the current phase, and glancing at the actual moon in the night sky is simply not going to cut. Instead, visit MoonGiant.com to get an accurate idea.
Once you know what phase of the moon you want to set your watch to, you need to work your way from either a full moon or a new moon until the correct setting. Starting with the indicator at either of these, you’re going to press the button on the side of the case as many times as there are days between the new moon/full moon until your current day.
For instance, if the new moon was 10 days ago, you should set your moonphase indicator to new moon and then press the button 10 times. Similarly, if the full moon was 5 days ago, you should set the watch to full moon and then press the button 5 times to set it to the current phase.
This explanation is quite general though it should work for most moonphase timepieces. You should always reference the owner’s manual as well as the seller of the watch for help if you still can’t set the watch yourself.
Top Moonphase Watches
1. Patek Philippe Nautilus 5726/1A
Image: Patek Philippe
The Nautilus 5726/1A has made its way to the top of our list and not just because it’s a Patek Philippe. 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 more than 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. Indeed, what kind of astronaut needs to be aware of the phase of the moon as viewed 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.
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.
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.
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
Other Moonphase Watches By Price Point
The prices indicated below are the MSRP unless otherwise noted.
Moonphase Watches Under $10,000
- Cartier Drive De Cartier Moon Phase Watch – $7,850 [Browse On eBay/Amazon]
- Girard-Perregaux 1966 Date And Moon Phases – $9,200 [Browse On eBay/Amazon]
- Glashutte Original Senator Panorama Date Moon Phase – $9,900 [Browse On eBay/Amazon]
Moonphase Watches Under $5,000
- Longines Master Collection 44mm Automatic With Moon Phase – $3,900 [Browse On eBay/Amazon]
- Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonphase 3576.50.00 – $3,000-5,000 [Browse On eBay/Bob’s Watches]
- Omega Speedmaster Moon Phase 3575.20.00 – $3,500-5,000 [Browse On eBay/Bob’s Watches]
Moonphase Watches Under $2,000
- Baume & Mercier Clifton Automatic Moonphase Chronograph 10328 – $1,995 (Pre-Owned) [eBay]
- Oris Artelier Complication 01 781 7729 4031 – $1,730 (Gray Market) [eBay]
- Oris Pointer Moon Date 01 761 7691 4051 – $1,655 (Gray Market) [eBay]
Moonphase Watches Under $1,000
- Certina DS-8 Chronograph Moon Phase – $850 [Browse On eBay/Amazon]
- Orient Sun And Moon Version 2 – $230 [Browse On eBay/Amazon]
- Sea-Gull Classic Moonphase Automatic M308S – $550 [eBay]
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 exist. 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: