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Moonphases: The Most Romantic Complication?

May 03, 2018 by Tom Chng


noun / kɒm.plɪˈkeɪ.ʃən

​something that makes a situation more difficult, or the act of doing this


The moonphase indicator on the Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5712G. Discover it here.


Thankfully, that word isn't quite as negative in the world of horology. In horology, a complication refers to any feature in a timepiece beyond the simple display of hours and minutes. We’re more than familiar with the common ones: chronographs (measurement of elapsed time) and calendars, being the most practical functions on a day to day basis.


The Frederique Constant Manufacture Heart Beat boasts a moonphase display, date, and a 24 hour indicator. Discover it here.


The Uselessness of the Moonphase Indicator

The moonphase indicator on a timepiece is not a practical one. It displays the age of the moon, as it waxes and wanes - a highly important function if you’re a werewolf, not so much otherwise.


Why a moonphase indicator is so utterly useless:

  1. The age of the moon hardly matters to anyone, anymore.

  2. The phase of the moon can be easily learned by, well, looking up at a certain big shiny orb in the night sky.


Don’t get me wrong. I adore this complication.

Am I a lunartic?



The moon is a poetic subject. There are countless tales surrounding the moon. The moon is our closest celestial friend. Every once in a blue moon, we find ourselves looking up and admiring its beauty. That familiar yellowish glow, a sense of guardianship over an otherwise cold stage of darkness. Whatever your faith and culture, historical occurrences have been marked in some relation to the lunar rhythm. It is natural that our fascination brought it onto our clocks and watches.


The Zenith El Primero Chronomaster Open Grande Date Moon & Sun Phase takes the complication further by staging the moon over a dramatic day and night indicator: making a full revolution every 24 hours, gradually changing from a deep blue starry night sky to a cream coloured backdrop. Discover it here.



The moonphase complication is probably the prettiest complication of them all. It’s artistic, and visually compelling. More often than not, you’ll never really know exactly how deep you are into a lunar cycle save for a new or full moon. Does it matter?


The highly ornate moonphase indication on the Vianny Halter Janvier Classic.

The texture of the moon’s surface carefully hammered by hand onto a high polished surface.


Elaborate thought and design have gone into the animation of this complication, also granting watchmakers the opportunity to demonstrate their artisanal prowess. From rotating discs, to sculpted radial hands, the complication now comes in a wide variety of forms.


De Bethune’s signature moonphase indication comes in the form of a mirror polished sphere: half palladium and half blued steel.


Technical Innovation

A lunar cycle lasts 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 2.8 seconds. Most watches (with a 59 teeth moonphase wheel) run a 29.5 day lunar cycle which is highly accurate, considering the grand scheme of things. It will only be off by one full day every two years, seven and a half months, assuming the watch ticks uninterruptedly throughout which is obviously unrealistic.


The Chopard L.U.C. Lunar One features a more complex and precise astronomical moonphase, driven by a 135 teeth wheel reducing inaccuracy to just one day every 122 years. Discover it here.


Some watchmakers are not contented with a mechanism that requires one adjustment every 2 and a half years, and have chosen to challenge this ‘perfection’. The record for most precise phase of the moon indication ever built in a wristwatch belongs to Andreas Strehler’s Sauterelle à Lune Perpétuelle: good for approximately 2.045 million years. Eclipsing any other system prior.


The Glashütte Original PanoMaticLunar is one of the most iconic timepieces with a moonphase indicator. Discover it here.


Concluding Thoughts

Having no use for practicality, the moonphase complication was free to be explored both artistically and technically. Exhibiting excellence in both beauty and innovation unrivalled by any other complication.


Disclaimer: All moon puns intentional and the author is un-Apollo-getic.

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