It’s hard to talk about the night sky without devolving into overly-poetic clichés but the fact remains that the intricate dance of solar systems and galaxies has fascinated us for millennia.
That said, unless you’re an astronomer or particularly devoted to your horoscope, you probably don’t consider the movement of the stars all that much on a day-to-day basis, especially when they’re so often hidden behind the orange glow or urbanity. Even so, that movement dictates something that everyone finds important: time.
It’s no wonder then that, as wistfully as we gaze up into the night sky, we’ve got nothing on watchmakers. It may take said watchmakers years of fine-tuning and weeks of solid work to create an astronomical masterpiece, but there’s certainly no shortage of these horological tributes to the night sky. Here is what we consider some of the best.
Lange & Sohne Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar ‘Terraluna’
Even in an astronomical watch Lange & Sohne keep their composure. Indeed the face of the Terraluna looks no different from its other classically-elegant contemporaries in the Richard Lange collection. Here you can see the hours, minutes, seconds, day, date and month – everything you could need on a daily basis. Flip it over however and the already exceptional watch becomes truly magnificent.
Rather than an intricately whirring movement, the caseback presents you with a celestial disc, complete with the Earth and the Moon. As the planet turns so too does its satellite denoting not just the position of the moon relative to the Earth but its phase as well. It’s beautiful, that much goes without saying but also a little irritating to set. Fortunately, provided you keep it wound you won’t need to for another 1,058 years.
Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight Planétarium
The night sky’s featured on many a Van Cleef & Arpels watch, particularly when it comes to their Poetic Wish pieces. Yet where most of those watches use the night sky as a backdrop, perhaps with a touch of wistful stargazing, the Midnight Planétarium lives up to its name and puts the celestial orbs front and centre.
Designed like a two-dimensional orrery, the dial of the watch maps out the solar system in a galaxy of semi-precious stones marking individual planets. The complication itself is actually designed by astronomical watch master Christiaan Van der Klaauw, but the execution is all Van Cleef & Arpels. Complete with a perpetual calendar and a key on the back to match the planets, it’s a dazzling tribute to the more poetic side of astronomy.
Christiaan Van Der Klaauw CVDK Planetarium
Given that the module Christiaan Van der Klaauw made for Van Cleef & Arpels was developed exclusively for the jeweller-come-watchmaker, we don’t feel too bad about giving him his own entry as well, particularly as he is the single most important name in astronomical watches. Granted that’s a niche field in a niche industry, but the point still stands. You can’t talk about one without mentioning the other.
This is arguably the pinnacle of the atelier’s craft. The namesake complication at 6 o’clock is the smallest in the world yet still manages a clear depiction of the solar system. The minimal style of the indicator is a stark contrast to the star-filled expanse around it which almost seems to dwarf the perpetual calendar at 12 o’clock. If Copernicus were to wear a watch, this would be it.
Greubel Forsey Quantième Perpétuel à Équation
Greubel Forsey doesn’t do simple. After all, when your most minimal timepiece is a proprietary take on a tourbillion there’s a lot to live up to. Six major inventions incorporates into an ever more dizzyingly complicated collection, Greubel Forsey has already hit the heights of watchmaking. Where else to go therefore than to leave the atmosphere entirely?
There are no stars here, no planets. In fact at first glance there’s nothing aesthetically astronomical about the Quantième Perpétuel à Équation. Instead it’s all in the technical details and what precisely Equation – short for equation of time – means. What it actually tells you is the time discrepancy between where the sun actually is and where it would be if noon was the same every 24 hours. Is it useful? Unless you work at NASA no, not really. Is it any number of engineering-led superlatives? Absolutely.
Ulysse Nardin Moonstruck
They might push their yachting connection more than anything with their sponsorship of many a boat show, but Ulysse Nardin is at heart a house of haute horology. Their regular GPHG wins say that more eloquently than anything else, and often their designs are just as stylistically breath-taking as they are mechanically so. Case in point: the Moonstruck.
Where most astronomical complications look up into the night sky, the Moonstruck looks back down at the Earth – more specifically a hand-painted representation of our planet in the centre of the dial. Taking us back to pre-enlightenment thinking, the sun situated at the edge of the dial on a dmt indicator rotates around the Earth, as does the moon, itself represented accurately by a moon phase indicator. Simple and easy to read, it’s an astronomical complication with a beautifully Earth-centric viewpoint.
Words by: Sam Kessler