Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Duomètre Sphérotourbillon Moon is equipped with a moon-phase display, which can remain accurate for 3,887 years.
“It took us about five years to accomplish this timepiece with all its technical challenges” - Anthony de Haas, director, pr’oduct development, Lange Uhren GmbH
Man’s quest for astronomical clocks began during the Renaissance, as enlightenment led to exploration. These were the very first instruments to observe the stars. They were used for navigation and consequently became indispensable, as besides keeping track of time, they were able to display and measure various astronomical observations with precision.
Though it is still uncertain when the first astronomical clock was created, the saga began with movements for church clocks in the late 14th century. At that time, the minutes hand was not a part of clocks, which was only incorporated in the late 17th century along with other complications such as an astronomical chart, moon-phases, zodiac signs and planetary positions. These clocks served as an inspiration for pocketwatches and were progressively adapted to wristwatches.
All astronomical timepieces generally use the geocentric model, where the earth is at the centre of the dial. Some are also equipped with functions such as equation of time (the difference between the apparent solar time measured by a sundial and the mean solar time measured by a clock), sidereal time (measured by the rotation of the earth with respect to the stars), systems for predicting solar and lunar eclipses, solstices, equinoxes and seasons.
Known for its 19th-century pocketwatches inspired by the earth’s movements, Jaeger-LeCoultre unveiled the Duomètre Sphérotourbillon Moon at SIHH this year. Paying tribute to astronomy, this is one of the most important launches from the brand, which specialises in such complications. It is equipped with a moon-phase display, which can remain accurate for 3,887 years. Measuring 42mm, the watch houses the manually-wound Jaeger-LeCoultre Calibre 389, crafted, assembled and decorated by hand. The Sphérotourbillon appears at the 9 o’clock mark and is placed inside a titanium carriage.
Besides performing a full turn around the axis of this carriage, the Sphérotourbillon spins around a second axis inclined at a 20° angle―the earth’s inclination which follows an imaginary line stretching to the Pole Star. The dial is finely grained, and the moon-phase appears at 3 o’clock, unlike the earlier pieces in which it was placed at 6 o’clock. The blue moon-phase disc is made of lapis lazuli to represent the sky.
The watch has a patented Dual-Wing concept, in which the 2 o’clock push-piece serves to reset the small seconds at 6 o’clock back to zero. This is based on the Flyback principle which does not halt the operation of the regulating organ.
In a classic configuration, pulling out the crown freezes the small seconds hand and the balance-spring. The Duomètre Sphérotourbillon mechanism allows the small seconds hand to return to zero and restart instantly, without the balance wheel missing a beat. The brand has also dedicated an astronomical watch to the ladies this year, the Rendez-Vous Moon, which has a moon-phase occupying almost half the dial. As Dinesh Aswani, country manager, Jaeger-LeCoultre (India), puts it, “Unlike the traditional moon-phase, which depicts a deviation of a day, every two-and-a-half years, the Rendez-Vous Moon will remain accurate for 972 years. On closer inspection, one can see two crowns on the case, one serves to adjust the time and moon-phase, the other guides the moving star meant to personalise time.”
However, the watchmaking world’s obsession with such complications is not new. Last year, Vacheron Constantin also unveiled the Maître Cabinotier Astronomica, which is apparently the most complicated timepiece created by the manufacture. Driven by manual-winding Calibre 2755-B1, it is housed within a 47mm case.
“Astronomical complications are rooted in Vacheron Constantin’s tradition of authentic and technical watchmaking, which we have preserved and developed for 260 years,” says Christain Selmoni, the brand’s artistic director. “The concept of the Maître Cabinotier Astronomica is based on our 250th anniversary masterpiece, Tour de l’Ile, which was a limited edition of seven pieces. Since this was the most complicated wristwatch in 2005, we wanted to pay tribute to this timepiece by creating another stunning astronomical multi-complication.”
This mechanical, manual-winding movement with a 58-hour power reserve offers an original combination of 15 complications driven by 839 parts, while measuring just 33.9mm in diameter and 12.15mm in thickness.
“Our engineers and designers have been able to incorporate such complexity in a wristwatch which is only 47mm, yet legible on the dial as well as caseback,” says Selmoni. “The movement and its 15 complications needed more than five years of engineering work, from initial sketches to the final presentation. And additional two years were necessary to design and manufacture the other elements of this timepiece.”
Among the plethora of complications, the minute-repeater draws attention. It is fitted with an ingenious centripetal flying strike governor developed by the manufacture. It regulates the duration of the musical sequence to ensure that the chimes for the hours, quarters and minutes are melodious and distinctly audible when the hammers strike the gongs.
In addition to the minute repeater, the dial reveals a tourbillon at 6 o’clock, equipped with a carriage shaped like a Maltese cross. Only one piece of this watch has been manufactured so far.
Last year also saw a slew of timepieces dedicated to the celestial bodies, and A. Lange & Söhne comes to mind instantly. Inspired by a 1807 pocketwatch with a regulator type of dial, the brand unveiled the Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar Terraluna, featuring a regulator with an orbital moon-phase display, a perpetual calendar with the Lange outsize date, 14-day power-reserve and a constant-force escapement.
“It took us about five years to accomplish this timepiece with all its technical challenges,” says Anthony de Haas, director, product development, Lange Uhren GmbH. “It has a special combination of the intriguing regulator design and the technology of the orbital moon-phase, which has been represented on a wristwatch for the first time. This is what makes the timepiece unique, apart from the new in-house Calibre L096.1.”
The display consists of three discs, where the moon is depicted on a star-studded disc, which orbits around the earth anti-clockwise once a month. Beneath it, the lunar disc rotates, and features two new moons. The sun is represented by the balance wheel.
On new moon days, the dark moon stands between the earth and the sun. The day and night indication is also represented as the disc representing the earth rotates on its own axis once a day. So, the side facing the balance wheel indicates daytime and the opposite end indicates night.
“It is engineered to run without correction for more than a thousand years,” says de Haas. “However, the greatest technical challenge was to interconnect a multitude of mechanisms by maintaining optimal readability of the time and calendar indications while giving a simple yet elegant appearance. This is why we decided to place the orbital moon-phase on the movement side.”
For those who thought that complications were beyond brands manufacturing jewellery and watches for women, Cartier sprang quite the surprise. The Rotonde de Cartier Astrocalendaire, showcased at SIHH last year, was among the maison’s most important watches.
Designed to resemble the seating arrangement inside an amphitheatre, it depicts the circle of time with the twelve months, seven days and the date and the year, juxtaposed in three concentric levels.
The real brain of the watch lies in the movement Calibre 9459 MC, which has been specifically designed for this watch. In creating the calendar system, the traditional springs and levers have been replaced with the gear train and a central programme wheel with an adjustable number of teeth. This offers benefits such as eliminating the usual restrictions on setting the calendar displays around midnight and negates frequent repairs which occur in perpetual calendars.
“The Astrocalendaire is a masterpiece because it is totally new in terms of mechanism and display,” Carole Forestier, head of movement creation, Cartier. “We have a complete hand-wound perpetual calendar, in which all the functions and settings are simplified by using just the crown.”
Priced at about Rs.1.2 crore, this watch with the Geneva Seal, comes in a 45mm platinum case and is limited to 100 pieces.
Another hallmark of fine watchmaking from the ateliers is the Rotonde de Cartier Earth and Moon watch. This complication is founded on a creative and complex design that combines a tourbillon, moon-phase on demand and a second time zone. The blue dial depicts the globe and the moon is represented by the tourbillon at the 6 o’clock mark. The display at 12 o’clock indicates two time zones indicated by a 24-hour disc, which was redeveloped for the Calibre 9440 MC movement. The Earth and Moon is limited to 50 pieces and is priced at about Rs.1.7 crore each.
High jewellery and watchmaker, Van Cleef & Arpels, too, gave watch enthusiasts an opportunity to wear the planets on their wrist. One of the brand’s most complicated timepieces, The Midnight Planetarium Poetic Complication, created by veteran designer Christiaan van der Klaauw, also allows the wearers to mark their lucky days (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) by rotating the bezel.
Composed of 396 components, the watch showcases a miniature representation of the movement of six planets around the sun and their positions at any given time. These are arranged on a deep-blue disc on the dial, and the oscillating weight on the back of the watch is decorated with a starry motif.
The movement of each planet is true to its genuine length of orbit. Saturn will take about 29 years to make a complete circuit of the dial, while Jupiter will take almost 12 years, Mars 687 days, Venus 224 days and Mercury 88 days. Priced at about Rs.1.5 crore, the watch comes in a 44mm pink-gold case, and the day, month and year can be set using two push buttons.