From the dawn of history, people have been gazing skywards, searching for an understanding of the celestial spheres. This year, there are a lot of spectacular watches featuring astronomical themes, as if to underline the idea that a watch is like a miniature solar system.
The Duomètre à Quantième Lunaire Grand Feu by Jaeger-LeCoultre is a new version of an existing model. Its grand feu enamel dial has a moon phase disc in a beautiful, intense blue; inside, the Calibre 381 Dual-Wing movement has two independent energy sources, one dedicated to measuring the passage of time, and the other to its display, with hours, minutes, seconds, calendar and moon phase. The precision of the movement is revealed by a jumping seconds hand that moves in sixth-of-a-second increments. This masterpiece retails at about €34,000 in the white gold version, a limited edition of 200.
The Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar Terraluna by A. Lange & Söhne is a monument to the brand's characteristic understatement. On the front of the dial, there are indications of time, date, day of week, month and leap year, but the truly spectacular feature can be seen when you turn the watch over. Visible through the sapphire caseback, the orbital moon phase display shows the location of the moon with respect to the earth and the sun. The moon is depicted on a celestial disc that is a work of art in itself, with over a thousand of stars depicted as a glittering backdrop. About €170,000.
One of the most complex watches of all is the IWC Portuguese Sidérale Scafusia, a project that took a decade to develop, was released last year, and was specifically promoted at SIHH this year. This watch is built exclusively to order, with a constant-force tourbillon and perpetual calendar display. On the reverse, it has an accurate star-map plotted to reflect the night sky as you see it from your home, or whichever address you supply to IWC, with over 500 stars and constellations, sunrise and sunset, sidereal time and many more astronomical features. Delivery time for this piece is about a year. Price, approximately €614,000.
Cartier's Rotonde de Cartier Earth and Moon watch brilliantly combines two complications, a tourbillon and the moon phase, along with a second time zone. When you press the pusher at four o'clock on the case side, a circular panel descends and partially covers the tourbillon, forming a crescent that exactly depicts the moon's shape in the sky. A truly beautiful piece, 47 millimetres in diameter, in platinum, with lapislazzuli dial, in a limited edition of 50. Approx €200,000.
Montblanc's Star Twin Moonphase has a classical moon phase display, on a subdial that also does justice to people living in the southern hemisphere. A slender hand shows the moon's age in days, and its shape as seen south of the equator. The dial is very sophisticated, with its fine guilloché finish, an asymmetric date subdial, and blued steel hands, all in a watch that will retail for under €4,000.
But my choice for the most unusual astronomical timepiece at SIHH 2014 is the Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight Planétarium Poetic Complication. The time is indicated by a small shooting star that runs around a 24-hour time scale at the edge of the watch. The exceptional feature of the watch lies on the inner rings, each with a tiny planet crafted in a different gemstone. At the centre is the sun, and then Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and each moves at exactly the same angular velocity as the planets themselves. It takes Mercury 88 days to complete a revolution, while you will have to wait 29 years to see Saturn complete just one revolution. It's a scale model of man's largest timepiece, the solar system. As with all things Van Cleef & Arpels, there is room for poetry as well – even though this is a man's watch. You can set your own special date, marked with a small red arrow on the edge of the watch, and when that date arrives, you will see the earth framed by a small star on the watchglass. This is not a limited edition, though, as a result of its complexity, only 20 or 30 pieces will be made each year. It would be very easy to quip 'Price: see title;' in actual fact, the Midnight Planétarium retails at about €180,000.
Prices are approximate; please contact the brands' boutiques for further information and exact prices.