One of my favorite watch complications is the Moon Phase, a display that pictures the various phases of the moon in wonderfully creative, sometimes romantic or whimsical ways. So for this posting, I’ve decided to highlight it —or should I say moonlight it— by tying it to the 2014 Harvest Moon’s appearance in the Northern Hemisphere the night of September 8th-9th.
What makes the Harvest Moon special is that it’s the name for the full moon nearest the time of the autumnal equinox (i.e. when the tilt of the earth’s axis and earth’s orbit around the sun combine so that the axis is inclined neither away from nor toward the sun). The name refers to the moon’s bright light in the night sky which in times gone by allowed farmers to work longer in their fields.
This complication has a wonderful history dating back to moon dials on clock faces which typically had an engraved or painted moon face in an aperture displaying the moon’s current phase. Moon phases were common on clocks beginning in the 18th century and recall a time when the darkened earth could only rely on varying degrees of moonlight.
|Table clock in the shape of the Cathedral of Strasbourg's astronomical clock (Rijksmuseum/Image in the public domain, from www.europeana.eu)
A bit of basic astronomy helps to understand the moon’s cycle and how it’s technically incorporated into a time piece’s movement. A single lunar cycle’s mean length, i.e. new moon to next new moon lasts 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, 3 seconds —conveniently rounded to 29.5 days. Since it’s impossible for a clock/watch to have a moon disc with 29.5 teeth – moving one tooth every 24 hours, one with 59 teeth is used. Therefore we usually get two moon representations on the dial with the moon dial half covered and made to rotate once in 59 days (59 teeth stepped one tooth each day). Moon phases on modern day watches usually have only one face.
My favorite Harvest Moon watch this year is the Harry Winston Midnight Moon Phase in 18K rose gold. It’s part of the Harry Winston Midnight Collection™.
What I love about this watch is its purely romantic moonscape and adjoining stars nestled in “an arc-shaped crescent moon aperture.” The moon eagerly peeks out through bare, stylized, mysteriously outstretched branches which dominate the dial face. The tree décor is engraved and “filled with contrasted tainted lacquer.” It grows forever against a dial backdrop of a “rose champagne with sunray satin brushed finish.”
For me this watch design is evocative of a similar branch/tree copse depiction that the British Artist David Hockney has so beautifully rendered in the largest of his oil paintings, Bigger Trees Near Water (2007). In both Winston’s creation and Hockney’s work, nature and time have been given universal representation. One in which we can find great aesthetic enjoyment without having to possess the object. The same pleasure can be found in the Harvest Moon shining above us.
In subsequent years, I’ll be highlighting my favorite moon phase watch in conjunction with the Harvest Moon’s appearance. If you’ve got a timepiece to recommend, regardless of price point or vintage, let me know and I’ll be glad to consider it for one of my tributes.