It has been well established that astronomical watches sit comfortably at the upper echelons of desire when it comes to high-end collectors and buyers. As a species that has outgrown the necessity of star gazing for directions and time of day, astronomical watches remain less a practical tool, and more of one that encapsulates the emotion and feeling you get from a complex horological machine.
Indeed, we have come a long way since our ancestors learnt to make sense of the stars. Constellations were derived, mankind made its way to outer space, and till today, NASA continues to astound us with new information about our universe and beyond. So closely linked are the concept of time and astronomy, that it’s impossible for one to exist without the other.
As it turns out, watchmakers are as just as beguiled as we are, and — lucky us — have turned this fascination into some of the most intriguing astronomical watches. Even watch maestro Patek Philippe admitted that “watches with astronomical indications remain among the rarest and most poetic type of complications” — an affirmation that celestial timekeeping remain close to heart for even the biggest of horological greats.
The six stars of our astronomical watch list have made the cut for being some of the most beautiful and complex pieces ever created. Though they’re all set against a starry night sky, their presentations are unique. Tourbillons are added for extra measure, but you’ll also see features such as sidereal time — a time scale that is based on Earth’s rate of rotation measured relative to the fixed stars rather than the Sun — as well as solstice and constellation indications.
Forget the whole world — the entire galaxy is now in your hands.
Astronomia has been one of Jacob & Co.’s most alluring series, but the brand wants to further the connection of the watch with the stars. Enter the Astronomia Sky, an extravagantly complicated timepiece that features a time display, triple axis tourbillon, and a depiction of the earth and moon that rotate on spokes around an axis. Then there’s a sidereal-time complication that tracks the movement of the stars with zodiac indications. What you essentially have then, is a planetarium on your wrist. The brilliant blue titanium dial completes one rotation a year — the time it takes for Earth to revolve around the Sun. A gilt-edged oval tracks the portion of the sky visible from the North Hemisphere at that time. The watch also sees a perpetual calendar and day/night indicator.
Since we’re on the subject of planetariums for your wrists, we thought to include the smallest mechanical one in the world. Showing real time orbits of a select few planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) around the Sun, Christiaan van der Klaauw’s in-house designed module allows for its heliocentric planetarium to work alongside the minutes, hours, date and month. The spectacle is set amidst an Aventurine star-spangled glass dial. At the back, the astronomy theme continues with a planetarium-themed rotor, where the planets are also engraved.
Astronomic watches are known for being very pretty, but trust Van Cleef & Arpels to make a watch look almost magical. It all starts with the aventurine dial, which creates a sparkly rich blue backdrop for the celestial bodies that move just as they do in the sky. The planets are made from a range of exotic gemstones such as turquoise, red jasper, and chloromelanite, with a precious pink gold sun sitting at the centre of it all. On the sapphire crystal is a small star shape that indicates your “lucky star”. In keeping with the brand’s penchant for poetic complications, the watch allows you line up the red arrow at the peripheral calendar display with a special day of the year, which in turn allows the Earth indicator orb to be directly under the star-shape when it’s that time of the year again. Of course, Van Cleef & Arpel collaborated with planetarium expert Christiaan van der Klaauw for this unique timepiece.
Ten years — that’s how long a team of watchmakers spent researching and developing the Portuguese Sidérale Scafusia mechanism. After all, IWC meant for this to be an item of wonder, and what an intriguing piece it is. The team employed the constant-force tourbillon movement, which doesn’t work all 96 hours of the power reserve, but for the middle 48 hours to offer extreme consistency. It also brings along with it an unusual dead-seconds mechanism, causing the tourbillon seconds hand to advance in one second increments instead of sweeping. On the front, you’ll get the usual works — tourbillon, power reserve indicator, and a 24-hour sidereal time. But the back is where the magic is at. Choose your specific sky location and you’ll get the exact location of 500 – 1,000 stars. The chart and hands also indicate sunset/sunrise data, solar time, day/night indicator and perpetual calendar.
Welded within a unique wedge-shaped case is Bovet’s seemingly imposing and highly complicated watch. Layers of details, indicators and displays make up the busy dial, but a short orientation should get you on track with this classic masterpiece. A transparent quartz display the Super-LumiNova constellations at 12 o’clock, which can be customised to the northern or southern hemisphere. The large hour hand in white performs a trio of functions, including the time, point north, and outline the visible portion of the night sky. Look even closer and you’ll see a month disc that shows the constellation phasing through the year. Other complications include retrograde minutes, power reserve indicator, equation of time and moon phase display, and if your mind wasn’t blown enough, a double face tourbillon — a signature of Bovet’s — sits proudly at 6 o’clock. At the back, an annual calendar follows the sidereal time, with a central hand pointing to the season, solstice, equinox, zodiac and month.
Showmanship is integral at Jacob & Co., and it really shines through in their Astronomia Tourbillon watch because it’s such a ostentatiously-constructed wonder. Most of the movement is placed on a series of four arms that rotate around the entire dial every 20 minutes, while simultaneously keeping the time-keeping dial in the correct orientation, as well as operating the tourbillon. The result is a hypnotic ballet of gear work, as the planetary structure — literally sitting on the mainspring barrel — take centre stage amidst a star-spangled sky. At 50mm wide and 25mm thick, this timepiece is a substantially crafted from 18K rose gold, with a hand-painted rotating titanium globe and a “Jacob-cut” 288-faceted diamond that represents the moon.