We last looked at our editors’ top picks for three-handed sports watches so this time we wanted to take things in a different direction. The moon phase complication is visually whimsical and can often be downright dazzling – tracking the phases of the moon in a small aperture on the wrist. There’s little practical use in tracking each 29.5 day lunar cycle, but some of the most elaborate pieces from brands like Patek Philippe, Blancpain, and Breguet have recently been joined by more affordable options from Frederique Constant and Montblanc for those who want the celestial touch of a moon phase complication at a more attainable cost.
Without further ado, here are our editors on their top watch featuring a moon phase complication. As always, weigh in with your thoughts in the comments.
ARIEL ADAMS: De Bethune DB25L Milky Way
I’ve always referred to a moon phase indicator as an “emotional complication” because while it does indicate something real, its value to most people on a day-to-day basis is fragile at best. What is strong is the ability for this attractive and interesting complication to endure for so many years and to be rendered in so many ways. When seeking a timepiece with a moon phase indicator in it, my advice is to look for something beautiful first and foremost. High on my own grail list is a moon phase indication watch by De Bethune known as the DB25L Milky Way (the brand makes no shortage of moonphase-equipped timepieces). Housed in the slightly modern yet timeless DB25 case, the watch features an in-house flame-blued titanium dial with small drops of gold which represent an organic star display. While most moon phase indicators are flat, De Bethune likes to opt for a three-dimensional turning sphere which goes from light to dark (and back again) over the moon’s roughly 29.5 day cycle. Such an artistic exercise makes this marginally useful complication all the more emotionally appealing from an aesthetic and technical perspective. Also worth noting is that the DB25L Milky Way has a case lined with a row of baguette-cut diamonds.
DAVID BREDAN: ROLEX CELLINI MOON PHASE
As a novice watch enthusiast, for the longest time I didn’t even know a thing called the Rolex Cellini existed. Where I lived, Rolex ads were few and far between, and when one came about, it was most likely on sports TV channel Eurosport with a Datejust, Submariner, or perhaps a Daytona spinning slowly in bright white space along with almost unnecessarily heroic music. Worst of all, I didn’t know watches much at all at this time, with one of the few things I was absolutely confident about being that I didn’t like Rolex very much. Years and watches came and went, and my current, I guess I could say, somewhat more seasoned watch lover self respects Rolex as a brand tremendously, and loves the quirkiest Rolexes to a rather inexplicable extent. The Cellini Moon Phase made my top moon phase watch because it’s Rolex trying to show its charming, romantic side – something, much like the Cellini itself, I for the longest time didn’t even know existed.
I was tempted to put one of the more affordable offerings from Montblanc, Frederique Constant, or even Ball on this list since I find that a true, high-quality Moon Phase complication is too often inaccessible to most people. Long story short, I ended up selecting a watch that approaches $80,000. So, not accessible to most people.
It’s a deserving one, though. The A. Lange & Sohne Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase ‘Lumen’ watch uses a smoky semi-transparent crystal that allows for the lume to both charge and reveal itself from beneath the crystal. The moon phase disc is actually made of glass, which is coated and then 1,164 stars & the moon are laser cut into it. The lume behind the disc glows, revealing the celestial hum you can see above.
It’s everything a moon phase isn’t, and in the best way it’s everything a Lange moon phase isn’t. At the end of the day, it wasn’t even close.
My grandfather had a moonphase watch. I don’t remember it being of any particular value – I was young, after all. At that age, all that mattered was how it made me feel, when I’d shuffle down to his room and ask to see what face the moon was making that particular day. And that’s sort of the charm of a moonphase watch – and many high-complication watches in general. General timekeeping practicality is substituted for something designed to make us feel – sort of in the same way we lie back on the grass to stare up at the stars to feel small.
Now, if it’s the complication you’re chasing, there’s no shortage of über-traditional, and beautifully executed moonphase watches, like Montblanc’s strikingly affordable Heritage Spirit Moonphase, Girard Perregaux’s refreshingly clean 1966 Large Date Moonphase, or JLC’s classical mastery of the complication with the Ultra Thin Moonphase. But if you really want to get socked right in the starry feels, punch your ticket with the Senator Panorama Date Moonphase by Glashutte Original.
At first glance, standouts include the heat-blued leaf hands which sharply contrast a beautifully grained dial made with German silver, but the real *ahem* star of the show is the moonphase indicator at 11:00, nicely counterbalanced by an oversized date aperture at 4:00. Both of those apertures exhibit an extremely cool multi-layered “stepped” opening, which really shows off the graining of the silver, and serves to illustrate a surprising amount of depth and texture to a complication which traditionally doesn’t have much. Furthermore, the moonphase itself is simply gorgeous – with glittery stars and a smooth, three-dimensional silver moon, it’s equal parts austere and eye-catching, perfectly complementing the Teutonic design language of the watch as a whole.
MICHAEL PEÑATE: BREGUET CLASSIQUE 7787
Moon phase watches possess a sort of old-world charm that’s difficult to find in other timepieces, and much of that is due to the connection they have with early pocket watches. In the case of the Breguet Classique 7787 that specific pocket watch is the Breguet No. 5, a talisman that continues to inspire the brand and various modern watchmakers. While I’ve never owned or seriously shopped for a moon phase watch, I like to dream that maybe someday, this could be the one that makes its way to the watch box. At 39mm (in white gold) it’s designed with nearly perfect proportions that frame the slightly bizarre, asymmetrical layout nestled within that frosty enamel dial. To me it captures not only everything I’d want in a formal watch, but everything a Breguet should be – just look at those numerals together with the three very distinct markers along the minute track. Other features like the excessively elongated seconds hand, whimsical power reserve indicator, and enduring moon phase design ensure that this will always be an exciting watch to interact with.