By Roger Grody
From the first night our ancestors cast their eyes skyward, our species has been fascinated by the universe, and the current space race is yet another expression of our obsession with what lies beyond our atmosphere. Luxury watchmakers are keenly aware of the allure of the heavens, producing innumerable timepieces that capture the magic of the night sky.
“One of humanity’s greatest achievements has been the development of techniques to accurately measure time,” states Ariel Adams, founder and owner of A Blog to Watch and a leading authority on luxury timepieces. “The human body has no innate ability to do it, and for thousands of years humans have been looking to their environment for methods on which to base time related predictions,” he explains. Adams suggests the heavens were not only inspirations for pioneering watchmakers, but the earliest timekeeping mechanisms as well.
“The 24-hour day, as we know it, is a reduction of the day/night cycle across the space of a year, and is manifested in pretty much every timepiece on the planet,” reports Adams. “While most of today’s timepieces provide no additional information about the skies, the basic time as we know it is still a celestial observation at heart,” he adds.
The night sky continues to inspire watchmakers and Greg Simonian, president of Beverly Hills-based retailer Westime — luxury brands available at its Southern California and Miami boutiques include Blancpain, Greubel Forsey and Audemars Piguet — reports ample opportunities for consumers passionate about the theme. “The sky, the stars and the planets have been the stuff of dreams for humans around the globe, long before watches existed, and to wear a watch that celebrates the night sky is a brilliant way to bring the dream full circle,” says Simonian.
The Arceau L’heure de la Lune from Hermès, a limited edition released in 2019 with a starting price of $25,500, features a meteorite dial with two mother-of-pearl moons, a subdial for the time and a second subdial for the date circling the face of the watch. Like an eclipse, the two moons are gradually overtaken by the subdials, coinciding with the actual lunar phases in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
Jaeger-LeCoultre, a favorite among timepiece connoisseurs, offers a Rendez Vous Celestial watch for women, inspired by the aurora borealis. Its upper dial is occupied by flamboyant numerals while the lower portion features a star chart with signs of the zodiac. The night sky is portrayed as it appears above Jaeger-LeCoultre’s home in Switzerland’s Vallée de Joux, displaying the changing positions of the constellations in real time.
Delicate hand-painting and the precise setting of 64 sapphires in pink gold make this watch, priced at $101,000, a true masterpiece. “Across history we’ve seen plenty of specific complications in timepieces which further illustrate the motion of celestial bodies, even down to miniature planetariums on watch dials,” says Adams. Among the most stunning is the Cosmos produced by Girard Perregaux, featuring a partially open skeleton structure and two rotating orbs, one displaying Earth and its continents, the other the signs of the zodiac. At night, the watch hands, stars and the continents on the Cosmos emit a seductive blue glow, making the $288,000 timepiece a memorable gift for any stargazer.
A more extravagant version of Girard-Perregaux’s Cosmos is the Planetarium Tri-Axial, whose price tag of $858,000 blasts through the stratosphere. The Richard Mille RM 52-05 Tourbillon, a 30 unit limited edition designed with entertainer and Star Trek fan Pharrell Williams, is priced at approximately $970,000. Its dial features a sculpted titanium spacesuit with the rugged landscape of Mars (brought to life with red gold) reflected in the helmet’s visor, with a distant blue Earth on the horizon.
“Working with Richard Mille provided an opportunity to go where no one else has gone before … and with the RM 52 05, we’ve looked at Mars from a different angle, an unexpected first-person point of view.” says Williams.
Adams observes, “Some prefer their luxury timepieces to be outfitted with precious stones, and others like a complicated movement, which reminds them that time isn’t something we really control but is, in a sense, delivered from above.”