Timepiece Chronicle

In-depth, passionate and entertaining articles that explore the stories behind great watches

Inside & Out: Christopher Ward Moonphase

Inside & Out: Christopher Ward Moonphase

How I got this watch: Christopher Ward emailed me asking if I'd like to review another watch. They offered me a selection of watches and I chose the C9 Moonphase. I had the watch for two weeks.

"I have seen the movement of the sinews of the sky, And the blood coursing in the veins of the moon" Muhammad Iqbal

The Moon is the world's oldest timepiece. Whilst watching the movement of the Sun across the sky gave humanity a rudimentary grasp of short time spans, it was the cyclical nature of the Moon's orbit that transformed days into regular months. Taking approximately twenty nine and a half days to complete a cycle, the Moon was first used as a foundation for a regular calendar by the Ancient Sumerians whose months began on the first day of visibility of a new Moon. Over the coming millennium, technological advancements showed us how fickle a Lunar calendar was but humanity never lost it's passion for that big block of cheese in the sky. 

Over centuries, watchmakers were able to shrink the astronomical clock down to first fit into Grandfather Clocks, then pocket watches and then the wristwatch. Every advancing step in miniaturization matched pace with the increasing irrelevance of the complication yet it is, along with the minute repeater and tourbillon, one of the most charming and desirable complications to have. It's just fun to have a watch which has a Moonphase on it and Christopher Ward aims to bring this age old complication onto more wrists than ever before with their affordable C9 Moonphase. 

Christopher Ward impressed me before with the C60 Trident Chronograph, not only for the quality of the watch but for their openness about the origins of the movement and sensible pricing. Whilst Christopher Ward is yet to offer as many in-house movements as say Nomos, both companies share a similar belief when it comes to pricing; Christopher Ward says that the RRP of their watches is the cost price multiplied by three. If there was another brand name on this dial, the C9 Moonphase would be costing closer to $6000 rather than under $2000. I'm not so deluded to think that dropping $2000 on a watch is inconsequential, but as a gesture to encourage a new market to purchase mechanical watches, it is among the best.

The Caliber JJ04 which powers the watch is an ETA 2836-2 which has been modified by Christopher Ward's Technical Director Johannes Jahnke. Johannes has been described as wunderkind by the watch press due to his technical prowess and for the last few years has been bringing his vision for movements to the Christopher Ward. Four of his specially adapted ETA bases are in the C.W catalog : the Mono-pusher chronograph, Jumping Hour, World Timer and the Moonphase with each being praised by the industry. WatchPro magazine even named the Moonphase among the 10 best mechanical watches in the industry in 2015. 

A standard moonphase movement uses a wheel with 59 teeth which advances at the rate of one tooth per day. This wheel is directly linked to the moon disc which will take 59 days to fully rotate with each of the two moons on it completing one 29 and 1/2 day cycle. The Gregorian calendar is not perfect (Hence the need leap years and seconds) and is no longer linked to a lunar cycle so every two and half years, a traditional moonphase will fall out of sync. This level of inaccuracy would not do for Johannes Jahnke.

The Astronomical Clock in Prague. Photo courtesy of wikimedia.

The Astronomical Clock in Prague. Photo courtesy of wikimedia.

A full astronomical moonphase, commonly seen on grand clocks, uses a 135 toothed wheel which makes the complication accurate to 122 years and this is where Johannes started. By striping away the day wheel and replacing the date wheel entirely, Johannes was able to add an extra four wheels to drive moon disc and two more to make setting the mechanism easier. With these additions, the C9 Moonphase is accurate to one day every 128 years, with the moon gracefully gliding across the dial as opposed to short daily increments thanks to the additional wheels.

With a power reserve of only 38 hours and an average human lifespan of only 78 years, it's unlikely that any of Mr. Jahnke's watches will ever be in continuous motion to test the 128 years accuracy but the commitment to the principle is laudable. What I do know is that controlling the moonphase is just as simple as setting the time, pulling the crown out to the first position and rotating it anti-clockwise will rotate the moon disc from right to left across the dial. That's it. No pushers or buttons required.

The actual movement remains mostly quite plain but the rotor has some nice finishing touches to it that seperate it from others in a similar price range. The longevity of watches like this however should be noted as in 2020, Swatch Group will no longer be under any obligation to sell ETA ebauches, unassembled movements without escapements, mainsprings or balance springs. This is why we've seen the rise of smaller ebauche providers looking to fill the gap Swatch will be leaving in four years. 

The moonphase itself is easily one of the biggest and brightest I've ever seen on a wristwatch and is stunningly beautiful to watch. The aperture encompasses nearly half of the dial with two raised semi-circles providing cover for the moon when it enters into the waxing and waning parts of the cycle. Set atop a star studded night sky, the moon itself is a beautiful nickel disc that has been printed with an undulating surface of craters. Whilst not based on actual photographs of the moon like the Omega Speedmaster Moonphase, this artistic interpretation of the moon shows every furrow, crater and crevice standing out against the sky. It's a tour de force that knocks the cartoon winking moons of more traditional moon phases into a cocked hat. It has a lot of character and I prefer it to the aforementioned Speedmaster, which costs about 5x as much. 

With the moonphase dominating the center of the way, it's fitting that the perimeter is more refined with thin stick and roman numeral markers hand applied to the dial. There is no lume on the hands or hour markers so reading at night, unless under a full moon, is going to be difficult but seeing as this is a dress watch I didn't have any issue with that. After all, the most impractical of complications should constrain function a little to allow it's glorious form to take center stage. 

The date window at six o'clock is a token gesture of functionality but I feel it could have been removed to reduce the height of the watch and to further simplify the dial. At 13.3mm the watch does sit high on the wrist, especially for a dress watch, but there must be some sacrifices made for Johannes' incredible moonphase. Just above the dial is the older abbreviated Christopher Ward logo which I feel works very nicely with the formal look of this watch. Whether the rounded sans serif font of the new logo will work as nicely in future iterations is something we'll have to wait and see. 

The stainless steel bracelet was one of the few problems I had with the C9 Moonphase. Rather than a pin and barrel or a split-pin, each link has two screws on either side that must be turned at the same time so they can provide resistance for the other to thread against. With an adjustable watch vice, two matching screwdrivers, a third arm and some patience are required to take links out of this bracelet. I'm one for adjusting watches myself rather than taking them to a jeweler so this was quite bothersome and I would suggest going for the slightly more expensive alligator strap; not only for convenience's sake but because I think the dial would look much better against leather than steel. The deep blue grooves that swirl across the dial are a real treat and just add an extra level of detail.

The Christopher Ward C9 Moonphase is a shining example of what can be accomplished with an ETA base and some ingenuity. It's easy one of the most impressive value watches I've seen and brings a wonderful traditional complication out of the clouds and onto the wrists of more than ever before.

The Christopher Ward C9 Moonphase is $1920. Visit www.christopherward.com to purchase and learn more

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