Would it surprise you to know that the oldest timekeeping device known to man is still working, even to this day? Well it’s true! It may seem silly to us today but long before modern timepieces were invented, people used the sun and moon to tell time. More specifically, ancient civilizations would count how many moons had passed to keep track of the passage of time. In fact, scientists have identified lunar calendars as old as 34,000 years old! From these lunar calendars evolved the “month” as we generally understand it today – the time between two full moons – 29 days, 12 hours, and 44 minutes. Lunar calendars were primarily used up until the time of Julius Caesar and even in more recent times, the moon has played a large role for farmers timing their planting and harvest seasons and for those who rely on ocean tides.
With the invention of modern timepieces, using the moon to keep track of time became all but obsolete. Then in 1983, Blancpain introduced the Calibre 6395 – credited with being the smallest self-winding movement displaying the phase of the moon, along with the day, date, and month. Their famous “man in the moon” marked a revival in moon phase watches, and mechanical watch making in general.
Today, the moon phase complication is a rare and coveted feature in a mechanical timepiece. In this article, we will take an in-depth look at two of Ball’s current moon phase watches – the Engineer II Ohio Moonphase, and the Trainmaster Moonlight Special.
“The night walked down the sky with the moon in her hand.”
As the moon travels across the night sky throughout its 29.5 day journey around the Earth, it passes through eight (8) named phases. In order, these phases are:
- New moon (dark moon)
- Waxing crescent
- First quarter
- Waxing gibbous
- Full moon
- Waning gibbous
- Last quarter
- Waning crescent
If you are in the northern hemisphere, the right side of the moon will always be growing. So if the right side is light, the moon is waxing (heading towards a full moon). Conversely, if the right side is dark, the moon is waning (heading towards a new moon). For those of you in the southern hemisphere, the moon is upside down when compared to viewing from the northern hemisphere and the opposite sides will wax and wane.
The moon phase complication on the Ohio Moonphase consists of a 30-toothed disc while the disc on the Moonlight Special is a 59-toothed disc (notice that this number is twice the 29.5 day cycle!). Each disc has two gold-colored moons opposite each other on the disc, surrounded by gold-colored stars on a blue background. The disc is partially covered by the dial, with a window cut out to view the current phase of the moon. When no part of the moon appears in the window, this indicates a new moon. As the days pass, the moon will appear from the left side of the window. When the image of the moon in centered in the window, this indicates a full moon and the disc will continue to travel clockwise (for the Moonlight Special) or counter-clockwise (for the Ohio Moonphase) until the image of the moon disappears at the right side of the window, again signaling a new moon. At this point, the second image of the moon will begin to appear from the left side of the window, thus starting the entire cycle again.
Setting the Moon Phase
Setting the moon phase on each of the watches is relatively simple, but to accurately set it will take a few minutes. There are actually two ways to set the moon phase and the one you pick really depends on how accurate you want your moon phase indicator to be and/or how long you want to spend setting the complication.
The first way to set the moon phase is the “estimation” method. This involves setting the date and time to the current date and time and then using the quickset moon phase function (see below for more details on this function) to set the moon phase to approximately the current moon phase. Chronoswiss has a very nice tool to help you with this method of setting (http://www.chronoswiss.com.vs779.ims-firmen.de/moon-phase.php). If you are in a rush out the door or need to set your moon phase quickly for some other reason, this method would probably be your best bet.
The second method for setting the moon phase is a bit more involved but will give you a more accurate reading. You will need one crucial piece of information to set the moon phase with this method: the date of the last full or new moon. Luckily, you are reading this review and I have conveniently included a link to a website where you can locate this information (http://fullmooncalendar.net/). This website will show you a calendar of the current month with the phase of the moon for each day. What you are looking for is the date of the last new or full moon, whichever is closest to the current date. Set the watch to this date and then use the quickset moon phase function (see below for more details on this function) to set the moon phase to a new or full moon depending on the date you have just set. For example, if the most recent new or full moon was a full moon on 19 March, set the date to “19” and then set the moon phase to a full moon. Now, pull the crown out to position 2 (where position 0 is winding) to set the time, and advance the time forward until you reach the current date and time. As you can guess, sometimes this will take a long time if you are more than a few days past a new or full moon. However, this method will give you the most accurate results.
The quickset moon phase function operates similarly to a quickset day or date function however the procedure is a little bit different from watch to watch. On the Ohio Moonphase, the quickset moon phase function is located at crown position 1 (where position 0 is winding) and you will turn the crown backwards (towards 6 o’clock) to set the moon phase. On the Moonlight Special, the quickset moon phase function is also located at crown position 1 (where position 0 is winding) but you will turn the crown forwards (towards 12 o’clock) to set the moon phase.
Now let’s take a closer look at each of the watches individually…
Engineer II Ohio Moonphase (NM2082C)http://www.topperjewelers.com/watches/ball/eng2OhioMoonphase
The Ohio Moonphase from Ball’s Engineer II collection features the 25-jeweled automatic Ball calibre 968 movement housed in a round, 40mm diameter stainless steel case. The 968 movement is based on the 3-hand ETA 2836-2 day-date movement but the day wheel has been replaced with the moon phase complication. The movement beats at 28,800 vibrations per hour (vph) with a 42 hour power reserve. The case measures 43.5mm from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock, including the signed, screw-down crown; 46.7mm lug-to-lug; 13.2mm in thickness; and takes a 20mm strap or bracelet.
The Ball stainless steel bracelet is a 2-link design which does not taper to the clasp. The bracelet uses a combination of brushed outer links and high-polish center links for a nice contrasting look. The clasp is a standard Ball dual deployant with the engraved Ball logo medallion on one of the clasp links. Fit and finish of the bracelet is the usual Ball quality with exacting tolerances to the machining. The watch is also available with a black calf leather strap, although it is pictured here with a Ball 20mm round-grain alligator strap.
The 40mm case of the Ohio Moonphase is completely high-polished including the 4mm-thick non-rotating bezel. If you are used to wearing 40mm watches, nothing will surprise you here although while reviewing this watch, I did notice that it wears slightly smaller than a Fireman Racer, possibly due to the smaller Arabic numerals on the dial. This, in combination with the fact that the crystal of the Ohio Moonphase measures in at 31.5mm which is 1.5mm smaller in diameter than that of the Fireman Racer (33mm) probably explains why the Ohio Moonphase wears a touch smaller than the Fireman Racer. This optical illusion would probably only be noticed if the two watches were side-by-side. It is certainly not as dramatic as the 42mm Spacemaster which wears more like a 45mm timepiece.
The cambered sapphire crystal is very slightly domed with little distortion, even at extreme angles which provides good readability. The crystal has an anti-reflective coating on the underside which allows an uninterrupted look at the satin sunray-finished dial in your choice of silver, black, or blue. The striations of the dial finish are much more noticeable on the silver and blue dials, and very subdued on the black dial version. Even under a loupe, it is difficult to notice the striations on the black dial. On the dial, the applied Arabic numerals and raised hour markers are quite thick and add a nice three-dimensional feel to the dial. They also have a very cool linear grooved texture to them, while the contrasting hour, minute, and second sword-style hands are all polished. There are 15 GTLS tubes on the dial of the Ohio Moonphase – one tube located at each of the hour markers and the remaining three being the hour, minute, and second hands. The H/M/S tubes are the traditional “long” tubes while the hour markers each feature a tritium “pip”. To provide distinction on the dial, the Ohio Moonphase uses three different colors of GTLS tubes: green, yellow, and orange. The 12 o’clock marker features a tritium pip in orange, while the remaining hour makers have green pips. Finally, the H/M/S hands all feature yellow tritium tubes of varying lengths – from longest to shortest: minute hand, hour hand, second hand.
The dial also features a stainless steel framed date window containing a white date wheel with black numerals. Surrounding the dial is a brushed rehaut which provides a very subtle diffuse reflection of the markers and tritium pips. Under the 12 o’clock position, you will find the Ball name and logo. At the 9 o’clock position, the watch proclaims its status as an automatic timepiece as well as being anti-magnetic to 4,800 A/m and water resistant to 100 meters (330 feet). Moving down to the 6 o’clock position, we find the words “Swiss Made” in addition to the “T25” marking, indicating that the tritium contained in the tubes of the watch emits less than 25 millicuries of radiation.
Of course the main feature of this watch is the large moon phase complication which is featured uniquely offset between the 2 o’clock and 7 o’clock positions. As noted earlier, the moon phase wheel replaces the usual day wheel on the traditional 2836-2 movement.
Moving around to the back of the watch, Ball does not disappoint here either with a nicely engraved caseback featuring the famous Empire State Express Engine No. 999 which set the new speed record of 112 mph in 1893.
Overall, the Ohio Moonphase is a simple, classy 3-hand automatic watch with an elegant execution of a moon phase complication. If a basic 3-hand movement is too simple for you, but a chronograph is too complicated for you, the Ohio Moonphase is a very nice compromise. I would consider the watch more of a dressy timepiece, although on the bracelet it can definitely hold its own as a casual or sport watch. With three dial color choices, and an MSRP of $1,799 on the calf leather strap or $1,899 on the steel bracelet, the Ohio Moonphase is a great choice for a no-frills, everyday watch.
Trainmaster Moonlight Special Limited Edition (CM1036D)http://www.topperjewelers.com/watches/ball/trainMoonlightChrono
The Moonlight Special is a limited edition timepiece from Ball’s Trainmaster collection. The timepiece is limited to 999 pieces worldwide. It features a 25-jeweled automatic ETA Valjoux 7751 movement housed in a round, 43mm stainless steel case with a screw-down crown and two piston-shaped function pushers. The 7751 movement features a chronograph with accumulated time measurement up to 12 hours, moon phase complication, 24-hour indicator, and date of the month, day of the week, and month of the year calendar functions. The movement beats at 28,800 vph and has a 42-hour power reserve. The case measures 47.1mm from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock, including the signed, screw-down crown; 51.1mm lug-to-lug; 16mm in thickness; and takes a 21mm strap or bracelet.
This watch was reviewed on a very nice quality Ball 21mm, black, handmade, large square-grain Louisiana alligator strap. The strap tapers to 19mm at the triple-signed dual deployant stainless steel buckle. I must say the quality of this strap is excellent and exceeds that of the alligator strap from my Trainmaster Worldtime. The strap does lack the quick-change pins found on some other Ball straps so you will need a springbar tool to change out the strap or bracelet. There is also a 3-link bracelet option for the Moonlight Special if that is more to your taste.
The 43mm case of the Moonlight Special is completely high polished including the non-rotating step-down bezel. One thing that caught my attention with this case was the facets cut into each of the lugs. Instead of having the lugs plainly meet the case’s sidewall, Ball decided to machine a facet onto each of the lugs to match the step-down appearance of the bezel. I love the attention to detail here and it adds a nice dimensionality to the watch that would not otherwise exist. The 9 o’clock sidewall also features a recessed pusher to change the day of the week. It is not a helium escape valve as I have seen some mistakenly refer to it as.
The cambered, anti-reflective sapphire crystal measures in at 34mm in diameter. The quality of the crystal is excellent as well and compares to the crystals found on some of my Breitlings. I noticed zero distortion even at a 179-degree viewing angle! The anti-reflective coatings used are also top-quality. In comparison to the Ohio Moonphase, the AR coating on the Moonlight Special wins hands down. Although no specifications are published for the anti-reflective coating, it is safe to assume that Ball uses multiple layers of AR material to achieve the almost invisible look to the crystal on the Moonlight Special from almost every angle.
Under the crystal, the Moonlight Special features a dial in your choice of silver, black, or brown. The piece used for this review was the silver dial version. The silver dial of the Moonlight Special features the same satin sunray finish as the previously reviewed Ohio Moonphase. The outward striations of the dial catch the light nicely and help differentiate the main dial from the subdials which have a circular pattern to them (except for the brown dial variation). The subdials on the silver dial and black dial variations of the Moonlight Special are silver, while the brown dial version has matching brown subdials. The subdials are each trimmed with a stainless steel ring and are nicely laid out at 12 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 9 o’clock, with a faux subdial at the 3 o’clock position containing the Ball name and logo along with the “automatic” designation and the water resistancy rating of 50 meters (165 feet). Ball did a nice job in balancing the dial of the watch and making a complicated movement easy to read at a glance. The 12 o’clock subdial contains the 30-minute totalizer hand along with the day of the week window and the month of the year window. The 6 o’clock subdial contains the hour totalizer (up to 12 hours in half-hour increments) along with the moon phase window. Finally, the 9 o’clock subdial features a black hand for the constant running seconds indicator and also a red-tipped hand for the 24-hour indicator. On the silver dial variation, the hours of 1800 to 0500 are black, indicating the night hours; on the black dial variation, the hours of 1800 to 0500 are blue, indicating the night hours; and on the brown dial variation, the entire subdial is brown.
There are 15 GTLS tubes on the dial of the Moonlight Special – one tube located at each of the hour markers and the remaining three being the hour, minute, and second hands. To provide distinction on the dial, the Moonlight Special uses two different colors of GTLS tubes: green and yellow. The 12 o’clock marker features a yellow tube, and the remaining tubes are green. The hour marker tubes are all the same length but the tubes at 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 9 o’clock are parallel to the center of the dial, while all the remaining hour markers are perpendicular to the center of the dial. This helps to provide a further degree of distinction when quickly glancing at the watch at night to check the time. The officer-style hands are all highly polished and feature 3 green GTLS tubes of varying lengths – from longest to shortest: minute hand, hour hand, second hand.
The outer ring of the dial features the numbers 1 through 31 and corresponds to the date of the month, indicated by the red-tipped, moon-shaped pointer hand. Surrounding the dial is a brushed rehaut which subtly reflects the date numerals during the day. Down at the 6 o’clock position, we find the words “Swiss Made” in addition to the “T25” marking, indicating that the tritium contained in the tubes of the watch emits less than 25 millicuries of radiation.
Turning the watch over, we are greeted by the Trainmaster-style exhibition caseback with a sapphire window covering the highly-decorated Valjoux 7751 movement. Perlage decoration covers almost every plate and bridge and extends to the signed rotor. At the 6 o’clock position of the caseback, the limited edition number is etched announcing your timepiece’s unique place out of 999.
Overall, the Moonlight Special is an amazingly complicated piece of technology packed into a 43mm shell. Somehow Ball manages to keep the dial refined and easy-to-read, even with its many complications. Even with all of these complications and chronograph pushers, the Moonlight Special easily fits the bill as a classy dress watch, but has no difficulty sporting it up when put on a bracelet. With three dial color choices, and an MSRP of $4,999 on the alligator strap or the steel bracelet, the limited edition Moonlight Special probably won’t be your everyday wear watch, but would make an excellent addition to any watch collection.
The moon phase complication is an often overlooked feature of watch making that connects horology with its ancient ancestor – astronomy. In this article we featured two fantastic moon phase complication watches from Ball at both extremes of the price range. Hopefully after reading this article today, your interest in moon phase watches has been piqued. A moon phase watch is a great way to show your interest (or obsession for those of us on this forum, right??) in horology and astronomy and makes for a great conversation starter. Your friends, family, and coworkers will be amazed with your knowledge of the moon and moon phase watches after reading this article (granted they don’t already roll their eyes and walk away when you start talking watches)! So whether you are just getting started with watches or are a seasoned watch collector, Ball offers a moon phase watch for you!
I hope you have enjoyed this photo journal article as much as I have enjoyed photographing/writing it. Please feel free to comment or ask questions!
To inquire about or to purchase one of the watches featured in this article or another Ball watch, please contact our forum sponsor, Topper Fine Jewelers at 1-888-730-2221 and ask for Rob Caplan. Be sure to mention you saw this article on WatchUSeek!