In this deep civilization of horology, it’s easy to lose sight the just how fascinating the cautious assortment that gears, jewels, levers, and screws that comprise a wristwatch activity really are. Yet when you encounter a watch choose the Midnight Planétarium from valve Cleef & Arpels, you’re compelled to pause. You’re forced to pause and consider the elegant interplay the mechanics and artistry shown by a timepiece prefer this, in which an impossibly tiny solar device revolves roughly a dial in accurate harmony. If friend stared in ~ this watch for 29 years, you’d check out Saturn do a complete revolution around the dial. If you have actually a few minutes, you’ll join us ~ above a quick journey experimenting just just how the Midnight Planétarium concerned be.

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Kelly Jasper
July 22, 2014

The valve Cleef & Arpels Midnight Planétarium

In this deep world of horology, it’s straightforward to lose sight of just how fascinating the cautious assortment of gears, jewels, levers, and screws that consist of a wristwatch activity really are. But when you encounter a watch prefer the Midnight Planétarium from van Cleef & Arpels, you’re required to pause. You’re required to pause and consider the elegant interplay of mechanics and also artistry shown by a timepiece choose this, in i m sorry an impossibly small solar system revolves approximately a dial in precise harmony. If girlfriend stared at this watch because that 29 years, you’d see Saturn make a complete change around the dial. If you have a few minutes, you’ll join us top top a brief journey experimenting just just how the Midnight Planétarium pertained to be.

I. A Word around Terminology

In modern English, we use the ax planetarium to describe both moving mechanical models the the solar system and also theaters in which images of the solar mechanism are projected via a light source. However, one more less typically used term exists: “Orrey.” The hatchet Orrey originates indigenous the 4th Earl of Orrery (Charles Boyle), an ireland noble who got a working version of the solar device in 1704. “Orrey” is used more specifically to refer to mechanical models the the solar system, yet these models still autumn under the category of planetaria. Orreries can be separated further into tellurians and lunariums, wherein the former concentrates on the rotation that the earth around its axis and the sunlight (to illustrate the adjust in seasons) and also the latter shows the rotation the the moon approximately the earth.

II. Instances of Planetariums

Fragments that the Antikythera Mechnaism. Picture courtesy Antikythera mechanism Research Project.

In 1900, the faster known instance of an expensive computer (and quite probably the very first computer ever before made) was discovered by sponge divers in a shipwreck turn off the coast of Antikythera, a Greek Island. Remarkably, this device, known as the Antikythera Mechanism, dates earlier to 80 BC, over 1,000 years prior to the next recognized gear-based astronomical machine was created. The Antikythera device was maybe to track the solar device cycle with advanced gear ratios remarkable close come the gold Ratio, i beg your pardon is supplied for astronomical calculations. When the model was provided to screen celestial bodies from an earthly perspective, it doesn’t necessarily donate a geocentric (with the planet as the center) or heliocentric (with the sun as the center) planetary arrangement.

The nature of the solar system’s center was of course rather a contentious topic. As beforehand as 297 BC, Aristacrchos that Samos posited properly that the solar device was heliocentric. Nevertheless, for virtually 2,000 years, a mix of prevailing clinical thought and stifling aristocratic consensus would view supporters the this concept persecuted for your beliefs.

At the time of the Antikythera Mechanism’s discovery, historians and also scientists wondered about the authenticity the the device. The seemed much more facility than what was recognized to it is in technologically capable in 80 BC. Regardless, the authenticity the the device was proven though evaluation of pieces retrieved native the shipwreck too as old texts corroborating the visibility of similar devices. Additionally, CT scans present inscriptions in ~ the machine that can be accurately date to this time period. (For an ext images the the Antikythera Mechanism, watch the interaction Relighting the the Antikythera Mechanism created by HP Labs.)

While it no known precisely what objective it had actually to old seafarers, the Antikythera system stands the end for its technological sophistication family member to known breakthroughs at that old time.

More recently, additional light was burned on the old computer through Michael Wright, former curator in ~ the scientific research Museum in London. In order to better understand the function, Wright created a working replica the the Antikythera mechanism in his home exterior of London. With X-ray imaging techniques, Wright was able to extrapolate the correct setup of the mechanism’s (surviving) internal wheels as well as a display to present the 19-year Metonic Cycle, a mechanism once provided in Greek, Babylonian, and ancient Chinese calendars.


The work of Wright and another team of scientists, Tony Freeth and also Alexander Jones, showed simply how sophisticated this device was because that the time: it is currently theorized the the Antikythera device was also able to depict the lunar eclipse cycle.

In September 2014, an expedition will go back to the wreck as soon as again. Making use of a brand-new advanced underwater exoskeleton, researchers intend to inspection the possibility of the presence of another sophisticated gear-based machine that could have been aboard the ship. This theory is based on added fragments that a an equipment composed the a different metal alloy and seemingly different craftsmanship.

Later on ~ the estimated creation of the Antikythera system (well, much later on), one astronomer called Johannes Campanus (1220–1296) led a more an essential application of expensive theorems proposed by his predecessors like Ptolemy. Utilizing the principles established by old astronomers, Campanus describes planetary activity in a publication called Tractatus de Sphaera, which focused on celestial phenomena.

At the time, that was rather an inexplicable and advanced undertaking because that a reasonably elementary text. Like various other astronomers and also scientific figures past, Campanus continued the heritage of building upon preexisting knowledge for further advances within the field.

In De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the transformations of the Celestial Spheres, 1543), the astronomer Nicolai Copernicus suggest a heliocentric solar system – one in i m sorry Earth, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn resolved about the sunlight (Neptune, Uranus, and also dwarf world Pluto had actually yet to be discovered). At that time, functioning planetaria were created to (successfully) prove this theory.

In an ext recent history, in between 1774 and 1781, The imperial Eise Eisinga Planetarium was built in Franeker, the Netherlands, by Eise Eisinga, a wool carder (one that processes and cleans wool fibers). At the time, Eisinga built the planetarium to prove that the planets within the solar mechanism would no collide during an huge event well-known as a conjunction.

Of course, Eisinga to be correct. Today, this proof can have been rather quickly depicted via an elegant computer simulation. But ago then, Eisinga produced a substantial structure, crafted indigenous oak and over 10,000 hand-forged nails as teeth. A pendulum clock and nine weights controlled the whole mechanism, which took 7 years come construct.

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Antiqouroum, Geneva, may 13 2012. Lot 466: This clock v orrery is a rare instance made c. 1765 expressly for the court that Louis XV by C.S. Passemant, a French clockmaker who devoted in uncommon huge complications. The tellurian mechanism features an intricately in-depth representation the the Earth and Moon (with a partial shield to highlight moon phases) and a sunlight at the center. The decorated case, with carved gilt lumber laurel-leaf detail about the dial, positions the an equipment as both a scientific instrument and aristocratic trophy. (Estimate CHF 80,000–120,000; Sold: CHF 92,500.)

Christie’s “Travel, Science, and Natural History", September 29, 2011. Lot 126: as with all scientific instruments, utility was paramount. But portability, if it can be managed, to be prized together well. A London-based craftsman, W. Jones, produced the first portable orrery c. 1787. That featured a tellurian atop an engraved paper dial v the Earth and also Moon do of hard ivory. The modular device came v a small fitted box containing extr planets and satellites, all in ivory, which might be attached to the device for more in-depth observation. (Estimate $25,000–$39,000; Sold: $151,904.)

Christie’s “500 Years: vital Decorative arts Europe”, December 9 2010. Lot 333: in between 1820 and 1840, Paris-based Raingo Frères became renowned for making complex orreries, 30 of i m sorry are known to exist. This example was do c. 1830 and again, the level of decorate is constant with duration aristocratic tastes: precious and rarefied detailing with Ormolu (gilt bronze) and also exotic Amboyna wood. This striking clock marketed for GBP 63,650 (vs. An estimate of GBP 40,000–60,000). An virtually identical variation was obtainable at Sotheby’s “Arts the Europe” sale on may 15, 2014. However this time, the lot went unsold at a significantly higher estimate the GBP 80,000–120,000.