The complex world of horology is not easy to understand, especially if you are unfamiliar with watch complications that make a simple time-telling device a marvel of engineering.
These innovative complications, such as the moon phase, perpetual calendar, and GMT complication, not only add extra charm to our watches. It also provides an additional layer of functionality that can help us in our daily lives.
So, whether you’re a veteran or just a beginner in this watch-collecting hobby, this article is for you. Today we will show you some of the most popular complications found in mechanical watches.
So if you’re curious about the complex features that make a watch extraordinary, don’t stop now and keep reading along!
Want To Listen Instead? Click Play Below
What Is Considered A Watch Complication?
In layman’s terms, a watch complication is any function or feature of a watch in addition to displaying time (hours, minutes, and seconds). Watch complications are special functions often performed and displayed on the watch’s dial.
A non-complicated or simple watch sticks primarily to its timekeeping function.
On the other hand, a timepiece with complications has other features, which may include a date display, elapsed time, or another time zone.
Why Are Watch Features Called Complications?
Complications refer to additional watch features that literally complicate watches.
It is called a “complication” when additional features, such as the alarm function, necessitate the use of more parts and increases the difficulty of creating and maintaining the movement for a watchmaker.
Some mechanical watches even include numerous intricate complications, making them exceedingly complex. This is what they call a grand complication.
What Do Watch Complications Do?
The task that can be done by the watch complication depends on what type of complications you have in your mechanical watch.
For example, dual-time watches have a GMT function that allows their wearer to keep track of two different time zones (sometimes more). While other complications, such as the power indicator, display the remaining power reserve of a watch.
In short, these complications in our watches can do plenty of things that can make our life easier. It’s just a matter of picking the right watch complication that perfectly fits our lifestyle.
Types Of Watch Complications
A date window is the most common date complication you can find in a wide variety of wristwatches and pocket watches. This is basically a date display that can be found on a watch dial. It is often placed in the 3 or 6 o’clock position.
This complication is essentially a bigger version of the standard watch’s date display. Unlike the simple date window, this feature usually uses two date disks instead of one, with two separate windows for each digit (one for the tens numeral and the other for the ones).
This function is often found in high-end luxury watches and also goes by the name of “Big Date” or “Grande Date”.
Pointer date, also known as “Date Hand,” is a date complication that uses a central hand that points to the numbers around the outer layer of the watch dial to indicate the date of the day.
A watch with day-date complications refers to a timepiece that can display the day of the week on its dial as well as the current date of the day.
One of the iconic watches that utilize this feature is the Rolex Day-Date.
The triple calendar complication is a leveled-up version of a day-date feature. This function not only displays the date and day, but it can also indicate the month of the year.
This can be displayed through an analog hand, display window, or via a dedicated sub-dial.
The annual calendar is a complication invented by Patek Philippe and was first released in 1996. This function can display the day, date, and month and only requires a minimal adjustment as it can automatically adjust the date indicated on the timepiece based on the 30-day and 31-day months.
The only time you need to manually adjust watches with annual calendars is in February when the month has only 28 days (or 29 if it’s a leap year).
The most sophisticated and complex calendar function that is used today is the perpetual calendar complication. Watches with perpetual calendars can accurately display the day, date, and month even in February, in both leap year and non-leap years.
It is considered one of the most complicated watch functions that are often found in high-end timepieces made by world-renowned Swiss watchmaking brands like Patek Philippe.
A flyback chronograph complication allows its users to simultaneously reset and restart the chronograph function with a single button, unlike the standard chronograph that has 2 pushers that are used for the start/stop function and reset.
This is a valuable function in timing quick intervals and is often used in sports and car racing.
Split-seconds (Rattrapante or “catching up” in French) chronograph watches have two running second hands used for timing and function as multiple chronographs in one. This allows its users to simultaneously keep track of multiple events or timing laps time in races.
A tachymeter is a numerical scale often found on the outer layer of the dial or the bezel. It is utilized to calculate the speed at which the watch’s wearer travels over a fixed period of time.
It is usually used to determine miles or kilometers per hour, making it a common feature of chronograph watches whose design is inspired by automobile racing.
Pulsimeter, also known as pulsograph, is one of the most unique watch complications you can see in a modern watch. This watch function is used to measure the heart rate of its wearer. Timepieces with this feature are often called “doctor watches”.
Another amazing watch complication we have here on this list is the telemeter. It is used to measure the wearer’s distance from an event by using visual and audible indicators.
It works by measuring the time it takes for sound to travel a certain distance from an individual to an object to determine that distance. For example, you can use it to determine how far away a thunderstorm is based on the elapsed time between a flash of lightning and a crackle of thunder.
The slide rule bezel is a function that features two logarithmic scales that are used by navigators and pilots to make vital in-flight calculations. It is a tool for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and other arithmetic operations.
GMT / Dual Time
GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) complication is a function that allows the wearer of the watch to read two or multiple time zones with just a single glance on its dial. Usually, they perform this task with the use of a second independent hour hand and a 24-hour scale on the dial or outer bezel.
Watch movement with this function is a must for frequent travelers as this feature is also known as one of the best travel complications.
In addition to showing the local time, a watch equipped with a world timer is designed to simultaneously display the current time across 24 major time zones. Typically, this is done by displaying 24 world cities on the watch dial or bezel, representing a distinct time zone.
With this complication, you can see the time in New York, London, Tokyo, and many more with just one glance.
The moon phase complication is one of the earliest functions in watchmaking. Its development was primarily driven by the need for early sailors to gauge the tides by determining the ongoing phase of the moon.
While not often regarded as the most practical complication, moonphase watches lend both aesthetic appeal and an exceptional engineering accomplishment in watchmaking history.
Power Reserve Indicator
A power reserve indicator allows us to see how much power is left in a watch before it needs to be winded. A complication introduced in 1933, this display operates much like the fuel gauge in a car dashboard that displays a range from ‘full’ to ’empty.’
The mechanical alarm is a practical yet very uncommon watch complication.
Watches with this complication usually have an independent hand for this function, which can be set to activate the vibrating alarm inside the watch mechanism.
It also has a pusher that can be used to switch the alarm off.
A tourbillon is a watch complication that you can often find in the movements of certain high-end luxury watches. The tourbillon is used to lessen the impact of gravity that affects the accuracy and precision of mechanical watch movements.
It counters the drag effect of gravity that impacts some of the smaller components inside the timepiece when held at certain angles.
A minute repeater is a watch complication that is often found in high-end watch models. It can strike out the hours, quarters, and minutes on request. This feature is a valuable function for visually impaired people.
However, chiming watches with this function are regarded as more of a luxury today than a tool, making it a very desirable piece for wristwatch enthusiasts.
Jumping hour complication is one of the rarest and somewhat unusual watch complications we have on this list.
Timepieces with this function have an hour hand that does not slowly move between the hour markers. Instead, it points precisely at the current hour and hops to the next hour as soon as the 60 minutes of the current hour is done.
Dead Beat Seconds
The dead beat second complication, also known as jumping seconds, is a function almost similar to the jumping hour feature. Instead of smoothly flowing seconds hands, dead beat second-hand breaks briefly every second to allow the wearer to read the time down to the second.
It is an uncommon feature for high-end timepieces. However, you can usually see this in many affordable watches.
Skeleton / Openworked
An openworked or skeletonized watch is a timepiece with no or a less visible dial. It is stripped down to reveal the inner workings of the movement.
Also, the plates and bridges of the calibre used in the watch are hollowed out to reveal gears, the balance wheel, the hairspring, etc.
There are a lot of Swiss watchmaking brands that offer some of the best skeleton watches in the market. These include Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille.
Square / Rectangular
Unlike traditional round-shaped watches, square watches are timepieces that feature square or rectangular-shaped cases. This unique style adds aesthetics and often gives a classic and elegant look.
One of the most iconic models of square watches is the Cartier Tank. Other watches like TAG Heuer Monaco and Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Classic are also good options to choose from.
Thin watches are designed to have a slim or thin profile. Watchmakers utilize diverse techniques and approaches to assemble timepieces with this feature. These include using ultra-thin movements, sleek dials, and slim casing.
One of the best thin watches in the market today is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra-Thin.
Which Watch Has The Most Complications?
The most complicated watch ever built is made by one of the holy trinity of the watchmaking industry. It is none other than the Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260 that has record-breaking and mind-blowing 57 complications.
Some of the most notable watch complications equipped in this watch include a perpetual calendar, 24-city time zone display, equation of time, star chart, sidereal time display, night-time silence mode, and so on.
It is also considered one of the most expensive watches in the world, with an estimated market price of $8 million.
Watch Complications – Conclusion
And that’s it! That is the complete list of watch complications used in making some of the most iconic timepieces in watchmaking history.
Not only do they provide pleasing beauty to our watches, but they also bring functionality to assist us in our daily lives.
So after reading this article, we hope that you earned a better understanding of these amazing watch complications.
Now, if you are looking to buy your first watch and try to start your own watch collection, why don’t you check out our article about the best turquoise watches.