For many, the mention of a wristwatch conjures up simple images of dials with two hands. Then there are those of us deeply obsessed with the horology world that know there’s functionality way past the hours and minutes. These are called “watch complications”.
Watches, once humble instruments designed to tell time, have evolved into masterpieces of engineering and artistry. Today, a watch is not just a tool to keep track of the hours and minutes; it is a symphony of complications, each telling a unique story of innovation and expertise. Despite the name, watch complications aren’t all that complicated, and today we’re here to demystify every single watch complication there is.
A date complication on a watch refers to a feature that displays the current date on the dial. It's a practical and commonly used function that adds a useful dimension to a timepiece beyond just telling the time. The date complication typically consists of a round or square-shaped aperture, often located at the 3 or 6 o'clock position.
Rather than displaying the date traditionally in a box, some watches utilise a pointer date complication. The watch employs a separate hand to indicate the date on the dial, often pointing to a numbered track along the dial’s perimeter.
A day-date complication on a watch displays both the day-of-the-week and the date side by side. Typically, the day-date is located at 3 or 12 o'clock, delivering a quick and legible snapshot of useful calendar information.
A moonphase complication tracks the lunar cycle, displaying the current phase of the moon on the dial. It adds a celestial touch to timepieces, showcasing waxing and waning crescents typically in a curved aperture. This particular feature appeals to those who appreciate the intersection of horology and astronomy in a watch's design.
While day-date watches display just the date and day-of-the-week, triple calendar watches go one step further by including the month. Usually, triple calendar watches show each calendar component in separate windows in an elegant but functional arrangement.
An annual calendar watch also displays the date, day and month but instinctively accounts for months of varying lengths. On months with 30 or 31 days, the watch automatically displays the correct date. It is only during the month of February, which has 28 or 29 days, that the watch needs to be manually adjusted. Its name “annual” calendar reflects its need to be correct just once a year.
The most advanced calendar watch available, the perpetual calendar displays the date, day and month and automatically accounts for months of varying lengths including February and leap years. Many perpetual calendar watches also include additional moonphase complications and require no manual adjustment until the year 2100.
A chronograph watch is a timepiece with additional stopwatch function, allowing users to measure elapsed time intervals. Typically equipped with subsidiary counters and pushers, it enables precise tracking of events, making it popular among sports enthusiasts and professionals.
Monopoussoir or Monopusher Chronograph
Monopoussoir, meaning monopusher, is a type of chronograph that has just a single pusher on the side of the case. The single button operates the start, stop, and reset functions of the chronograph and is quite often found on vintage-inspired timepieces.
A flyback chronograph is a specialised chronograph that allows the wearer to stop the elapsed second hand, return it to zero and restart it with a single press of a pusher. This is different from a standard chronograph that requires you to press one button to stop the hand and another to restart it. It’s a useful watch complication for those that need to time continuous events.
Rattrapante or Split-Seconds Chronograph
A Rattrapante, or split-seconds chronograph, is an intricate watch complication with two chronograph seconds hands that can be operated independently. It allows the timing of multiple events concurrently, as one seconds hand can be stopped to record an intermediate time while the other continues.
A tachymeter scale is often placed on the edge of a dial or on the bezel of a watch. It works alongside chronograph complication to measure speed based on the time it takes to travel a fixed distance. Users can calculate speed in units per hour, making it useful for various timing-related activities.
Another type of scale found on watches is a pulsometer. This scale is designed to measure a person's heart rate and often features on the outer edge of the dial. It enables the wearer to determine the number of heart beats per minute and so is particularly useful for those in medical professions or with fitness enthusiasts who want to monitor their pulse.
A telemeter on a watch is a scale used to measure the distance of a phenomenon, such as a lightning strike or artillery fire, based on the time it takes for sound to travel. By starting the chronograph when the event is seen and stopping it when the sound is heard, the distance can be calculated.
GMT or Dual-Time
Ideal for those that travel across time zones regularly, a GMT or dual-time watch allows you to display multiple time zones simultaneously. It typically features an additional 24-hour hand that can be set independently to track a second time zone. Some GMT watches also have additional 24 hour scale for a third time zone display.
While a GMT watch displays the time in two or three time zones at once, a Worldtimer shows the time in all 24 of the world time zone’s simultaneously. Usually, world timer watches have a 24-hour scale around the dial and a bezel adorned with the names of all 24 world cities to represent the 24 major time zones.
Power Reserve Indicator
A power reserve indicator on a watch displays the amount of stored energy left its mainspring. The mainspring is the component of an automatic or manual-wound watch that is wound up to power the watch and the rest of its functions. The power reserve is usually depicted as a scale or subsidiary dial and informs the wearer about the remaining time before the watch requires winding again.
Mechanical Alarm or Striking Hour
Watches equipped with a mechanical alarm, or striking hour, have an independent hour hand connected to a notched cam. When the hour hand completes the full hour, it activates a hammer that strikes an alarm inside the movement. The alarm often emits a bell-like ringing or a vibration which can be used to remind the wearer of an event.
The tourbillon is one of the most complicated watch complications out there. It consists of a rotating cage that houses the escapement and balance wheel of a mechanical movement. This mechanism counteracts the effects of gravity to enhance the watch’s accuracy. Flying tourbillons are often put on display on the dial since they are beautiful to watch.
A minute repeater is a sophisticated complication that audibly chimes the time on demand. Activated by a slide or button, it uses a series of tuned gongs and hammers to produce a melodic sound representing the hours, quarter-hours, and minutes.