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Watch Education An Introduction to Complications

Advanced Watch Functions

A watch “complication” is any additional movement function that goes beyond displaying the hours, minutes, seconds and date.  Functions such as calendars, moon phases indicators, multiple time zone indicators, chronographs and chiming mechanisms are all considered complications. Some complications can be quite understated on a visual level and yet can be dramatically complex to create, such as a minute repeater. Other complications, for instance chronographs or GMTs, provide helpful utilities for the wearer. There is an interesting dichotomy to complications: on one hand they provide the watch with some useful functionality and on the other hand there is a visceral appeal that goes beyond the complication’s intended purpose, becoming emotionally important to the owner or wearer of the watch.

For the sake of simplicity, we will look at complications here on a very basic level here, and dive into some more complex topics in future posts. Understanding the basics of complications will give the novice watch enthusiast and/or watch collector a solid foundation to better understand both timepieces and marketplace as a whole.

examples of different watch complications

Calendars

There are many different types of calendar movements, but they are all just complex variations of a basic date window.  You will find classic date windows, day-date, annual calendar and triple calendar complications.

Chronographs

To add to watch movements, some feature a chronograph, which is a stopwatch built into the movement.  Some chronographs are two button pushers while others have three.

Power Reserve

Just like a fuel gauge on a car, the power reserve indicator shows the amount of remaining stored energy.  It indicates the tension on the mainspring from the movement.  This movement is very handy on mechanical watches that require winding.

Minute Repeater

Designed before widespread artificial illumination, this feature chimes the time down to the minute so time could be determined in the dark.  They strike on demand at the press of a button, unlike striking clocks which chime at regular intervals.

Tourbillon

This small addition to the watch mounts the escapement and balance wheel in a rotating cage.  Gravity effects parts of the escapement and this balance wheel is supposed to counter the effects and help improve accuracy.

GMT

A proper GMT movement keeps the GMT hand set to Greenwich Mean Time while the hour hand can be independently adjusted as needed.  This creates a third hand that either runs on a 12-hour or 24-hour indicator.

Moonphase

This beautiful feature shows the stages of the moon on your watch.  It will show if it is a full, half, quarter or new moon.  The complication was originally developed for sailors to gauge tide levels.

watch complicationsThe Supercomplication

The most complicated handmade watch was made by Patek Philippe in 1932 and features 24 complications Henry Graves Supercomplication Watch.  This highly complex watch was designed for Henry Graves Jr. son of an American financier.  The celestial map on the watch face mirrors the sky as seen from his apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York City.  The map rotates with the sky and shows the correct spacing and magnitude of the stars.  The watch was commissioned as part of an unofficial competition between Graves and automotive pioneer James Packard.  The Packard watch featured only 10 complications while the Supercomplication has over double.  It has 900 parts, was built without the aide of computer technology and took 8 years to complete.  The Supercomplication was last wound in 1969 and is still working today.

About Jon Callahan
Father, husband and watch enthusiast. After getting his start as a stock boy in a jewelry store and watching them expand to carry Swiss watch brands including: Ulysse Nardin, Oris and Roger Dubuis, he was hooked. His first watch is an Oris XXL Chronograph which he still owns. He has also owned a Graham Chronofighter Oversized, a Panerai PAM 251 Daylight and an Oris Pro Driver. His ultimate grail watch is the ultra rare Kari Voutilainen Monopoussoir Chronograph. Find Jon at the Philadelphia location of Govberg Jewelers.

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