Watch Complication

A watch complication sounds like a problem that needs addressing but in watch terms, it’s simply a function of the timepiece that’s additional to the basic function of telling the time in hours, minutes and seconds. They’re added to enhance the piece to increase functionality or perhaps to celebrate the complexity of the craftsmanship, and of course, simplify the wearer’s life. There are numerous complications found on both modern and vintage watches as well as expensive and the more modestly priced pieces, so let’s take look at some of these complications.

Common Complications

The most common of complications are day and date displays, alarms, automatic winding mechanisms and chronographs that we look at next. These don’t seem so amazing now they’re everyday additions to a modern watch, but still, the more complications, the more difficult to design, manufacture and maintain, with the associated costs this means the multiple complications will in the most part be seen on the more expensive models.

Grand Complication

This is a reference to watches that boast multiple complications on the same timepiece.

Despite there being no official definition of the grand complication it’s commonly considered that it should include at least three items from this list:

*Timing complications
*Astronomical complications
*Striking complications
*Simple chronograph
*Simple calendar
*Counter Chronograph
*Perpetual Calendar
*Quarter Repeater
*Split-second flyback chronograph
*Moon phases
*Half-quarter repeater
*Independent second-hand chronograph
*Equation of time
*Five-minute repeater
*Jumping second-hand chronograph
*Minute repeater

Patek Philippe Grand Complication

 Patek Philippe Grand Complication

Nonhorological Complications

In the world horology, there are some who have a strict view of what makes true complication, which doesn’t include additions with no time telling capabilities. These items as known as non-horological complications.

Watchmakers may add these complications which include things like compass, altimeter, or thermometer as part of the design. This is just a variation on the rule after all the first rule states that one description of a complication is an item to simplify the wearer’s life. Well, if the wearer is a pilot then an altimeter may well simplify the wearer’s life.


This is a watch with the additional feature of a stopwatch, which can typically have up to 250 part depending on the complexity of the movement. The chronograph may have the basic sweeping second hand or perhaps the ability to calculate hours, minutes, seconds, tenths of a second with a moveable bezel as tachymeters allowing calculation of speed and distance. Some prestige watchmakers such as Breguet, Patek Philippe, and Vacheron Constantin are well known for their manufacture of ultra-complicated movements with chronographs.

Flyback Chronograph

The Flyback chronographs have an addition function allowing the timing hand to be reset to zero ‘flyback’ with a single action.
With the standard chronograph the sweeping second hand is stopped to record the time and then restarted again at the spot to continue the count, but with the flyback has the ability to reset in an anti-clockwise sweep to zero.

Double Chronograph

Double chronograph includes two stopwatch mechanisms allowing the wearer to estimate two separate events of different durations. The double chronograph has two seconds hands, the first hand is set over the other. As one hand moves continuously, the second hand can be stopped and started, or reset to zero as required.


An annual calendar can be dynamic or static, the later representing the Gregorian calendar that varies from year to year so therefore can’t be used year by year with manual adjustments. The dynamic calendar, on the other hand, displays the hour, day, date and month, with the first of the month automatically adjusted following months of 30 or 31 days.

Perpetual Calendar

With the perpetual calendars, the dates are computed for any given year allowing for a wide range of yearly calendars.


An astrolabe is a complex inclinometer that throughout history has been used by astronomers, navigators, and astrologers. It has many uses but it’s mainly known for its ability to locate or predict the positions of heavenly bodies, the Sun, the Moon, planets, and stars giving the user the ability to determine local time using local latitude and vice-versa, and surveying and triangulation.

Equation of time

If you were using a sundial you would see that above the axis the sundial appears fast relative to a clock showing local time and the slow below the axis. The difference here is called Equation of time which describes the difference between two types of solar time, apparent solar time and mean solar time

Leap Year

Seasons and astronomical events don’t repeat exactly as we wish them to in order to conform with our calendars, so every four years our calendars have to make an adjustment to make up for the shortfall. Each year the small drift occurs which eventually requires a small adjustment on our part, so we came up with the leap year. Simply by inserting one an additional day into the year, the drift can be corrected, which on the Gregorian calendar is now added to the month of February.

Power Reserve Indicator

On a mechanical watch whether manual of automatic this is one of the most useful complications. Originally called ‘reserve de marche’, the power reserve is designed to indicate the remaining energy stored in the mainspring. For the mechanical watch to run at a regular rate the tension in the mainspring should have at least 30% and would need to be worn for at least 10 hours in the day to maintain a fully wound movement.

Power Reserve Rotary/Power Reserve Linear

The indication on the automatic watch represents how long the watch will run while not being worn or wound. The Manual Watch indicator represents the time remaining before a manual wind is required. This can be represented by a revolving wheel viewed through an aperture or a hand indicator moving from one point to another on an axis or a linear trajectory.

Sidereal Time

In it’s most basic form sidereal time is the measurement of time-based of the Earth’s rate of rotation relative to fixed stars rather than the Sun. This may not have much use to the man in the street but for astronomers needing to know which direction to point their telescopes, it’s more than useful. Sidereal and Solar Time make use of the Earth’s rotation about its polar axis, solar time following the Sun while sidereal time follows the stars.
The most exacting description of sidereal time is an angle measured from the observer’s meridian along the celestial equator to the great circle that passes through the March equinox and both poles. This is normally expressed in hours, minutes, and seconds giving the day roughly 23 hours, 56 minutes, 4.0916 seconds.

Solar Time

Think of a sundial and you have solar time, or think bigger and stick pole vertically in the ground on a sunny day and you will see a shadow fall. The shadow moves around the axis north and south and disappears as the sun is immediately above signifying local noon time. You just used the solar time to pinpoint local noon time and all the hours between.

Standard Time

Introduced during the 19th century to simplify weather forecasting and train travel using uniform timetables standard time was applied globally in the 20th century. It is the synchronization of clocks within a geographical area or region to a single standard rather than using the local or solar time. This gave rise to geographical areas sharing a common time frame defined by the terms of offsets from Universal time. We now know these as time zones.

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carl scutt
carl scutt
Carl's the founder and editor of His background's in Technology and Internet Marketing. He currently lives in southern Spain. Learn more about him here, and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+.

About carl scutt

Carl's the founder and editor of His background's in Technology and Internet Marketing. He currently lives in southern Spain. Learn more about him here, and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+.

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