I was reminded the other day while speaking with a new intern when they asked me, “What are complications?” I had to chuckle because this comment transported me back to when my interest first started in horology. I remember after walking away from a conversation with a fellow enthusiast at the time thinking, what on earth did they mean by their timepiece has numerous complications. Not one to be embarrassed, especially after confessing how passionate I was about the category, I politely nodded, smiled, and pretended to understand. So, I was impressed to hear that our new intern was far more confident and not afraid to ask the humble question.
So, for anyone else out there interested in having a deeper understanding of horology, a watch complication is simply any function that exists in addition to telling time. This includes displaying hours, minutes, and seconds on a timepiece. These watch complications enable special functions that are performed and displayed on the watch to enhance or simplify your life.
The more complications that exist in a watch increases the difficulty to design and produce because several additional components must be developed into the standard movement. Several complications are available in today’s timepieces, ranging from simple date displays to complex functions such as a tourbillon or repeater. The genius in design and innovation makes these watches highly sought after. Along with the complexity, precision and skill required to make these timepieces, people appreciate and value the craftmanship.
The recent advances in technology are now being imbedded into watches. Watches are now coming with GPS capabilities and can sync with your Bluetooth phone, but when you remove the back of the case, the impressiveness is quickly lost after observing the battery or computer chip.
This is the difference with complicated timepieces. When you view the movement of a complicated watch through its case-back, you’ll see technical innovation and precise engineering. The combination of several hundred tiny gears, jewels and springs enables the timepiece to complete incredible functions — functions that are assembled by hand and not completed by a computer chip.
The main types of complications that you’ll be exposed to include:
Date. Displays the date on the watch and is the simplest complication that exists. Day date complications show the day of the week in addition to the date. The date function must be manually adjusted at the end of 30-day months as well as at the end of February to ensure the proper date is displayed.
- Digital Date. Digital date shows the date displayed numerically through a window (also known as an aperture) on the dial. Typically, the date display is located at the three o’clock position.
- Analog Date. Analog date uses a centre hand with an arrow or a crescent that points to the date on the outside of the dial.
- Day Date. Day date complications show the day of the week displayed on the dial in addition to the standard date display.
Calendar. Most watches that contain a calendar function require constant adjustment to ensure the correct date is displayed. These watches will reset after completing 31 24-hour cycles, representing a full month. Since our calendar contains leap years and a varying number of days per month, watchmakers developed two advanced complications to track our calendars more accurately so that the date doesn’t have to be adjusted every month. As long as the timepiece is wound and running, the calendar complication will be functional and accurate.
- Triple Calendar. This complication expands on the day date by adding the month of the year to the dial of the timepiece.
- Annual Calendar. An annual calendar complication is a complete calendar displaying day, date and month with minimal adjustment. The complication automatically adjusts the date displayed on the timepiece based on 30- and 31-day months to ensure that the correct date is always displayed. This complication requires setting the date once per year, at the end of February.
- Perpetual Calendar. This complication displays the day, date and month, but requires even less adjustment than an annual calendar. This complication not only knows the number of days in each month, it also knows the year so that it will automatically adjust for leap year. The next time a perpetual calendar will have to be adjusted is in the year 2100.
Chronograph. This is a complication that describes the timing functionality of a timepiece, also commonly known as a stopwatch. It allows the wearer to measure intervals of time without affecting the normal time-telling function of the watch. The chronograph changed the world because it allowed for incredible accuracy in recording time — from 1/100 of a second up to 12 hours. While the basic idea of a chronograph is the same from watch to watch, there are three different types of chronographs that exist in watches today.
- Simple Chronograph. The standard chronograph is controlled by either one or two pushers (buttons) that allow it to start, stop and reset. While all early chronographs featured only one pusher, most of today’s timepieces utilize two. Its innumerable uses make it a common and desirable complication.
- Flyback Chronograph. The flyback chronograph is an advanced chronograph that enables the rapid restarting of the timer function while the chronograph is running. When the chronograph button is pushed, the chronograph will stop, reset to zero and restart. This fast return feature is often needed for split second accuracy.
- Rattrapante Chronograph. The French word for split seconds. Rattrapante describes an additional complication within a chronograph. This features an additional second hand that is superimposed on the chronograph hand and enables the measurement of multiple events occurring simultaneously.
Moon Phase. This complication is a highly desired complication for most watch enthusiasts. While some desire it for its utility and technical prowess, others desire it simply for its beauty. The duration of a lunar cycle (from new moon to new moon) is 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 seconds. This complication will track the current phase of our moon in the lunar cycle, indicating if it is a new, full, half or quarter moon.
- By utilizing a rotating disk, the watch indicates the cycle of the moon by showing the illuminated portion of our moon, as it would be seen from Earth. The phases of the moon are typically displayed through an aperture on the dial, which shows an actual graphic image of the moon. Just as the moon travels across the sky, the image travels across the dial of the watch.
- The beautiful display of the moon-phase cycle will differ in various timepieces. Often, we see the moon phase display in bright and vibrant colours, adding bursts of colour to the dial of the timepiece. Some Swiss watch brands take a more subtle approach, with the moon-phase indicator blending in with the dial colour. The most popular position of the moon phase display is just above the six o’clock position.
Time Zone. Often associated with aviation or the military, watches with multiple time zones are a perfect way to manage time in multiple areas of the world. These timepieces are extremely functional because they enable the wearer to quickly adjust and understand time while traveling. Watches with GMT functionality display time in two or more time zones and are revered by pilots and traveling businessmen alike.
- Dual Time Zone. Watches with dual time zones have a high utility value by enabling the wearer to independently read two different time zones at a glance. Most will use it to display their home time zone as well as the local time for the place they are traveling. Pilots and military personnel will use this functionality to display Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) so they can easily report in 24-hour time.
- World Time. Timepieces with world time functionality are great for international businessmen and for world travellers because they simultaneously display the time in all 24 time zones. The outside of the dial features a rotating bezel with the major city in each time zone. This bezel corresponds with a 24-hour bezel, together showing an organized display of the time in any time zone in the world.
Minute Repeater. A repeater complication is a true marvel in modern horology. When a slide lever is pressed on the watchcase, the timepiece rings out the time through a series of chimes. A minute repeater strikes out the hours, quarters, and minutes on request while a quarter repeater strikes only for hours and quarters. Repeaters helped the visually impaired tell time and before the spread of electricity, repeaters would help tell time in the dark. Today, minute repeaters are one of the most complex watch mechanisms and are highly coveted by watch enthusiasts for their masterful engineering and beautiful acoustics.
Tourbillon. The “brain” of a mechanical watch resides in what is known as the escapement, which includes a delicate hairspring mounted on a balance wheel that rotates back and forth (each rotation equates to a tick on the watch). Due to the nature of the design and gravity effects of lighter or heavier spots in the balance wheel, the rate of timekeeping will vary when the watch is in different positions.
- In a standard mechanical watch, the escapement is fixed, and it is impossible to regulate it to keep the exact same rate no matter which position that watch is in (dial up, down, crown up, down, etc.). Enter the tourbillon. In a tourbillon, the entire escapement is housed in a rotating cage, and the whole assembly is constantly moving. That means no matter what position the watch is in, those timing variations are essentially cancelled out.
- A tourbillon is one of the pinnacles of horological achievement, and a truly impressive feat of engineering.
Final thoughts. When selecting a watch, it is much like choosing a bottle of wine or a glass of whiskey, you only choose what YOU like and what makes YOU happy. There are many varieties on offer, and if you make the mistake of selecting a watch that you are truly not comfortable with, you will regret the purchase and never wear it. Selecting the right watch is an individual choice and one that should be enjoyed. Plus, no-one says you only must select one. At Ventoux we purposely have watches for all types of people, occasions, and budgets, so enjoy exploring and start your collection today.