Watch Complications Simplified


by Marc Shaffer  

A watch’s primary purpose is to tell time, and some watches do precisely that — and no more. Watches that display hours and minutes are called two-hand models, because they have two hands. Watches that also have a second hand are referred to as three-hand models.

However, many watches exist that do more than just tell time, and the additional functions these watches perform are called complications.

Common Types of Watch Complications

Day and Date: The most common watch complication is the date window. Date windows can be situated in various positions on a watch’s dial. Most people are used to seeing date windows at the 3 o’clock, but today’s watches can have them at almost any position on the dial. Some watches use a “Cyclops” or magnifier so that the date is easier to read on smaller dials. Another complication allows for both a day and date to appear on the dial.

Calendar: While many watches display the date, there are some watches with a very special complication called a perpetual calendar. The perpetual calendar is the most complex type of calendar feature to exist on a watch. This calendar accurately displays the date, day, month, and year, and even takes into account leap years. However, perpetual calendar watches will require correction in 2100, which will not be a leap year.

Chronograph: Another complication frequently seen is the chronograph, which in layman terms means that the manufacturer has added a stopwatch to the timepiece. Normally a chronograph is controlled by a start/stop button and a reset button. Most chronographs have small subdials incorporated in the main dial that keep track of tenths of seconds, minutes, or hours for the stopwatch function.

Power Reserve Indicator: A power reserve indicator placed on the dial of the watch displays the run time remaining before the watch needs to be rewound. You would normally see these on mechanical or automatic watches. Quartz watches use a different complication to indicate that a watch’s battery is running down. The second hand will start to move in two-second intervals when it’s time for a battery change.

GMT Hand: Many modern watches utilize a second hour hand, that is used to display time in a second time zone. This complication is referred to as a GMT hand. GMT refers to Greenwich Mean Time, as the original function was created in order to offer pilots a fixed time zone reference while flying between time zones. Today, this is a fabulous watch complication for frequent travelers.

Moon Phase: Luxury watches include complications like moon phase indicators and minute repeaters. The moon phase complication shows if the moon is full, half, quarter or new. Originally, the moon phase was used by sailors to gauge tides.

Minute Repeater: A minute repeater is a movement that will chime out the time when a lever on the side of the case is activated. This was a fairly common complication for pocket watches during the 18th and 19th centuries Certain style of watches tend to use specific complications. For instance, pilot watches tend to have fancy bezels that act as flight computers. Dive watches feature Helium release valves to release the pressure following deep water dives.

Cost Implications of Watch Complications

Adding complications to a watch is expensive. The movement modules need to be designed to operate both the timing mechanism and the watch's complications. Therefore, you tend to see complications on higher end mechanical and automatic movements. (For the record, the Patek Philippe Calibre 89 has 33 complications, using a total of 1728 parts.) However, quartz movements make adding complications much more affordable. The next time you look at a watch you may see that it does more than just tell time. It may not do as many things as your cellphone, but it looks a whole lot better on your wrist.

About Gevril Group

Gevril GroupWatchmaker and wholesale watch distributor Gevril Group is the exclusive U.S. agent for exquisitely designed and crafted European luxury and fashion watch brands, distributing and servicing some of the best affordable luxury, Swiss and fashion watches. Gevril Group also operates a full-service watch repair, staffed by master Swiss watchmakers. Contact Gevril Group by email or by calling 845-425-9882. Join the conversation! Follow Gevril Group on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Please subscribe to the Gevril Group newsletter and blog.

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