Watch Complications: A Brief Explainer

Watches have always been designed to do more than simply tell time. From watches for cave explorers to timepieces that can be worn in space, they have always catered to the activities of man.

Thus, the watch complication came to be – a function that exists in addition to telling the time. True to its name, a watch complication can sometimes be difficult to understand, even for the most savvy of watch collectors.

But they don’t need to be, er… complicated. In fact, they’re designed to simplify your life. Here’s a brief explainer of common complications, from the simplest to the most complex:

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Rolex Date

DATE

The simplest complication that exists in watches.
  • It displays the date, typically at the 3 o’clock position.
  • This function has to be manually adjusted at the end of 30-day months, as well as the end of February, to reflect the proper date.

pictured: Rolex Date Silver Dial Steel Mens Watch

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Rolex President
DAY-DATE 

A day-date watch displays the day of the month in addition to the date. It is typically displayed on an aperture at the 12 o’clock position, with the date still at the 3 o’clock position.

pictured: Rolex President Day-Date 36 Everose Gold Mens Watch

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Omega
CHRONOGRAPH 

A chronograph watch is basically a stopwatch or timer.

  • It allows the wearer to measure and record periods of time, but without affecting the time-telling functions of the watch.
  • The basic chronograph has two “pushers” that are used to start, stop, and reset the time.
While often thought of as a special watch for races, it can be used to track time for various activities: cooking times, meetings, parking meters, bike rides, and more.

pictured: Omega Speedmaster 57 Broad Arrow Watch

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TIMEZONE COMPLICATIONS
Whether you’re a frequent traveler or work with people in different time zones, a watch that can tell the time in more than one place can be very useful. There are 3 complications commonly used to do this:
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Rolex Pepsi
GMT 

GMT stands for Greenwich Mean Time or the starting point on a 24-hour scale of international timezones. Using this scale, the GMT watch tells two timezones. Typically, a GMT hand will have the hour-hand that tells time on a 12-hour scale; then another colored hour-hand is added to tell the second time, usually on a 24-hour format on the bezel.

pictured: Rolex GMT Master Blue Red Pepsi Bezel Mens Watch

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Rolex Cellini
DUAL TIME 

Dual time watches, as the name suggests, display two different times at once. Most commonly, you’ll see the second time at a subdial at 6 o’clock, showing the time on a 12-hour scale.

pictured: Rolex Cellini Dual Time White Gold Automatic Watch 
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Breguet World Time

WORLD TIME

A World Timer shows the time in all 24 timezones across the world, at once. The watch does this through a rotating bezel that shows major cities around the world, with a corresponding bezel that indicates time on a 24-hour scale. Those who do business with people in more than one timezone will find this extremely handy.

pictured: Breguet Marine World Time Hora Mundi 18K Yellow Gold Watch 

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CALENDAR COMPLICATIONS
Calendar watches display the day, date and month of the year, and sometimes even the year. Since we have leap years and calendar months have different numbers of days, some watches have more advanced features to track these changes automatically.
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Omega Aqua Terra
ANNUAL CALENDAR

An annual calendar automatically adjusts the date displayed on the watch based on 30- and 31-day months. However, it still requires setting the date once per year, at the end of February which has less then 30 days.

pictured: Omega Aqua Terra 150m Annual Calendar Watch

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IWC Portuguese
PERPETUAL CALENDAR 
A perpetual calendar requires even less intervention than the annual calendar. Not only does it adjust for 30- and 31-day months, but will also automatically adjust for leap years. The next time perpetual calendars have to be adjusted is in year 2100.pictured: IWC Portuguese Perpetual Calendar Rose Gold Watch

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Jaeger LeCoultre Master Quantieme
MOONPHASE
The moonphase is usually added to a calendar watch, but it can also stand alone. As the name suggests, it tracks the present phase of the moon by calculating the lunar cycle – 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 seconds. A moonphase watch has a beautiful rotating disk that indicates whether it is new, full, half or quarter moon.pictured: Jaeger Lecoultre Master Quantieme Perpetual White Gold Watch

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Breguet Minute Repeater

MINUTE REPEATER

A minute repeater audibly chimes the current time on demand, through a series of dings and dongs, and by activating a push- or slide-piece on the watch.

While it’s no longer commonly used today, repeaters were created to help the visually-impaired tell time or to tell time in the dark back when there was no electricity yet.

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Today, they are coveted by watch aficionados for their ingenious engineering and beautiful sound.

pictured: Breguet Minute Repeater 18K Yellow Gold Watch
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TOURBILLON

The tourbillon is the most complex, elusive, and most expensive of all complications.

The tourbillon was created to counter the effects of the Earth’s gravity on the accuracy of the watch movement. When a watch spends the majority of its time stuck in either a horizontal or vertical position, this puts a strain on the hairspring inside its escapement, thereby decreasing its accuracy.

The tourbillon was a solution invented by famed watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet in the 1700’s, where an escapement is housed in a rotating cage and is constantly on the move – thereby averaging out the effect of gravity. Its use is often questioned these days and is often used to display a watch’s virtuosity and beauty.
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SEE MORE OF THE WATCHES IN OUR VIDEO:

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PHOTO CREDIT: Tourbillon By Greubel Forsey, licensed by CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
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