In watch terminology, a complication is any function other than telling the time. The more complications a watch has, the more difficult it is to build the mechanical movement that drives the watch. If a watch combines many complications — particularly intricate ones — it’s called a “grand complication.” Very few watch brands have the capability of producing grand complication timepieces given the amount of skill, knowledge, and time it takes to develop the movements.
You’ll often hear the terms high horology or haute horlogerie to describe these types of complicated watches. While high horology timepieces are few and far between, watches fitted with a few complications are not. Below is an overview of the most popular watch complications offered by luxury watch brands. Here’s our ultimate guide to luxury watch complications.
Luxury Watch Complications: Calendars
A date indication is the simplest and most ubiquitous complication found across watches. The most common way to display the date is via one window on the dial, which is commonly found at the 3, 4:30, or 6 o’clock positions. However, some also feature a “big date” display, which is usually comprised of two adjacent windows — one for each numeral.
Furthermore, some watches feature a subsidiary dial (instead of a window) to show the date. Finally, a pointer date includes a hand on the dial that points to the date, which is displayed around the periphery of the dial.
Some popular luxury watches with date windows include the:
- Rolex Datejust
- Omega Aqua Terra
- Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
- Patek Philippe
Some watches also include a day indication on the dial to accompany the date display. Again, the most common way to display a day complication is through a window but it can also be indicated via a pointer hand. Sometimes the day is written out in full while other times it’s displayed in an abbreviated format.
The most popular luxury watch with a day window is by far the Rolex Day-Date President.
Another calendar complication that can be found on a watch is the month indicator, which can be displayed via a window or with a pointer hand. While the most common way to show the month is by name, Rolex devised a month indicator on the Sky-Dweller watch using small boxes next to the 12 hour markers. Depending on which month it is (1 = Jan, 2 = Feb, 3 = Mar, etc.) the appropriate box is filled with a different color than the rest.
If a watch features the date, date, and month, it’s referred to as a triple calendar. There are also complete calendar watches (also known as full calendar watches), which include a moonphase.
An annual calendar watch not only displays a few different calendar indications but also only requires the wearer to manually adjust it once a year. An annual calendar watch knows which months have 30 days and which have 31 days; therefore, as long as the watch keeps running, it will automatically adjust the date on the first of each month (except for March.) Since February has 28 or 29 days (depending on if it’s a leap year or not), the wearer will have to correct the watch on March 1.
Some popular luxury annual calendar watches include:
A perpetual calendar is one of the most admired complications in horology as it is programmed to know the number of days in every month and the leap year cycle. Therefore, as long as the watch continues to run, a perpetual calendar will automatically adjust to always display the correct day/date/month. However, the year 2100 will require a manual correction since according to the Gregorian calendar, that’s when the next leap year will be skipped.
Some popular luxury watches with date windows include the:
- Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Watches
- Audemars Piguet Perpetual Calendar Watches
- Vacheron Constantin Perpetual Calendar Watches
- IWC Perpetual Calendar Watches
Luxury Watch Complications: Travel Complications
A dual time watch displays two time zones simultaneously, which is practical for frequent travelers who need to know both local time and home time. The second time zone is usually displayed via a 12-hour subdial. A day/night indicator sometimes accompanies that subdial so that the wearer knows if it’s A.M. or P.M. in that time zone.
Some high-end watchmakers that make dual time watches include Cartier, Ulysse Nardin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Vacheron Constantin, and many others.
A GMT (which stands for Greenwich Mean Time) is a special type of dual time watch that uses a 24-hour scale for the second time zone. The most common layout of a GMT watch includes a fourth hand on the dial, which points to a 24-hour marked bezel to indicate the hour of the second time zone.
The most popular luxury GMT watch is without a doubt the Rolex GMT-Master.
A world time watch indicates 24 time zones at once. It usually includes a rotating ring around the dial periphery that displays 24 cities that correspond to the 24 time zones.
Some popular luxury World Time watches include:
- Patek Philippe World Time
- Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic Universal Time
- Breguet Hora Mundi
Luxury Watch Complications: Chronographs
A chronograph watch includes a stopwatch function. A traditional chronograph watch has two pushers on the case, a central chronograph hand (in place of a normal seconds hand), and two or three subsidiary dials. The two pushers, which are normally positioned above and below the winding crown, serve to start and stop (upper pusher) and reset (lower pusher) the chronograph hand. The subsidiary dials include counters to track how many minutes and hours have elapsed since the chronograph hand was activated. Although not a requirement, many chronograph watches will include a tachymeter scale, which measures units (miles and/or kilometers) per hour.
Some popular luxury chronograph watches include:
- Rolex Daytona
- Omega Speedmaster
- Breitling Navitimer
- Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore
In addition to the classic chronograph complication, there are other types of chronographs too.
For instance, a flyback chronograph (a.k.a. retour-en-vol) does not require the chronograph hand to be stopped before resetting it. A split-seconds chronograph (a.k.a. rattrapante) features three pushers and a pair of chronograph hands to time two events that begin together but end separately (like in a race.) Finally, there’s also the single-pusher chronograph (a.k.a. monopoussoir) where one pusher starts, stops, and resets the chronograph hand.
Chronograph watches with two subsidiary dials are often called bi-compax while those with three subsidiary dials are called tri-compax.
It’s important to note that chronographs and chronometers are not the same and it’s common for people to confuse them. A chronometer is a watch that has been officially certified to meet specific accuracy/precision ratings while, as we’ve explained, a chronograph is a watch with a stopwatch function. In Switzerland, the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC) is in charge of testing and certifying chronometers.
Other Luxury Watch Complications
Although the above complications are the most popular ones used in luxury watches, there are plenty of other watch complications available too.
A power reserve indicator serves to tell the wearer how much energy the movement has before it requires winding. A typical modern luxury watch can have anywhere between two to ten days of power reserve.
A day/night indicator differentiates between A.M. and P.M. hours of the second time zone display.
A moon phase display shows the lunar progression, from new to full, over its complete cycle (29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 2.8 seconds.) It is typically displayed in a semi-circular window on the dial fashioned to obscure the correct portions of the moon depending on the current phase.
An alarm watch will either make a sound or vibrate at a pre-determined time.
Striking complications sound out the time via tiny hammers striking tiny gongs either on demand or automatically. These are some of the most difficult complications to make and were invented before electricity so that the owner could know the time in the dark. There are various types of striking complications but the most famous are minute repeaters, which chime the hours, quarters, and minutes on demand.
A tourbillon is not technically a complication since it does not add an extra function to the watch, but it is a mechanism that is highly regarded in high horology for its beauty and craftsmanship. Named after the French word for “whirlwind,” a tourbillon (invented by A.L. Breguet for pocket watches in the late-1700s) is a mechanism that constantly rotates the balance wheel, balance spring, and escapement to neutralize timekeeping errors caused by gravity. Although it’s debatable if a tourbillon provides any timekeeping benefits to modern wristwatches, tourbillon watches are nevertheless highly coveted because they are exceedingly difficult to produce and signify a watchmaker’s mechanical mastery.
If you’re looking for a watch that goes beyond simply telling the time, Gray & Sons is proud to have a vast assortment of complications in stock. From GMTs and chronographs to perpetual calendars and tourbillons, don’t miss our collection of pre-owned luxury watches. Alternatively, you can sell your watch to us too.