Watch Complications and Functions

A complication in a watch is any feature that does more than simply show the time. Complications range from very simple such as a date to highly complicated ones that take years to master and create.

Watch Complications and Functions

24-Hour display

A way to easily display 24-hour or military time.

Alarm

This watch sounds at a time set by the wearer. Mechanical alarms usually use two barrels, one for the watch and one for the alarm.

Annual calendar

This watch will run for a full year (starting on March 1) without having to be reset. It will have to be reset at the end of February, the only month that varies in the number of days from year to year. It is also known as a complete calendar as it displays the day, date, and month. It does not take into account leap years.

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Automat

An animation on the dial of the watch that follows a predetermined sequence of movements.

Calendar

A complication that displays the date, day of the week, month, and sometimes the year.

Celestial chart

A detailed representation of the night sky, complete with stars and constellations.

Chronograph

This is a watch that allows for the independent timing of an event. Usually, a chronograph has two pushers on the side of the case to start, stop, and return the chronograph hand. Most chronographs have subdials that measure the minutes and hours. A chronometer, not to be confused with a chronograph, is a watch certified to an official precision standard.

Constant Force

A mechanism that ensures the unwinding of the mainspring in a regular, “constant” manner. A regular mainspring will have more force at the beginning of its unwinding than at the end.

Date

There are four common date displays:

  • Date Window – This is when you have an opening on the dial, often at 3 or 6 o’clock that features the date
  • Big Date – Big date is as its name indicates a date indication but bigger and more visible.
  • Pointer Date – The dates for the month are indîcated on the outer ring of the dial and a center hand points to the correct date.
  • Sub Dial Date – The date is displayed on a small subdial

Day Indication

A complication that displays the day of the week in words, so Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc

Day/Night indicator

A display that shows whether the time in question is during the day or at night.

Dead-Beat Seconds

When the incremental movement of the second hand can be seen once each second. This is very common in quartz watches and much rarer in mechanical watches.

Decimal Repeater

A complication that strikes the hours, number of ten minute periods since the hour and minutes on command using a series of gongs.

Depth gauge

A display that shows how deep a watch has gone under the water on a given dive.

Double Axis Tourbillon

The tourbillon cage and escapement rotate through a second axis as well as through the normal first one.

Double Chronograph

Often referred to as a split-second chronograph, a double chronograph complication uses two second hands simultaneously to measure split times.

Equation of time

This is one of the most revered calendar complications. It includes all the features of a perpetual calendar with one extra feature – the Equation of Time – which is the difference between solar time (the time it actually takes the Earth to revolve around the sun) and calendar time.

Five-Minute Repeater

A complication that strikes the hours and number of five minute periods since the hour on command using a series of gongs.

Flyback chronograph

This chronograph allows the instantaneous resetting of the chronograph hand, so it “flies back” to zero with just one push, instead of having to stop, reset and start again.

Flying Tourbillon

The tourbillon mechanism is supported by a cock (a cantilevered bridge) instead of the traditional spanning bridge.

Foudroyante

A complication in chronographs that displays seconds in 1/8th segments.

GMT (Greenwhich Mean Time)

This timepiece displays two times simultaneously, either through a GMT hand that points to the second time zone or a separate subdial for the second time zone.

Grande Sonnerie

A complication that strikes the hours on command, and also the number of hours and quarters every quarter, using a series of gongs.

Hacking seconds

A complication that allows the stopping of the seconds hand to set the watch more accurately.

Jumping hours

Instead of regular hands, a single-digit shows the hour and it jumps directly to the next hour, from three to four, for example.

Minute repeater

This is a watch that chimes out the time (hours, quarter-hours, and minutes) when a lever is activated. The minute repeater is considered one of the most complicated watches to manufacture.

Monopusher Chronograph

There are chronographs that have only one pusher, which controls all the chronograph functions, and these are called monopusher chronographs. The first chronographs were all monopushers, as the first two pusher chronograph was not introduced until the 1920s. Contrary to the two pusher chronograph, the monopusher chronograph is unable to measure interrupted time spans.

Moon phase

These watches have a display that shows the phases of the moon (full, half, crescent, etc.).

Perpetual calendar

The ultimate calendar because it knows how long each year is, no matter if it is a leap year. Keep a quality perpetual calendar running and you won’t have to reset it until the year 2100.

Power reserve Indicator

This complication is an indicator somewhere on the watch (usually on the dial) that shows the state of wind for the watch. Like a fuel gauge in your car, it shows how much power is left in your mechanical timepiece.

Pulsometer

This is a track on the dial that allows the easy measurement of a pulse.

Quarter Repeater

A complication that strikes the hours and number of quarters since the hour on command using a series of gongs.

Rattrapante

This applies to a chronograph that uses two second hands simultaneously to measure split times.

Regatta Timer

A complication traditionally used by yachtsmen to count down the ten minutes before the start of a race.

Repeater

A complication that strikes the time when you choose using one or more gongs.

Retrograde

This kind of display counts up (whether it is seconds, minutes, the date, etc.) then snaps back to zero.

Sidereal Time

A method of timekeeping used by astronomers to keep track of the night sky’s orientation.

Split seconds chronograph

This chronograph has two chronograph hands instead of one, which split apart, allowing you to time different things. The French term for this complication is rattrapante, which means “recovering” or “catching again.”

Stop-seconds

This is when the movement of a watch stops when the crown is pulled out so you can set the seconds precisely.

Sweeping Seconds

As the name implies the seconds smoothly sweep by in a continuous motion on a mechanical watch.

Tachymeter

This scale allows you to compute land speed over a fixed distance. It indicates the speed of a moving object, such as a car, over a known distance. As the moving car passes the starting-point of the measured course, whose length corresponds with that used as the basis of calibration, the owner starts the chronograph hand and stops it as the car passes the finishing- point. The number indicated by the hand on the tachymeter scale represents the speed in kilometers or miles per hour.

Telemeter

A telemeter makes it possible to measure the distance of a phenomenon which is both visible and audible, like the lightning and thunder in a storm. The chronograph hand starts at the instant the phenomenon is seen (lightning) and is stopped when the sound is heard (thunder). The position on the scale shows the distance in kilometers separating the phenomenon from the observer (or the user from the storm, in this example) at a glance. Calibration is based on the speed of which sound travels through the air, which is approximately 340 meters per second or 1,115 feet per second.

Tourbillon

A tourbillon is a complication designed to counteract the effect of gravity on the movement’s balance, thereby increasing the movement’s accuracy. The tourbillon features a cage that holds the balance and the escapement, and the cage turns independently of the watch, usually at a constant rate of once per minute. The tourbillon, which means “whirlwind” in French, is one of the watchmaking art’s most involved and elegant complications.

World timer

These timepieces provide a way to read the time in 24 (or more) time zones around the world.