Common Watch Complications – A Few That You’ll See Frequently

As we have mentioned before, a watch “complication” is an feature found in a wristwatch that other than the ability to display the time.  Many watches have additional complications, and the more a watch has, the greater the complexity and the higher the price.

Some complications are quite common and are found on many different models of watch.  Others are somewhat more rare, and a few are seldom seen.

Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Watch
Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Watch

Listed below is a list of some of the most common watch complications, along with their function.

Alarm – A chime built into the watch that the wearer can set to sound at a time of the wearer’s choosing.

Annual Calendar – A watch that displays the day and date for every day of the year, at least for those months that have 30 or 31 days.  Annual Calendar watches are not able to handle February; you will have to change the date to March first on your own.

Chronograph – A watch with a built-in stopwatch that allows you to time events independently of the watch’s own timekeeping.  A “Flyback Chronograph” can be instantly reset to begin timing again, where a regular chronograph must be stopped, reset, and started again.

Dual Time Zone – A watch that, as the name suggests, is capable of keeping track of the time in two different time zones at once.  This is a useful complication for people who frequently travel.

Breguet Perpetual Calendar Moonphase
Breguet Perpetual Calendar Moonphase

Minute Repeater – A watch that chimes on the minute, quarter hour and hour.  This is user-adjustable so that the feature can be turned on and off.  A useful complication for when you need to know the time when it is dark.

Moonphase – An increasingly common complication.  This one displays the current phase of the moon.   While the complication was once useful for navigation, it is now largely a novelty.

Perpetual Calendar – This is the Big Kahuna of calendar functions.  If the date or the day and date are not enough for you, a perpetual calendar will keep you informed.  These complications keep track of the day and the date, adjust automatically to compensate for the shorter month of February, and even keep track of leap years.  They do not, however, generally keep track of century years, as only one out of every four of those (2000,2100,2200,2300, etc.) is actually a leap year.

Power Reserve – This is a dial or indicator that shows the wearer how much power is left in the mainspring of the watch.  This is important for mechanical watches, as it suggests how much time remains before the watch stops running.  For mechanical watches, this may indicate that it’s time to wind it.  For automatic watches, it might suggest that it’s time for the owner to either wear it or, if wearing it already, time to start moving.

Tourbillon – Not one of the most useful of complications, but a very popular one in high end wristwatches.  A tourbillon is a rotating cage that holds the escapement and balance wheel of the watch in order to attempt to offset the effects of gravity on the watch’s accuracy.

World Time – A watch that displays the time in each of the world’s time zones.  Most world time watches show the time in 24 zones, but a few acknowledge that there are actually 37 time zones in the world, and show those, too.

Some of these complications are more useful than others.  A world time watch, for example, is only going to be useful if you travel a lot.  Others, such as a calendar, will likely come in handy on a regular basis.


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