Watch Complications & Functions Guide
Guide to Vintage and Modern Watch Complication
Learn about different function of watches. We hope this is helpful, guide covers most common watch function from Chronograph, GMT, World Timer, Alarm, and more.
A way to easily display 24-hour, AM/PM or military time.
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. They Sometime have two crowns one for Alarm and one for time setting. Below is a great example of World Timer Alarm from Vulcain.
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.
An animation on the dial of the watch that follows a predetermined sequence of movements.
A complication that displays the date, day of the week, month, and sometimes the year.
A detailed representation of the night sky, complete with stars and constellations.
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.
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.
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
A complication that displays the day of the week in words, so Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc
A display that shows whether the time in question is during the day or at night.
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.
A complication that strikes the hours, number of ten minute periods since the hour and minutes on command using a series of gongs.
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.
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.
A complication that strikes the hours and number of five minute periods since the hour on command using a series of gongs.
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.
The tourbillon mechanism is supported by a cock (a cantilevered bridge) instead of the traditional spanning bridge.
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.
A complication that strikes the hours on command, and also the number of hours and quarters every quarter, using a series of gongs.
A complication that allows the stopping of the seconds hand to set the watch more accurately.
Instead of regular hands, a single-digit shows the hour and it jumps directly to the next hour, from three to four, for example.
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.
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.
These watches have a display that shows the phases of the moon (full, half, crescent, etc.).
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.
Below is great example of H Moser Cie Endeavour Perpetual Calendar 18K Rose Gold 7 Day Power Watch.
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. Please see above for 7 Day power reserve and indicator by H Moser Cie Endeavour.
Pulsometer or Pulsation
This is also know as a Doctor Watch, since it was made for doctors originally. This is a track on the dial that allows the easy measurement of a pulse.
A complication that strikes the hours and number of quarters since the hour on command using a series of gongs.
This applies to a chronograph that uses two second hands simultaneously to measure split times.
A complication traditionally used by yachtsmen to count down the ten minutes before the start of a race.
A complication that strikes the time when you choose using one or more gongs.
This kind of display counts up (whether it is seconds, minutes, the date, etc.) then snaps back to zero.
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.”
This is when the movement of a watch stops when the crown is pulled out so you can set the seconds precisely.
As the name implies the seconds smoothly sweep by in a continuous motion on a mechanical watch.
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.
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.
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.
These timepieces provide a way to read the time in 24 (or more) time zones around the world. Usually would have a name of the cities on a wheel.