Initially, watches were only tasked with one responsibility — to tell the time in hours, minutes, and seconds. But as watchmaking technology advanced, watches became increasingly complex and capable of doing more and more. Nowadays, we see all sorts of models with different types of complications that give these watches other purposes aside from simply telling the time. While they are not an essential part of any timepiece, watch complications are always a treat to have due to their practical benefits and added convenience.
Depending on the model, a wristwatch can have just one extra function or an entire set of added watch complications. Individually, each watch complication fulfils a role, and the more complications a timepiece has, the more things it can do. In this modern day and age, the industry has developed all sorts of watch complications for various needs. Tag along with us today as we take a look at and understand some of the most recognizable watch complications that exist today.
What is a Watch Complication?
In the most basic sense, a complication is an added function on a watch that allows it to do more than show the time. Watch complications can vary from simple everyday features like date displays to extravagant works of Haute Horlogerie that consist of multiple functions, like perpetual calendars. As opposed to installing more applications and programs into a smartwatch, integrating watch complications into a mechanical timepiece is a much more remarkable feat. This is because it incorporating watch complications requires a great degree of proficiency, cleverness, and technical mastery.
Today, watch complications are quite prevalent. You can pretty much find any number of them in many timepieces out there. For today, let us look at 10 of the most iconic watch complications ever invented, as well as a few models that bear them.
10 Most Popular Watch Complications in Watches
Arguably the most basic watch complication, the date complication allows wearers to view the date on their watch. Currently, there are four different versions of the date display: date window, big date, pointer date, and subsidiary date dial. The date window is the most ubiquitous form of the date complication. It is typically represented by a small aperture that contains a colored background and numerals in a contrasting shade. The big date, on the other hand, has a much larger frame compared to the traditional date window. It is made up of two boxes, with the left box presenting the numbers 0-3 and the other showcasing the numbers 0-9.
A pointer date works differently from the date window and big date. Instead of using an opening to display the date, a pointer date has numerals printed on the watch’s chapter ring. An additional watch hand is used to pinpoint the current date. The final variant of the date complication is the subsidiary date dial. This version shows off the date in the form of a sub-dial and is often accompanied by other watch complications. All the different types of date complications listed above can be adjusted by winding the watch’s crown.Rolex Submariner Date 41 (126613LN-0002)
The date window is beautifully showcased in this impeccable Rolex model, the Submariner Date 41 (126613LN-0002). Accompanied by a yellow Rolesor bracelet, this Rolex Submariner piece comes in a 41mm Oystersteel case and a yellow gold unidirectional rotating bezel with a black ceramic insert for its elapsed time scale. Its dial has the classic Submariner design, with a black metallic surface, luminous applied indices in geometric shape, Mercedes hands, and a date aperture at 3 o’clock. Rolex emphasizes the date window with a magnifying cyclops lens fitted on the watch’s scratch-resistant sapphire glass, allowing for greater readability.
Powering this watch is the COSC and Superlative Chronometer-rated Rolex Caliber 3235. This automatic Rolex movement has an accuracy rate of -2/+2 seconds per day and a solid 41-hour power reserve. With its screw-down caseback, screw-down crown, and Triplock triple waterproofness system, this Rolex Submariner Date 41 has an impressive depth rating of 300m.
You can get this Submariner watch from our website for around $24,399 USD.
A slight upgrade to the date function, the day-date complication adds the day of the week to the standard date display. Generally, the day and date complications are placed side by side, in small windows on the watch face, usually where the 3 o’clock marker is located. However, modern design innovations have allowed watchmakers to position the day-date complication in other areas of the dial. Like the simple date, the day and date complications can be adjusted using the crown. Winding the knob in one direction sets the day while rotating it the other way sets the date.Hamilton Khaki Field King Auto (H64455523)
Boasting modern take on the day-date feature is the Hamilton Khaki Field King Auto (H64455523). Bearing the extensive military heritage that the brand is known for, this Hamilton timepiece utilizes a sturdy 40mm stainless steel case coupled with a brown cow leather strap. It has a see-through caseback that gives wearers a clear view of the movement inside. This Hamilton Khaki Field watch is water-resistant up to depths of 50m, which is more than enough to prevent raindrops and light splashes from entering the timepiece.
Protected by a layer of sapphire crystal, the dial of the Hamilton Khaki Field King Auto has a vintage military-inspired design with some modern touches. The sector dial is split into two segments, with a white outer ring and an inner dial that has a metallic silver sunray finish. The outer ring consists of large Arabic numerals from 1 to 12, while the inner dial contains smaller Arabic numerals from 13 to 24, along with luminous syringe hands. Unlike most timepieces, the elongated day and date windows of this watch are located at 12 o’clock instead. This watch runs on the Hamilton H-40, an automatic movement with 25 jewels and an extended 80-hour power supply.
The Hamilton Khaki Field King Auto sells for just $689 USD.
3. Moon Phase
The moon phase is a conventional and aesthetically-pleasing watch complication that shows wearers the different phases of the moon. Simply put, a moon phase function tells us if there is a new moon, quarter-moon, half-moon, or full moon on a specific day. It was first designed to help keep sailors informed about the tides at sea.
In our modern everyday lives, however, they do not serve any real purpose beyond the aesthetic. That being said, moon phase indicators are still very pleasing to look at, so many luxury watchmakers have gone out of their way to design them with exquisite and complex displays. While it can stand alone on a watch, many brands also like to feature the moon phase display alongside a perpetual calendar.Glashutte Original Senator Excellence Panorama Date Moon Phase (1-36-04-04-02-30)
There are a number of watches in the market that come with moon phase indicators. One model that shows off a truly elegant moon phase display is the Glashutte Original Senator Excellence Panorama Date Moon Phase (1-36-04-04-02-30). Hailing from the brand’s Senator Excellence collection, this Glashutte Original watch comes in a thin 42mm stainless steel case and a suave black alligator leather strap. Its fixed bezel is finely beveled, putting the spotlight on the galvanized blue dial.
The deep blue dial is complemented by slender triangular indices, Lancette hands, a panorama date window between the 4 and 5 o’clock markers, and a gorgeous moon phase display in the shape of a silver crescent moon. Underneath this appealing watch face, you can find a Glashutte Original Caliber 36-04. This is an automatic caliber equipped with a silicon balance spring, a skeletonized rotor, and an incredible power reserve that can last up to 100 hours. Without a doubt, this reliable dress watch can up your style and sophistication to a whole new level.
The Glashutte Original Moon Phase fetches an approximate price of $8,659 USD.
4. Elapsed Time Scale
As opposed to a countdown timer that tells the remaining time left, an elapsed time scale is a watch complication that shows the amount of time that has passed. For professional divers, this function is crucial for keeping track of how much oxygen they have left in their tanks.
More often than not, an elapsed time scale is represented by a unidirectional rotating bezel with a time scale either engraved onto or inserted on top of it. This bezel must always turn unidirectionally, as this prevents it from rotating in the wrong direction, minimizing miscalculation while on the field. If a bezel rotates in the wrong direction, it might cause a dive to be inadvertently extended. This could be very dangerous for the diver who would spend too much time underwater as a result.Seiko Prospex PADI Samurai (SRPF09K1)
Seiko is known for its extensive selection of Japanese dive watches. Despite being very affordable, each Seiko dive piece is made with a high degree of craftsmanship and a keen eye for efficient design. There are numerous watches to choose from, but the one model that unequivocally catches our attention is the Seiko Prospex PADI Samurai (SRPF09K1).
Housed in a 43.8mm stainless steel case, this Seiko Prospex model showcases a unidirectional rotating bezel with a memorable two-tone design that mimics the red and blue color scheme of the Pepsi logo. Topped with a layer of Hardlex glass, this timepiece has a depth rating of 200m, so you can easily bring it for water sports like diving or snorkeling.
The dial of this Seiko watch has a subtle pattern of textured ocean waves, calling to its identity as a dive watch. It is adorned with thick hour indices and stout arrow hands, all of which are generously applied with Seiko Lumibrite for optimal nighttime visibility. Robust and fashionable, this is a model you can wear for pretty much any occasion. Driving this watch is a Seiko 4R35 automatic movement with a 41-hour power reserve.
Get your hands on this Seiko Prospex watch for just $509 USD.
A GMT complication is a handy feature for those who often travel the world. It provides wearers with a second, separate time zone that they can freely customize, allowing the watch to display two different time zones instantaneously.
A timepiece with a GMT complication typically has an additional watch hand in a different shape and color than the hours, minutes, and seconds hands. Depending on the model, the reference time is located either on the bezel or around the rim of the dial. Ultimately, the GMT complication brings convenience to the traveling wearer, but also adds a flair of uniqueness to the watch as a whole.Rolex GMT Master II (116710 BLNR)
Commonly known as the “Rolex Batman“, the Rolex GMT Master II (116710 BLNR) is a spectacular dive watch with a striking GMT bezel. Its sleek Oystersteel case measures 40mm in diameter, which is pretty universal in terms of wrist sizes. While the unidirectional rotating bezel is made from stainless steel, the blue GMT scale inserted on top is crafted entirely from scratch-resistant Cerachrom. It shows off a two-tone blue-black hue, the inspiration behind the watch’s Rolex Batman nickname. Coupled with an Oystersteel bracelet, this Rolex GMT-Master II piece has a solid water resistance rating of 100m.
This Rolex timepiece bears a matte black dial adorned with applique indices in geometric shapes and Mercedes-style watch hands. Along with a magnified date complication, the dial has a blue arrow-headed GMT hand that stands out prominently against the dark dial surface. Underneath the watch face is a Rolex Caliber 3186. This is a COSC-certified Superlative Chronometer movement with 31 jewels and a 50-hour power supply.
This iconic Rolex GMT “Batman” piece retails at around $26,400 USD.
Created by Abraham-Louis Breguet, the tourbillon is a unique complication that improves the balance of the timepiece, effectively eliminating any timekeeping errors that might be caused by gravity or changing watch positions. Although the tourbillon does not have any tangible uses besides making a watch more precise, it is still very pleasing to look at. Commonly appreciated as a sign of high horology, the tourbillon is extremely rare and requires an extraordinary amount of skill and patience to craft. Because of this, the tourbillon is typically found on high-end luxury watches.Panerai Luminor Tourbillon GMT 47 (PAM00768)
As one of the leaders of Italian watchmaking, Panerai is a world-renowned watch brand recognized for its exceptional luxury timepieces. One of their newest projects, the Panerai Luminor Tourbillon GMT 47 (PAM00768), boasts a tourbillon in what might arguably be one of their most complicated timepieces to date. This Panerai Luminor watch comes in a 47mm cushion-shaped titanium case, making it incredibly durable and lightweight. Its front and back are sealed with sapphire glass to provide wearers with a clear view of the watch’s inner workings. On the right side of the case, you can find the brand’s signature semi-circle crown guard with a stout, oversized crown.
The brand pairs this watch with a gray alligator leather strap that wonderfully complements its fixed Carbotech bezel. With its skeletonized dial, wearers can view the tourbillon and the entirety of the watch caliber in all of their complexity. This timepiece also has an additional GMT component, which is characterized by a luminous arrow hand outlined in black. Running this timepiece is the P.2005/T Caliber. It is made up of 277 components, including a Glucydur balance spring, and has an impressive 6-day power reserve.
This sophisticated timepiece is worth an estimated price of $164,360 USD.
7. Power Reserve Indicator
A power reserve indicator is a watch complication used to determine the amount of energy remaining in the watch. It is often represented by a labeled meter and a hand or needle. The zone where the needle travels along indicates how much power is left in the timepiece before it needs rewinding. In some cases, watches can have power supplies that last for days, in which case the power reserve display will show the days instead of the hours.
For those curious about the inner workings of the power reserve indicator, this complication actually represents the amount of tension on the watch’s mainspring. The less tension there is, the more the needle moves, and the less time wearers have until they need to rewind the movement.IWC Portofino Hand-Wound Eight Days (IW510115)
With a minimalist design that breathes elegance, luxury, and sophistication like no other, the IWC Portofino Hand-Wound Eight Days (IW510115) is the brand’s ultimate dress watch. Coupled with a gray suede strap, this IWC Portofino watch is presented in a lustrous, slim 45mm stainless steel case. The case is topped with an arched sapphire crystal that has been treated with anti-reflective coatings from top to bottom.
The dial of this IWC watch is beautifully executed, with a slate gray finish decorated with slender stick-like indices and silver leaf-shaped hands. Its complications include a date window, a small hacking seconds display with clean white and red indicators, and an arcing power reserve indicator at 9 o’clock. Since this timepiece can last for up to 192 hours, it keeps track of the power reserve by the day. The fascinating movement operating this chic watch is the IWC-manufactured 59210 Caliber. Wearers who want to see this powerful Swiss caliber at work can look at it through the transparent caseback.
You can buy the IWC Portofino Hand-Wound Eight Days for around $9,700 USD.
The chronograph feature is one of the most prevalent complications in watchmaking. Essentially, a chronograph is another word for a stopwatch. A timepiece with a chronograph function typically has two to three pushers at the side of the case that works as the chronograph’s start and stop buttons.
There are three types of chronographs: Monopoussoir, Retour-En-Vol, and Rattrapante. Monopoussoir, or the one-button chronograph, comes with only one pusher. Unlike contemporary chronographs, this version is not capable of recording interrupted time.
The Retour-En-Vol, commonly known as the flyback chronograph, has two pushers. Its first pusher is used to start and stop the timer, while the second pusher is used to reset the counters. The Retour-En-Vol allows for split-second accuracy readings, which is especially convenient for pilots and race car drivers.
The last version of the chronograph complication is the Rattrapante. Also known as the split-seconds chronograph, the Rattrapante is equipped with three buttons. It also has two seconds hands to allow wearers to keep track of two events simultaneously.Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra 150M Co-Axial Chronometer GMT Chronograph (18.104.22.168.02.001)
There is always a Seamaster watch for everyone. If you are looking for a dashing timepiece that comes with a chronograph function, check out the Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra GMT Chronograph (22.214.171.124.02.001). This classic dive watch comes in a 43mm stainless steel case paired with a dark brown leather strap. With its anti-reflective sapphire glass, screw-in crown, and exhibition-style rear case, the Seamaster Aqua Terra GMT Chronograph has a substantial water resistance capacity of 150m. Located at the side of the case are two elongated pushers that allow wearers to control the chronograph features of this Omega timepiece.
The dial showcases a silvery-textured finish with faint vertical lines, reminiscent of the floorboards seen on luxury sailboats. It is furnished with luminous triangular indices, a slender GMT hand, a small seconds sub-dial, 60-minute and 12-hour counters, a date window at 6 o’clock, and a rose-gold plated arrow handset. This watch runs on an Omega Co-Axial Caliber 9605, which is a chronometer-rated self-winding movement with a 60-hour power reserve.
Wearers can purchase this handsome Omega chronograph for approximately $9,350 USD.
A tachymeter is a kind of watch complication used especially for measuring speed. Tachymeters work by measuring the miles or kilometers per hour at which something travels. For this complication to work, the wearer must be moving at a constant rate of speed and distance. Traditionally, the tachymeter is placed on the outer or inner bezel of the timepiece. The tachymeter is also commonly found on chronograph watches.TAG Heuer Formula One (CAZ2011.FT8024)
There are not many brands that can create top-notch racing chronographs like TAG Heuer does. Housed in a 44mm PVD-coated stainless steel case, the TAG Heuer Formula One (CAZ2011.FT8024) stands as a testament to how far the brand has come in its 160 years of unyielding service. Fixed at the top of the case is a black PVD-coated stainless steel bezel marked with a tachymetric scale which wearers can use to measure their speed. Although this Formula One watch is not a dive piece, it has an impressive depth rating of 200m.
This watch’s face presents a beautiful canvas decorated with applied silver indices and blunt hands, three chronograph subdials outlined in silver, and a date section at 3 o’clock. Enclosed by a layer of scratch-resistant sapphire glass, this charming dial is preserved from the outside world. Operating this sporty timepiece is the TAG Heuer Caliber 16 Automatic, complete with its 28,800 vibrations per hour (4Hz) balance frequency and 42-hour power reserve.
This TAG Heuer watch fetches a price of $3,100 USD.
10. Perpetual Calendar
Expensive and exceedingly rare, the perpetual calendar is one of the most elaborate complications that can exist on a watch. Between the perpetual calendar, the triple calendar, and the annual calendar watch complications, the perpetual calendar is by far the most precise out of them all. It is capable of accurately keeping track of the date, the day, the month, the year, and even the leap year. Because of its complex design and functionality, the perpetual calendar is primarily found on high-end luxury watches.Patek Philippe Grand Complications (5320G-001)
The perpetual calendar can come in various forms. For the Patek Philippe Grand Complication (5320G-001), this sophisticated complication is exhibited in an elegant and somewhat vintage style. The 40mm case of this Patek Philippe watch is crafted from luxurious 18K white gold and is sheltered on its front and back by layers of sapphire glass.
Its lacquered cream dial consists of gold-applied Arabic numerals in a neat typeface and syringe hands coated with lume to provide optimal legibility in low light conditions. Apertures on the upper section of the dial show the day and month, while the sub-dial at the bottom presents the date and the moon phase indicator. On the right and left sides of the sub-dial, there are two small circular windows. The one on the right shows the leap year, while the one on the left serves as a day/night indicator.
Beneath the dial is the self-winding perpetual calendar movement known as the Caliber 324. The caliber of this Grand Complications timepiece is made up of 367 components, including a 21K gold central rotor, a Spiromax balance spring, and a power reserve that, when fully wound, can last for up to 45 hours.
As the most premium timepiece on this list, the Patek Philippe Grand Complication (5320G-001) is worth $92,260 USD.
Whether it is in analog or digital, a date function, or a perpetual calendar, watch complications never fail to give their wearers the greatest conveniences when they need it. Although these extra features are not core functions of the watch, it is hard to imagine our beloved timepieces without them. Apart from giving wearers more utility, watch complications also demonstrate the expertise and technical prowess of the watchmaker. Indeed, it is always neat to have a watch that can do more than tell the time. As the industry steadily grows and technology advances, watchmakers only continue to expand the list of what a wristwatch is capable of doing.
Featured Image By: Patek
Need a solid luxury dive watch that won’t cost you a fortune? Check out the Tudor Black Bay 58 Blue and see if this is the watch you’ve been looking for.