Complication (watchmaking)

In watchmaking , a complication is a function other than the display of time, minutes and seconds. They are particularly sought after by amateurs in mechanical watches .

These functions can be astronomical (phase of the moon , equation of time, perpetual calendar, sunrise and sunset Sun ), practical (chronograph, large bell, minute repeater), technical (Quick Date, second stop) or Improve walking precision (originally the whirlpool ).

Complications are modules added to the movement of the watch. A so-called complicated piece also induces a notion of high watchmaking know-how which is expressed both in the manufacture of the caliber and in the degree of finishing of the model.

It is often the accumulation of mechanisms in the reduced space of a case that complicates the watches. Among the most complex watches in the world are:

  • The model “Reference 57260” by Vacheron Constantin , his movement, totals 57 complications contained in the space of a pocket watch. This work was carried out by three master watchmakers for eight years 1 .
  • The model “Aeternitas Mega 4” by Franck Muller , his movement, composed of 1483 pieces, total 36 complications contained in the space of a wristwatch 2 .
  • The Patek Philippe caliber 89 , a pocket watch with 33 complications 3 .

Practical functions

Omega Speedmaster watch with chronograph.
  • Indication of the date and day of the week .
  • “Quick Date” allows direct adjustment of the date without changing the time.
  • “Stop second” allows you to stop the seconds hand for a precise time setting.
  • Chronograph : allows the measurement of a duration, generally in the form: seconds, minutes, and hours.However, some chronographs of wrist watches allow measurement to the quarter, tenth, even ten thousandth of a second.The chronograph is often called, erroneously, “stopwatch” in popular language.The name “chronometer” is in fact a certification given to watches whose movements successfully passed various tests of quality and reliability (precision, resistance to different temperatures, etc.) organized by the Swiss Official Control of Chronometers (COSC) .
    There are various complications in the chronograph field:
    • Flyback Chronograph: allows you to start a new timing when the first one is already running by pressing a single pushbutton (usually by pressing the reset button).
    • Chronograph with «catch-up»: a second hand makes it possible to measure intermediate times, then to instantly “catch up” the other main needle of the chronograph.
    • “Concentric” chronograph: allows a more “intuitive” reading of the measured duration: in a single dial.
  • “Power reserve”: Indication of the remaining operating time, before the watch has to be reassembled. This time can vary from 36 hours to fifty days.
  • Indication of the GMT (24 h) time, usually adjustable separately from the main time, allows the indication of a second time zone.
  • Indication of one or more time zones . In addition to local time, it is possible to know the time of one or more other regions of the world. Some watches also indicate the names of the cities of the different spindles.
  • Ringtones:
    • Large and small rings: emits an audible signal at the passage of hours and quarters, the small bell rings the quarters without repeating the hours, the big bell rings the quarters repeating the hours 4 .
    • Repeat: allows you to ring the hours on demand after activating a push button (often between 7 and 9 am). Generally the mechanism produces a different sound for the hours, quarters and minutes (indicating the severe-tone hours-the sharp and sharp -ton quartets and the acute -ton minutes). Variations of this complication are the repetition of the date or shifts only 5 .
    • Alarm : allows you to set a ringing tone for one hour.

Design Complications

Watch with retrograde hands
  • “Retrograde” hands: This is a non-circular display system. The needle does not perform a complete turn, but a path from point A to point B. Once the measurement from A to B is performed, the needle returns “back” to point A, Name of “retrograde”. Such a display can be applied to almost all the indications of a watch (seconds, minutes, hours, date and same day of the week or chronograph.)
  • “Jumping” hours or minutes: This is the jump of the needle, or more often of the digital display, when the hour or minute passes. This makes reading easier by avoiding hiding part of the figure.
  • “Second Dead”: the second hand moves punctually once per second, and not continuously. Unlike quartz watches (or the second one is almost always “dead”), on a mechanical watch, it is a real complication.

Astronomical Functions

  • ” Quantième “, which indicates the number of the day in the month and the month allowing the management of the alternation of the months of 30 and 31 days .This mechanism makes it possible to add others related to the period of the year.There are different “Quantième” mechanisms depending on their level of complexity:
    • “Annual calendar year” takes into account the number of days of the months (eg passes from 30 to the first for the 30 days) but not the 28 days of February. This mechanism must be settled twice a year: in February (28 or 29 days) and in early September (two months of 31 consecutive days).
    • “Leap year” takes February into 28 days, this mechanism must be adjusted every 4 years in leap years 6 .
    • ” Perpetual calendar ” takes into consideration the leap years, this mechanism must be adjusted every 100 years in the leaped leap years 7 .
    • “Secular perpetual calendar” takes into account the 400-year cycles of the Gregorian calendar with leap years leaped every 100 years. Apart from a few mechanisms have to be paid every 400 years 8 .
    • “Instant Calendar” is the very fast display of the current day or month, as ordinary mechanisms may require two hours for the date change.
  • Indication of the phases of the moon or of the tides .
  • Timekeeping of sunrise and sunset of the moon or the sun .
  • Equation of Time : displays the difference between “true” solar time (that of nature) and “average” solar time (that of our societies), 9 often associated with other astronomical displays such as a sky map.

Technical Functions

Animation of a whirlwind
  • ” Tourbillon ” makes it possible to compensate the influences related to the earth’s gravity on the movement of the watch and in principle to improve the precision. The utility of the tourbillon can be seen almost exclusively in gusset watches. (The position of the watch on its wearer being always the same).
  • “Dry mechanism” (without oil) which requires machining and very expensive materials.
  • “Regulator”, the hands of the hours and minutes are not coaxial, the minute hand being most often in the center, which makes it easier to read the minutes. This complication is named with reference to the clock-regulators which possessed this characteristic, it is today especially an originality of design 10 .


  1. ↑ ” The Watch Quote: The Vacheron Constantin 57260 Reference – The most complicated watch Vacheron Constantin performed on demand [ archive ] , on (accessed28 April 2016 )
  2. ↑ ” The Watch Quote: Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4, the most complicated wristwatch in the world [ archive ] , on (accessed 28 April 2016 )
  3. ↑ ” When watchmakers complicate for the dream – SWI [ archive ] , on SWI (accessed 28 April 2016 )
  4. ↑ ” Ringwatches – Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie [ archive ] , on (accessed 7 April 2016 )
  5. ↑ ” Repeating watches – Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie [ archive ] , on (accessed 7 April 2016 )
  6. ↑ ” Dictionary of watchmaking – Leap year [ archive ] , on
  7. ↑ ” Dictionary of watchmaking – Perpetual Calendar [ archive ] , on
  8. ↑ ” Dictionary of watchmaking – Secular perpetual calendar [ archive ] , on
  9. ↑ ” Equation Time Watches – Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie [ archive ] , on (accessed on 30 March 2016 )
  10. ↑ ” Funny watches “, Le Figaro , ( ISSN  0182-5852 , read online  [ Archive ] )

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