Most mechanical watches are technically complicated, but only certain watches are complicated by watchmaker standards. It’s that simple. Well, almost.
When watches seen in the pages of International Watch and on its various digital channels are referred to as timepieces with complications, the reference means the watches feature functions that tell the viewer more about the time than simply the current hours, minutes and seconds. That function can either be indicated via the hands or through a window on the dial or case, or the function may be heard as a chime or a bell.It’s likely you already own a complicated timepiece. If your watch has two push-pieces on the right, left or top of its case, and those pushers activate a chronograph, then you own a complicated watch.
Because a chronograph will allow the user to see the elapsed time of a particular event, it alters (or adds to) the standard time-telling function of a simple watch. That addition or alteration means the function is a complication. The most complex striking watches (and indeed, the most complex watches of any type) are those with a Grande Sonnerie, a design that strikes the number of hours followed by the number of quarter hours, generally automatically, though most also can be heard on demand. Some models also repeat the minutes as often as desired.
Traditionally, only those timepieces with at least one type of complication from each of these three groups (timing, astronomical and striking) can be called a grand complication. It may surprise some to learn that many watchmakers won’t consider such functions as the tourbillon or even a power reserve indicator as a complication that counts toward defining a ‘grande complication’ as neither directly affects the watch’s timekeeping displays. Still, watchmaking companies usually group all dial and case functions together when vying for a ‘most complicated watch’ title.
There are many types of chronographs, including flyback chronographs, jumping-second chronographs, rattrapante models that feature multiple second hands for split-second, lap timing or timing multiple events, and independent- second-hand chronographs. All are complications.
Astronomical & Striking Complications
The second most common types of complications are those that indicate a time referencing a calendar or other celestial event. Moon phase watches, date models, those with annual or perpetual calendars, and those that show solar time (the equation of time function) are all considered astronomical complications. These were the first to be added to simpler pocket watches, appearing first in the sixteenth century when certain examples were sometimes equipped with date readings and lunar phase indications.