A Detailed Guide to Watch Complications

A Detailed Guide to Watch Complications

Watch complications have come a long way since the invention of the first watch in the 1500s. It was made by a well-known locksmith who went by the name of Peter Henlein. Since then watches have undergone many changes and improvements. 

With each passing decade, watches became increasingly complex, introducing various complications. So what are the complications? 

Any additional function that is added to a watch that does not tell time is defined as a complication. These complications range from being simple to complicated to understand. Apart from the 12-hour clock, the date display is a complication. There are more complex complications like world-time, Tachymeter, and so on, but do you need them? 

Today we will go through all types of standard complications that you may come across. We will also give you insights into what enthusiasts and watch consultants define as the ultimate watch complications. Aside from that, we will also talk about new trends in the watch market. So is your watch just a fashion statement or is it more intricate than that? Let’s find out!

Don’t Have Time For The Blog? Check The Key Points.

  • Date Complications
    • Basic Date Window: Shows date, month, and days of the week.
    • Big Date or Panorama Date: Features larger text for better visibility.
    • Pointer Date: Utilizes a dedicated hand to indicate the date.
    • Day/Date: Displays both the day and date separately.
  • Calendars:
    • Triple Calendar: Shows date, day, and month in separate windows.
    • Annual Calendar: Automatically adjusts for months with 30 days.
    • Perpetual Calendar: Accurately displays date, time, and day for years.
  • Chronographs:
    • Pusher Count Chronograph: Basic stopwatch function with one or two buttons.
    • Monopoussoir (One Pusher): Simple one-button chronograph design.
    • Two-pusher chronograph: Features two buttons to control the stopwatch.
    • Retour-En-Vol (Flyback) Chronograph: Allows resetting and restarting without stopping.
    • Split-Seconds Chronograph: Records split times with a third pusher button.
  • Chronograph Scales:
    • Tachymeter: Calculates speed over a known distance.
    • Pulsimeter: Measures heart rate.
    • Telemeter: Determines distance based on sound travel time.
    • Slide Rule: Enables various calculations.
    • E6B (Flight Computer) Scale: Aids pilots in navigation.
    • Decimeter: Calculates time in decimals.
    • Regatta Timer: Counts down to the start of a yacht race.
  • Travel Complications:
    • GMT/Dual Time: Tracks two time zones simultaneously.
    • World Timer: Displays time across major cities worldwide.
    • Moon-Phase: Indicates the current phase of the moon.
    • Power Reserve Indicator: Shows remaining power before rewinding.
    • Mechanical Alarm: Features an alarm function.
    • Tourbillon: Counteracts the effects of gravity on movement.
    • Minute Repeater: Speaks out time audibly, now considered obsolete.

What’s new in watch complications:

  • High-Complication Resurgence: Vintage watch complications are making a comeback, with Vacheron Constantin unveiling the Les Cabinotiers The Berkley Grand Complication pocket watch.
  • Perpetual Calendar Innovation: IWC Schaffhausen's Portugieser Eternal Calendar Watch introduces a secular perpetual calendar by omitting religious holidays
  • Smartwatch Integration: Luxury watches now integrate smart features like notifications and health tracking.
  • Moonphase with Astronomical Complications: Advancements in astronomical complications not only have displayed moon phases. They now include more celestial details like star positions and sun phases.
  • Chiming Complication: There's a focus on improving the clarity and resonance of chiming complications. Manufacturers are experimenting with new designs and materials for clearer and more melodious chimes.
  • Medical Complications: Luxury watches now incorporate medical features such as advanced sensors for monitoring blood pressure and heart rate.

Watch Complication Explained: Science-Filled Mechanical Arts

Complications come in three main different categories: Aperture, Chronograph, and Time Zone. Before diving into all these in detail, let’s quickly go through the main types of watch complications and their basic function. 

Complication Category



What Does It Show


This adds variations of different types of functions that the wearer can check at a glance.

Annual Calendar

This shows the date, day, and month within a window on your dial.


This displays the date. You can find them placed anywhere between the 3,4 or 6 ‘o'clock position.

Day Date

This adds the day of the week and date to the dial

Equation of Time Calendar

A special complication that shows the difference between watch time and solar time. It is like comparing time on a sundial and a watch.

Jump Hour

This is a relatively rare type of complication that shows a figure of the hour. This comes in place of a sweeping hour hand.


This complication tracks the lunar cycle. It was highly favored by sailors as it helped calculate tides when out in the ocean.

Perpetual Calendar

This is one of the most complex complications on a watch. It takes into account leap years and displays date, day, month, and leap year indicator

Triple Calendar

This complication adds date, day of the week, and month


This complication adds variations of stopwatch functionality to a watch.

Flyback or Retour-En-Vol

Useful for pilots, this complication helps record consecutive times with buttons.

One Push or Monopoussoir

This was the standard chronograph until 1923. It uses one button to control all functions of the chronograph.

Split-Second or Rattrapante

Helps time more than one event. It comes with two independent second hands and three buttons.


This is known to measure speed in kilometers or miles per hour. They include a scale on the outer edge of the dial to measure distance based on speed.

Time Zone 

As the name suggests, this complication shows different time zones within the same dial.

Dual Time

Displays two time zones with an extra hand. It is measured on a 24-hour scale.

World Time Zone

Shows all 24 time zones within the dial. One bezel has a 24-hour clock and another shows major cities within the 24 time zones.

Rare Complications

These are rare and many watchmakers still add to a dial.


Rings an alarm at a set time. Available on manual, quartz, and automatic movements. 

Minute Repeater

Chimes the time with three separate sounds in one, quarter, and 1 minute intervals. 

Power Reserve Indicator

Shows remaining energy in a mechanical watch by calculating the tension of the mainspring.


Improves watch accuracy by counteracting Earth’s gravity 

The Detailed Guide To Watch Complications (Everything You Need To Know!)

Watch complications, as you now have an idea, come in many variations. Let’s dig deeper into what they are and how they add value to your wrist.

Date Complications

This complication adds various iterations of showing the date, month, and days of the week alongside the time. The variations are:

  • Basic Date Window: The basic Date Window is the most common complication on any watch. It simply shows the current date anywhere between the 3, 4, or 6 o'clock position. It can come in both single or double window formats. This needs to be manually adjusted every month that does not have 31 days. However, a watch that is a perpetual or annual calendar does not need this adjustment.
  • Big Date or Panorama Date: For the connoisseur who wants more clarity, a Big Date complication adds a couple of layers to a watch. Instead of one, it has two data disks. Each number is displayed in bigger text, perfect for people with poor vision. The window can also be magnified in some cases.
  • Pointer Date: This complication moves away from the traditional window. It has a dedicated hand that moves across a date track. Its center-mounted hand moves around in daily increments to show the date.
  • Day/Date: Day/Date watches show both the days of the week and the date in separate windows. The day is usually placed in the noon position and the date near the 6 o'clock position.


These complications display the current date and calendar information. They are more informative than date complications. The different variations are: 

  • Triple Calendar: This complication gives a more comprehensive display of a calendar. It shows the date, day of the week, and month in three separate windows. They can also come in subdials or analog hands. For this type of complication, you have to manually adjust for any month that is shorter than 31 days. Some watches may also have a Moon-Phase display.
  • Annual Calendar: The annual calendar is a more sophisticated upgrade from a triple calendar. This complication can automatically adjust the date accounting for months with 30 days. This is great as you no longer need to manually adjust the date every passing month.
  • Perpetual Calendar: The perpetual calendar is the ultimate complication to get within calendar complications. It is the most advanced one as it has a mechanical memory. This memory allows it to accurately display date, time, day, and in some cases Moon-Phase, for several years. It also takes into account leap years and will not need to be adjusted till the year 2100. It is the most expensive iteration in this type of complication.


After date and calendar, the chronograph is the next most sought-after complication by newcomers and enthusiasts alike. Their distinct feature is that they have a stopwatch built into the mechanism that you can control with the use of one to three buttons.

The variations of chronographs include:

  • Pusher Count Chronograph: This type of chronograph has one or two buttons. Each button has its separate function. They range from starting, stopping, or resetting the chronograph or stopwatch. This is the most basic kind of chronograph available widely across various price points. Modern chronographs use a center-mounted sub-dial or totalizer to count the time passed.
    Pusher count chronographs have two different types:
  • Monopoussoir (One Pusher): The Monopoussoir was the first iteration of chronographs. Almost all chronographs, until the year 1923, used to come in this one-button setup. It's simpler because there is one less button to account for.
  • Two-Pusher Chronograph: As the name suggests, a two-pusher chronograph has two buttons that you can use to control the stopwatch. One button is used to start and stop the time. The other is used to reset it.
  • Retour-En-Vol or Flyback Chronograph: The Flyback Chronograph is also known as the Retour-En-Vol in French. This was originally favored by pilots. They are a type of two-pusher chronograph that can be used to stop, reset and restart the seconds count with the use of buttons on the side. They are engineered to do this while the chronograph is running to precisely measure intervals. 
  • Split-Seconds Chronograph: A Split-Seconds Chronograph or also called a Rattrapante in French. It is unique as they have a third pusher button. They have two hands that count elapsed seconds. They are positioned above one another when the chronograph is not being used. When started, both hands start and reset with the push of a button. Additionally, the second pusher makes the split-second hand move from the primary hand to split times. A real-world use case would be to record lap times in racing.

Chronograph Scales

Chronograph scales add another layer to regular chronograph watches. They have different scales that calculate different events. This includes the speed traveled over some time, pulse, hundredths of a minute, distance of sound, and the start of a Regatta (Yacht Race). 

Common chronograph scales are:

  • Tachymeter: This is the most basic version of a chronograph scale. It is usually found on the outer edge of the watch dial. The tachymeter scale calculates speed over a known distance. For example, if you know the distance traveled in one kilometer or mile, you can use the tachymeter to calculate speed in Km/h or Mph. 
  • Pulsimeter or Pulsograph: The Pulsimeter, is used to measure a person's heart rate. This is a more analog version of the meter we find in smartwatches nowadays. They were highly favored by doctors. To use this you have to start the stopwatch and count the number of heartbeats per minute. The predetermined point can be set at 15 or 30 beats.
  • Telemeter: Telemeter watches are very rare nowadays. They are designed to measure distance based on the time it takes for sound to travel. It is often used to determine the distance of an event from where the observer is standing. A real-world use would be to it can calculate how far a storm may be brewing. This is done by timing the interval between seeing lightning and hearing the thunder.
  • Slide Rule: This scale was initially invested by the renowned watchmaker Breitling. It is a movable part on the bezel of the watch. It is favored by pilots and engineers as you can make calculations on it.  
  • E6B or "Flight Computer" Scale: This scale is another iteration of the slide rule. It is more common on pilot's watches. The E6B scale is also known as a "flight computer". With this pilots can calculate airspeed, fuel consumption, true airspeed, density altitude, and wind correction angles.
  • Decimeters: The decimeters were common in vintage watches dating back from the mid-20th century. They have a special scale incorporated into a watch that you can use to calculate time in decimals. It is simple but can be of great use in many cases. With a decimeter, time is broken down into 100 parts for a more accurate calculation.
  • Regatta Timer: The Regatta Timer was not as common as the others on the list. They were made with a specific task in mind. It is used to countdown the minutes or seconds before the start of a Regatta or Yacht race

Travel Complications

Travel complications primarily give information on different time zones. The main types of travel complications are:

  • GMT/Dual Time: This is designed for frequent travelers. It helps track two time zones simultaneously. They have an additional hour hand or sub-dial that displays the second time zone
  • World Timer: The world timer complication showcases the time across major cities worldwide. This is done through a rotating bezel or multiple city names on the dial. It is designed to show the time of all 24 time zones of the world. You can set the ring according to your local time zone. This way you can adjust to read the time in a different time zone.
  • Moon-Phase: The moon-phase complication displays the current phase of the moon. It is a special kind of watch that is more luxurious now than utilitarian. It was originally designed for sailors. It has a dial that shows whether the moon is in full, half, quarter, or new phase.
  • Power Reserve Indicator: This type of complication displays how long the watch will last before it needs to be rewound.  Similar to a fuel gauge, the battery shows this by a hand that moves from full to empty.
  • Mechanical Alarm: The mechanical alarm is the most practical complication on this list. It features an alarm clock-like hand that vibrates when the timer is up. Once it vibrates you can reset it with an adjustment on the additional crown. It was popular when small modern alarms were not widely available.
  • Tourbillon: Watches with this type of complication are now considered a luxury item. They can counter the effects of the earth's gravity on the watch’s movement. This is done by incorporating a rotating cage for escapement and a balance wheel. This improves the accuracy of keeping time to the dot.
  • Minute Repeater: This is the most expensive yet obsolete complication of them all. This was popular in pocket watches back in the 18th and 19th centuries. This can speak out the time in the dark. Each hour and time has a separate sound that is made from two hammers hitting an internal coil gong. 

What Is New In Watch Complications? 

How we have covered most of the past and historic watch complications, let’s talk about what new complication trends have surfaced.

1. High-Complication Resurgence

Nowadays, we can see that there is a growing trend of vintage watch complications coming back. There is a new pocket watch unveiled by Vacheron Constantin. This is called the Les Cabinotiers The Berkley Grand Complication pocket watch. It has many different complications such as a tourbillon, perpetual calendar, minute repeater, and celestial displays

2. Perpetual Calendar Innovation

IWC Schaffhausen's release of the Portugieser Eternal Calendar Watch introduces a secular perpetual calendar. It is a groundbreaking innovation in the world of calendar complications. By omitting religious holidays, this timepiece reflects a more secular move toward watch design.

3. Smartwatch Integration 

Integrating smart features into high-end watches is a fusion of tradition and innovation. While maintaining a luxurious aesthetic, these watches now offer subtle notifications, health-tracking capabilities, and even connectivity with smartphones. This caters to the tech-savvy who value both style and functionality in timepieces.

4. Moonphase with Astronomical Complications

Advancements in astronomical complications have brought forth a few new watches. These watches display the phases of the moon with additional celestial details. They include the positions of stars and even the phases of the sun adding a whole new layer of sophistication.

5. Chiming Complication 

In 2024, there's a growing emphasis on improving the clarity and resonance of chiming complications in watches. Manufacturers are testing new designs and materials to produce clearer and more melodious chimes making these watches true auditory timepieces..

6. Medical Complications

Apart from smartwatches, medical features are being directly incorporated into luxury watches. This reflects a growing demand for wearable health technology with a touch of luxury. Watches now come with advanced sensors for monitoring blood pressure and heart rate. You no longer have to be confined to a smartwatch. Your precious Longines can come with this feature too!

Frequently Asked Questions 

What Is A Complicated Watch? 

Any watch that has additional features that give you information beyond time is complicated. These functions or “complications”, can include calendars, chronographs, and Moon-Phase displays.

What Are The Most Common Complications In A Watch? 

The number of complications in a watch can vary greatly. But some timepieces boast an extensive array of features that make them “complicated”. These watches can include numerous functions such as perpetual calendars, minute repeaters, and tourbillons all within one frame.

What Makes A Watch A Grand Complication? 

A watch is considered a grand complication when it incorporates a combination of highly complex complications. These can include features like a perpetual calendar, minute repeater, and split-second chronograph, among others. Grand complications are the definition of intricate watchmaking artistry and are typically reserved for luxury timepieces.

What Are The Hardest Watch Complications To Make?

Blancpain is famous for creating the most complicated mechanical watches. Their Blancpain 1735 includes a Tourbillon, minute repeater, perpetual calendar, and a split chronometer).

Which Watch Complication Is Your Favorite?

So that concludes our simple guide on watch complications. Watches are truly an example of age-old craftsmanship and years of heritage. The subject of horology can be a tough topic to grasp. However, we hope our guide can help you find the perfect timepiece for you.

Back to blog