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The Basics of Watch Complications

by Dana Li

Although a watch’s primary purpose is to tell time, many also have additional complications that enhance the functionality of the watch. A complication on a watch is essentially any function other than the time display. From the more common day-date to the extremely complex perpetual calendar, here are a few watch complications that can be found in the watch world today.


One of the most common complications, a date or day-date complication allows you to read the date and the day of the week on your watch. Dates are commonly found on a window (also known as an aperture) at the 3 o’clock or 6 o’clock marker, but can also sometimes be found at the 4 o’clock marker. The most recognizable day-date complication can be found on the Rolex Day-Date, where the day of the week is shown at the top of the dial while the date is at the 3 o’clock window.


A moonphase complication is designed to track the 29.5 days of the lunar cycle. There are many variations of moonphases on a watch, with some showing the exact phase of the moon. Though this may not be the most widely used complication, its romantic design can complement any piece and be an elegant addition to a more dressy, formal watch.

Source: Jaeger LeCoultre (Master Ultra Thin Moon in Pink Gold)


A watch with a GMT complication allows the wearer to track multiple time zones with ease, an incredibly useful function for any frequent travelers. Watches with a GMT complication will typically have a GMT hand that indicates the additional time zone by itself or in conjunction with a rotating bezel.

World Timer

The World Timer complication takes the GMT to another level by allowing the wearer to see the time in almost anywhere in the world with just a glance, in addition to your local time zone. These watches are perfect for anyone who may need to track all the time zones with ease. One of the most well-known variations of the World Timer is the Patek Philippe World Time.

Source: Patek Philippe (World Time Ref. 7130G)


Another popular complication, chronographs are watches with stopwatches built into the movement. Though chronographs with two pushers to start and reset the time are the most common configuration, there are also monopusher, flyback, and split second (rattrapante) chronographs.

A monopusher chronograph has one pusher used to start and stop the time. A flyback chronograph allows the time to quickly be reset when the chronograph already is running and is useful in situations where you need to time intervals precisely. A split seconds or rattrapante chronograph allows you to time simultaneous events (i.e. time for each mile and the overall in a race).

Source (from left to right): Omega (Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional), Christie's (Cartier Tortue Monopoussoir Ref. 2396), A. Lange & Söhne (1815 Rattrapante Honeygold)

Triple Calendar

A triple calendar complication shows the date, day, and month. Since triple calendar watches are not designed to reflect the jumps for months with fewer than 31 days, the wearer will need to make an adjustment every few months to ensure the date, day, and month are accurate.

Source: Vacheron Constantin (Historiques Triple Calendrier 1942)

Annual Calendar

The annual calendar was created by Patek Philippe in 1996 and displays the date, day, and month similar to the triple calendar. A watch with an annual calendar complication only needs to be adjusted once a year in February since it accounts for the jumps between 30-day and 31-day months.

Perpetual Calendar

One of the most complex calendar complications, the perpetual calendar also displays the date, day, and month but requires no manual adjustments until 2100. Because of its complexity, perpetual calendars tend to have a high price point and can cost more to service in the future.

Source: Audemars Piguet (Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar)

Minute Repeater

A repeater complication provides an audible way to tell the time. In the movement, there are small hammers that strike gongs to produce a chiming sound when the wearer presses a pusher. Minute repeaters specifically will chime three distinct sounds that signal the hours, quarter-hours, and minutes. Fun fact, early minute repeaters were first used in the end of the 17th century so that attendees at court could discreetly check the time.

Grand/Petite Sonnerie

Though a sonnerie complication is similar to a repeater, a sonnerie chimes regularly and without the need for the wearer to activate a pusher. There are two types of this technically complex function: a grand and petite sonnerie. A grand sonnerie chimes every hour to identify the hour and will repeat the sound for the hour when it chimes to indicate quarter-hour intervals. The petite sonnerie functions similarly to the grand sonnerie but does not repeat the sound for the hour in the quarter-hour intervals.


A tourbillon complication is designed to counteract the effects of gravity on a movement's accuracy by keeping the escapement (the mechanism responsible for keeping time in a watch) in a constantly rotating cage. It was first invented by Bregeut and continues to be used today to showcase a brand’s technical prowess. Today, watches with tourbillon complications don’t necessarily keep more accurate time than those without but the complexity of the movement is definitely still worth noting.

Source: Grand Seiko (SLGT003 Kodo Constant Force Tourbillon)

Jumping Hour

A jumping hour complication shows the hour through a window on the dial using a rotating disc in the movement rather than the traditional hour hand. This precise, technical feature is a great way for the wearer to quickly read the time and gives brands an opportunity to play with different dial designs. My favorite watch with a jumping hour complication is the FP Journe Vagabondage III, which not only features a jumping hour but also a jumping second complication.


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