Breguet Complication Movement Decased


If you’re just getting started in the world of mechanical timepieces, you may find you constantly have the word complication thrown at you. But, what does it actually mean for a watch to have a complication?

In this guide, we address just that:

We’ve also put together a list with quick info on each variety. You may use the above links to skip to one of these specific sections.

Before going any further, we want to note that we are only considering complications in the context of mechanical watches and not those with quartz movements. Quartz complications are essentially “cheating”; if you’re not sure why then you’ve come to the right place.



The list we present here covers the most popular and widespread wristwatch complications, though it is not all-inclusive. This is even more true considering how much horological technology is advancing – seemingly day-by-day.

As innovations in complications are introduced, we’ll continue updating this guide for your reference, so make sure to check back for the latest watch complications.

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What Is A Watch Complication?

Dial side of the Vortic American Artisan watch

Vortic Watch With Small Seconds Complication

In its simplest form, a watch complication is any feature that a mechanical watch may possess outside of the most elemental functions: an hour hand, a minute hand, and a second hand, all on the same (center) axis.

Even a “small second”, where the seconds are recorded within a smaller subregister on the dial, is technically a complication. This can seem contradictory given how common a date or a GMT function is in luxury watches today.

But in the earliest days, clocks began at the most basic level of horology and grew from there. Similarly, pocket watches and wristwatches, which reduced the space in which the mechanics had to fit, shared the same beginnings.

It didn’t take long before the lone timekeeping feature was challenged. The greatest watchmakers are notoriously restless, and are constantly wondering “what if?”; this is true in watchmakers of the past and likewise of the present.

Hublot Watchmaker Assembling MP-05 LaFerrari Movement

Hublot Watchmaker Assembling MP-05 LaFerrari Movement.

To this proverbial question often come answers, except that for watchmakers, the solutions come in the form of horological creations.

Watch complications are not always practical and some have become less and less useful with time. Nevertheless, watch complications continue captivating watch aficionados everywhere.

Integrated vs. Modular Mechanical Complications

When building new functions or new complications into a movement, a watchmaker has a decision to make.

AP Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph 26400AU

AP Royal Oak Offshore, A Modular Chronograph

They can either build a new, separate component that attaches to an existing movement, or they can start from the ground up, essentially creating a completely new movement around the complication.

When the complication is designed as two separate movements and later attached, it is called “modular”. As in, a module with the complication is attached to an existing base movement to enhance its functions.

This is very common with chronographs; many of them are, in fact, modular chronographs, as it’s cheaper to craft the chronograph and base modules separately and then marry them within a case. They’re also heaps easier to service and repair.

A notable example of a modular chronograph is the older versions of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore. These watches had a Dubois Dépraz chrono module that caused the case of the timepiece to be particularly tall. In the modern-day, however, AP manufactures an in-house integrated chronograph movement to outfit their premium timepieces (and rightly so.)

Other movements are built with a specific complication in mind and are therefore referred to as “integrated”. The specific complication is integrated into the whole movement; they are one, and cannot be parted and married with different movements.

Omega Caliber 1861 Watch Movement

Omega’s Caliber 1861 Integrated Chronograph Movement. Image:

The integrated complication requires much more planning, often entails computer modeling for movement architecture, and takes much more time (and money) to produce a final product. They are also more highly regarded for the horological expertise and time input required and, naturally, also carry a premium.

An integrated chronograph worthy of mention is Omega’s Caliber 1861/1863. These are the modern chronograph movements powering most Omega Speedmaster Moonwatches.

Why Are Complications Desirable?

This question is, quite honestly, a subjective one. Different watch collectors have different reasons for why they enjoy the horological hobby. What is true is that a very deep appreciation for the craft is nurtured, even without understanding the internal mechanical minutiae.

A complication is the embodiment of the advancement of the craft, of the watchmaking tradition itself. Progressively complicated watches prove that the art of watchmaking is a living thing, constantly changing and evolving.

Paul Anthony installing balance wheel into watch movement

Watch collectors want to feel a part of this evolution. Therefore, they’re constantly seeking out the newest complication, or group of complications offered in a timepiece.

It is also true that many others may just find the functions imparted by a complication interesting and useful. Moreover, it’s difficult to come across such a sophisticated mechanical device as a perpetual calendar, for example, in everyday life.

Patek Philippe World Time 5230G Watch

Patek World Time 5230G. Image:

Everything is digital nowadays. Everything has a processing chip, and everything needs to be charged. Well, not a world timer, and not an alarm function watch. As long as you keep them wound, they’ll keep on ticking; there’s an innate and highly-perceived value in this.

Lastly, also consider the price that mechanical complexity in a watch commands. The most elaborate complications, and therefore the most difficult to make, will also be the most expensive. As can be expected of all Veblen goods, the restrictive price tag itself makes the watch desirable, simply due to its exclusiveness and inaccessibility.

All in all, complications help develop the “story” of a watch. This is ultimately what the watch enthusiast yearns for, be it to tell the stories of others or to write their own.

What Is The Most Difficult Watch Complication?

With constant technological advancements in the field of horology, it’s slightly moot to try to pin down the most difficult complication. The biggest watchmaking houses now have cushy R&D budgets that give them access to modeling software that in turn allows horological engineers to get creative without ever spinning up a lathe.

The game has changed and so has the end goal. Nowadays, there isn’t a singular, most complex watch because of a single complication. The most difficult complication is generally the one that is packed into a single cohesive timepiece with dozens of other functions.

The Most Complicated Watch

As of this writing, the title of the most complicated timepiece appears to belong to the 2015 Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260 pocket watch. Yet, when it comes to the most complicated watch, it seems like the top spot changes around every year.

Patek Philippe White Gold Grandmaster Chime Complicated Watch 6300G (1)

Patek Grandmaster Chime 6300G. Image:

That being said, it’s impossible to discuss the most complicated watches without referencing one of the greatest horological videos on YouTube. Of course, we’re referring to the 10-minute film by Patek Philippe that walks you through the entire process of designing, prototyping, and crafting the most complicated Patek Philippe wristwatch ever, the Grandmaster Chime. According to Patek’s site, “development, production and assembly process covered a staggering 100,000 hours.”

To this editor’s dismay, the Patek Philippe YouTube channel does not allow us to embed the video onto this page. Instead, we invite you to view it on their channel here.

After watching that enthralling film, you may be asking yourself: “Who would even buy one of these?” Well, none other than the rap icon and billionaire businessman Jay-Z. He was spotted sporting a white gold Grandmaster Chime ref. 6300G at Sean Combs’ (P. Diddy) 50th birthday party in 2019. Check out the pictures via this Google Images search.

How Many Watch Complications Are There?

The list of watch complications is not only long but ever-expanding. As we mentioned earlier on this page, watchmakers such as Francois-Paul Journe (of the F.P. Journe brand) are restless in their pursuit of innovation. Obviously, time-telling is no longer enough. As a result, new complications come into the fray every couple of years.

However, up next, we discuss some of the most popular watch complications available on the market today.

Date Window

Date displays are one of the simplest, most widespread, and most useful watch functions available. We’d even argue that it’s still easier to take just a quick glance at your wrist for the date rather than reaching for your phone.

Unfortunately, the common date display complication has to be corrected often. The date discs used have 31 days, which means you’ll have to adjust the watch whenever the month is shorter. Some consider this an enjoyable ritual, others not as much.

A Lange And Sohne Logo

A. Lange & Sohne with big date.

A similar complication to the date display is the “big date”. While both achieve the same function, the big date window does so in a much more mechanically complex way, with two independently rotating discs.

Chronograph Complications

Zenith Chronograph Watch On Paul Anthony's Wrist

Zenith El Primero Chronograph in rose gold.

The chronograph function has to be the complication most often encountered in both luxury and lower-end watches. The tri-register look itself is extremely familiar and beautifully symmetrical, so it’s hard to make a chronograph look bad.

The chronograph has also been the complication of choice in iconic models that have survived for decades. These include the Omega Speedmaster and the Breitling Navitimer, to name a couple.

More specialized chronograph types include the rattrapante (for split-second accuracy), the centigraphe (1/100th second), and the monopusher (a one-button chronograph.)

For a deeper dive into the history of this renowned complication, and to learn about the different types that exist, jump over to our chronograph watch guide.

The GMT (Dual Time)

Second only to the chronograph, dual time zone complications such as the GMT are likely the most popular in the world of horology. This being said, the GMT confidently battles for the top spot as the most useful and is only defeated by date displays.

Rolex GMT-Master I & GMT-Master II

Rolex GMT-Master I & GMT-Master II

Originally designed by Rolex for the GMT-Master I, the GMT function is intended to track two time zones at once. The GMT-Master II further upgraded this feature with an independent hour hand that permitted the watch to track three time zones with the use of the bidirectional GMT bezel.

Moonphase Complication

The moon phase complication is an often seen, though sparsely used, complication. And although it can serve as the focal point of a watch dial, the moon phase complication usually takes a complementary role to perpetual calendars.

Rolex Cellini Moonphase Dial Closeup

Rolex Cellini w/ Moon phase

Nevertheless, it remains a captivating feature of the most coveted dress watches.

If you’d like to see some noteworthy examples of this complication, including one which employs actual meteorite on its dial, check out our page on the best moon phase watches.

World Time

The world time complication was first devised for pocket watches with the advent of global travel in the 1800s. Its purpose was to simultaneously display the time in the major cities around the world. Yet it wasn’t until the first half of the 20th century that the complication was re-engineered to fit within the confines of a wristwatch case.

Fast forward almost a century later, and it’s become one of the quintessential travel complications, especially in sports watch styles. It’s also likened to the bustling businessman who needs to keep tabs on global markets halfway around the world.

Paul Anthony @bespokeunit Patek Philippe 5110J

Patek Philippe 5110J World Time

To find out which modern brand commissioned that first world time watch, head over to our world time watch guide.

Annual Calendar

Rolex Sky-Dweller Black Dial Annual Calendar Watch


If having to adjust your date display more than half a dozen times throughout the year is too much of an inconvenience, then an annual calendar may be for you.

One could guess that this type of calendar should be less mechanically intricate than the traditional perpetual calendar and therefore would have been invented before the perpetual. One would also be wrong in this assumption – the annual calendar only came to be a couple of decades ago. It’s also a close cousin to other calendar types such as the triple calendar.

The annual calendar is one of the more useful watch displays, is arguably more practical than perpetual complications, and is often more accessible in price. To learn all about this relatively recent watch function, check out our page on the history and picks of the best annual calendar watches.

Power Reserve Indicator

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Réserve de Marche Blue Dial

JLC Master Ultra Thin Réserve de Marche

Whereas other complications may seem difficult to comprehend or read on a watch’s time display, the power reserve indicator is truly simple; some may even find it intuitive.

What the battery icon does for a smartphone, the power reserve does for a mechanical watch.

The history is, as you can imagine, a bit more intricate than this. If you’re interested in reading up on its past, jump over to our power reserve watches guide, where we’ve also included our top power reserve picks.


The alarm function is likely one of the least popular. In fact, there are very few watch models in production today that possess it.

Breguet Marine Alarme Musicale Wristwatch 5547BR


This is a bit ironic as it’s a complication that could prove most useful to exacting watch enthusiasts, particularly those who enjoy putting their timepieces to work.

It may be due in part to their designs, which can often appear convoluted and confusing. We’ll let you be the judge here, though, with this page on our favorite alarm watches.


Ah, the tourbillon. The most beautiful watch complication, and often the least understood. Yet, at its usual price point, it doesn’t really matter.


JLC Gyrotourbillon

Most who buy a tourbillon do so because they think it looks cool, which it does, and not because of any enhanced accuracy it may impart.

Yet traditional tourbillons are no longer enough, so the most prestigious watchmakers have kept on innovating. Nowadays, we have Gyrotourbillons like the JLC pictured above, and there’s seemingly no end in sight to the modifications and enhancements. Good! There’s no such thing as too many tourbillons.

Perpetual Calendar

IWC Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Chrono Watch Rose Gold


The perpetual calendar complication embodies one of the most alluring virtues of the wristwatch – a mechanical timepiece will continue keeping time accurately for as long as it is wound.

More specifically, a perpetual calendar will correctly indicate the day, date, month, and sometimes the year for hundreds of years to come. Worry not, as it also accounts for leap years, hence the ‘perpetual’ moniker.

For many watch collectors, the perpetual calendar is the ultimate grail complication. More specifically, a perpetual calendar in the form of a Patek Philippe Grand Complication watch, seeing as how Patek originally invented the Perpetual complication. . Luckily, these are becoming more and more accessible in the present day. If you’d like to know more, we’ve previously covered an example with a retail price under $10,000 in our perpetual calendar watch guide.

Minute Repeater

The minute repeater is a historic complication that is not known to many outside of the world of horology. Even those familiar with it are unlikely to have ever seen one in person. Indeed, they are rare, ludicrously expensive, and breathtaking when experienced first-hand.

Patek Philippe Grand Complications Minute Repeater 5078G

Patek Philippe Grand Complications Minute Repeater 5078G. Image:

A minute repeater, when ‘activated’ by the wearer of the watch, will sound off in different tones that indicate the current hour, quarter-hour, and minutes. This is a very basic explanation, so if you’d like a more detailed description, make sure to check out our minute repeater watch guide!

What’s Next?

Now that you’ve gotten an overview of the most common watch complications out there, you’re more than equipped to tackle the catalogs of the most prestigious brands with confidence. If you’d like to keep learning, feel free to browse our other popular watch guides below:

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