01/27/2022
 7 minutes

What Your Watch Says About You: Complications Edition

By Sebastian Swart
HEADER_TYPEN_KOMP-07

Tourbillon, moon phase, GMT function, and more: Watches with complications like these are popular because they look quite a bit more impressive than a simple three-hand watch that any third-grader can read. With a complication – even if it is only a chronograph – experienced watch wearers tell the world that they know a thing or two about timepieces, that they have thoughtfully considered their purchase, and that functionality is a top priority. And yet, if you ask a watch wearer to explain the precise function of their complication, you will often be met with a clueless shrug. Awkward moments ensue. 

Confession time: Have you bought a complicated watch because you looked forward to regularly using its sophisticated functions, or were you more interested in the brand and design? Do you fully comprehend the complexity of your expensive timepiece, or are you only concerned with status and prestige? In short, are you simply a watch wearer, or are you just as complicated as your watch? 

Tourbillon: Complicated, Coveted… and Completely Useless? 

In 1801, when Swiss watchmaker Abraham Louis Breguet invented the tourbillon – the French word for whirlwind – he could have never imagined the cult that would form around his watch creation over 200 years later. His invention sought to solve the problem of gravity, which in the early 19th century was the greatest enemy of a watch’s accuracy. You see, at the time, people carried watches vertically in the pocket (hence the pocket watch); inaccuracies emerged when the center of gravity of the balance and hairspring was not centered on the balance shaft. Hence, the balance wheel needed to be stabilized. 

If you wear a tourbillon wristwatch, you are undoubtedly good at thinking through complex subjects and would have approached the problem just as Breguet did: Simply affix the escape wheel, lever, and balance to a small plate in a rotating frame. Then mount the frame in a cage (or “bogie”) onto the shaft of the fourth wheel, and you’re done. This way, as you surely know, not only the fourth wheel but also the bogie itself rotates on its own axis. Et voilà! The tourbillon’s rotation neutralizes gravity’s effect on the balance. 

However, you are not wearing a pocket watch, whose position is held steady in your pocket, but rather a wristwatch. Can the tourbillon compensate for all the movements your arms make throughout the day? No. Since their establishment, the world’s biggest watchmakers have struggled with this issue. Whether it’s a triple-axis flying tourbillon, a double-axis tourbillon, or an ExoTourbillon with an external balance wheel, one thing remains constant: The tourbillon is an industry gimmick, as lovely as it is expensive, which attracts the likes of technology enthusiasts and unwitting, status-oriented watch wearers. Perhaps you’ve already figured out which group you belong to. In any case, the tourbillon in luxury watches allures even the less technologically complex types – if their wallets allow it.

Are you a fan of the tourbillon’s complex technology?
Are you a fan of the tourbillon’s complex technology?

Moon Phase: Fly Me to the Moon 

Are you an astronomy buff or perhaps even an astronomer who deals with the complicated lunar calendar day in and day out? As a proud wearer of a moon phase watch, you know that according to the Julian lunar calendar, one revolution of the moon around the Earth in relation to the Sun takes 29.53059 days. For you, it’s simply standard knowledge that a solar year comprises 365.242199 days, and the Moon, therefore, makes 12.36826623 revolutions per year. This is also the reason why a lunar year takes 354.36708 days. Fun fact: The Moon grows only 10.875119 days older per year. But I don’t have to explain any of this to you because this value is the logical result of subtracting the lunar from the solar year.  

If you wear a luxury watch with a moon phase and age display, such as the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Tourbillon Moon, and have figured out how it works, you can rest assured that your thinking is at least as complicated as your watch is.  

You may even outperform your own timepiece, given your burning desire to know the Moon’s age at the beginning of each annual cycle. To determine this value, simply multiply the difference between the solar and lunar years by the relevant year of the 19-year lunar cycle. And don’t forget that the moon is already 8 days old on January 1st of the first year. To keep things simple, you use the formula: difference x (golden number – 1) + 8. 

With your moon phase watch, no one can fool you when it comes to astronomy.
With your moon phase watch, no one can fool you when it comes to astronomy.

GMT Function: Complicated in New York, Rio, and Tokyo 

The GMT function is a complication but a relatively simple one. It’s hardly comparable to the moon phase, whose complexity can drive non-astronomers to lunacy. The GMT function, by contrast, is very suitable for everyday use. This is especially true for frequent travelers who globetrot so excessively that they hardly know whether they just started in New York, fell asleep in Rio, or woke up in Tokyo. If you’ve been stuck working from home for the past two years, you might get a little kick out of setting the GMT display to the time zone where your favorite watch influencer lives. 

Back in the 1950s, seemingly all of humanity – or at least the majority of watch enthusiasts – agreed that there was essentially only one true GMT wristwatch: the Rolex GMT-Master. Any other manufacturer that attempted to dip their toes into this territory or even tried to adopt similar color schemes to the Genevan GMT grail was committing sacrilege and was on a straight path to watch hell. The mantra-like prayers of the most devoted Rolex disciples eventually wore you down. So it came to pass that you, too, opted for the beautiful yet simple watch that is the cornerstone of the GMT-wearer’s uniform. Value increase or rather exaggerated speculation is just part of the package. 

After a few years, you got tired of your pretty timepiece and decided to let the Rolex GMT-Master go. You gladly cashed in the considerable profit for your hyped-up “Rollie” to get yourself a real luxury sports watch made of stainless steel. You ultimately went for the Vacheron Constantin Overseas Dual Time. Not only does it prove you have more “complicated” tastes than your GMT-Master peers, but you also now own a far more complex watch with an AM/PM display and pointer date. Is it more beautiful than the Rolex GMT-Master? As always, that is in the eye of the beholder. 

GMT-enthusiasts with expertise: They know their stuff and have chosen the Overseas.
GMT-enthusiasts with expertise: They know their stuff and have chosen the Overseas.

Rotating Diving Bezel: For Some, Just Too Complicated  

You wear a diving watch because the rotating bezel with all the numbers looks super sporty. While a three-hand watch without this complication (the function of which is beyond your knowledge) would be perfectly adequate for your needs, it’s too simple for your taste. Additionally, you need to be prepared for the adversities of everyday life: The car or subway ride to the office, the increasingly frequent rainstorms, and the occasional dip into 10 inches of water must be something your watch can handle. No timepiece with a water resistance of under 300 m (30 bar, 984 ft) will be coming anywhere near your wrist.  

Even though you’re only interested in this one watch design and maybe even wear a well-known luxury model, you’re completely indifferent to your watch’s origin, history, and actual function. No, you say? Did you know, for example, that the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and Rolex Submariner are considered the archetypes of diving watches and served as the first tool watches for intense underwater use by scuba divers as early as 1953? 

And are you aware that the diver synchronizes the zero marker with the minute hand before diving and can thus read the elapsed time underwater via the 60-minute scale on the bezel? Or did you know that the diving bezel on modern diving watches can only rotate counterclockwise to prevent accidental adjustment and extension of the dive time?  

If you couldn’t answer at least two of these three questions before reading this, then you’re not nearly as complicated as your watch. But don’t worry, it’s not too late to buff up on your complication knowledge!  

Are you really as complicated as your diving watch?
Are you really as complicated as your diving watch?

Pulsometer: The Complication for Doctors and Hypochondriacs 

You are over 50 years old and have been a regular at your doctor’s office for years because something is always creaking or pinching somewhere. First order of business: Take your blood pressure and pulse. Despite your reasonably healthy lifestyle, both are always too high. Hence, you’ve committed to an even better diet and a little more exercise. Maintain discipline, persevere, and grow old and healthy – that’s your new life motto. 

You measure your pulse with the tried-and-true method of placing two fingers on the inside of your wrist and counting for a minute. Incidentally, the countless times you’ve performed this procedure add up to hours and days of your life you’ll never get back. Your doctor has officially diagnosed you with hypochondria. “Eureka!” you think to yourself, this is good enough of a reason to optimize your pulse-measuring method. 

Lucky for you, the watch industry has been offering wristwatches equipped with a pulsometer scale since the beginning of the 20th century. While you are slightly annoyed that this over 100-year-old complication has passed you by, you simply swallow that frustration as well. You’re a watch fan and are willing to invest quite a bit in your new measuring instrument. After a long session of blood pressure and pulse-raising research, you ultimately choose the Longines Pulsometer Heritage. This piece will help you make up for lost time because instead of the full minute, you now only have to activate the push-piece and count 30 pulses; the scale will do the rest of the work for you. You and this complication make for a perfect combination with the greatest possible benefits. Sometimes, life can be so simple. 

Your pulsometer helps you regularly and efficiently check your pulse.
Your pulsometer helps you regularly and efficiently check your pulse.

About the Author

Sebastian Swart

I've been using Chrono24 for years to buy and sell watches, as well as for research purposes. I've had an infatuation with watches for as long as I can remember. As a …

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