We all know what a watch fundamentally does: it tells time, either to the accuracy of a minute (for two-hand watches) or a second (for three-hand ones). However, a good amount of mechanical watches, especially in the realm of Haute Horlogerie, were created to do so much more than just telling you what time it is. Some give you extra information such as date and day of the week. A chronograph watch allows you to measure the lapse of time. While an annual calendar watch saves you the hassle of having to adjust for the date at the turn of a month for at least a year. These features are what we call "Complications". And they are totally awesome.
A Complication is essentially any extra feature a watch possesses beyond simple time-telling. And in this episode of Analysis, we will break down for you several popular and significant Complications to give you a good sense of the matter so next time when that watch sales is trying to promote a complicated watch to you, you'd know exactly what he/she's talking about.
The Non-Complication Complication: Tourbillon (陀飛輪)
A Tourbillon is an addition to the usual watch escapement which, in theory, enhances the regulating capability of the escapement, by making the latter constantly rotate along an axis (or multiple axises in more complex renditions of a Tourbillon), so as to cancel out the effect gravity has on it. First developed by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1795 to resolve the accuracy issue with pocket watches, the Tourbillon has since become the go-to mechanism via the adoption of which watch brands showcase their engineering prowess, since a Tourbillon is extremely intricate and difficult to manufacture. Like it or not, Tourbillon has become the most sought after "Complication", mostly thanks to how it is usually the most eye-catching part of the watch.
Having said that, a Tourbillon is not strictly a Complication in itself, since it is merely a setup that allows a watch to tell time more accurately, without actually adding extra functionality to it. However, that doesn't stop it from being considered as THE Complication.
Trivia: Rolex, the most popular watch brand by a large margin, (un)surprisingly has NEVER produced a Tourbillon watch, which many believe to have something to do with its utilitarian approach with its product creation.
The Most Engaging Complication: Chronograph
Flyback Chronograph: A chronograph type that does not require the chronograph hand to be stopped first before being reset. The chronograph hand could be reset to zero any time after it is engaged and "flies back" to zero, restarting counting right after.
Monopusher Chronograph: A chronograph that could be activated, stopped and reset by one button only. A more traditional and dressy chronograph solution first found in early chronograph watches, this is perfect for someone who might not necessarily prefer the inherently sporty vibe of a standard chronograph. Only draw back is the counting hand cannot be re-engaged to continue counting once stopped, without first having to be reset. But it does look more elegant.
The Complication for the Lazy: Perpetual Calendar
Trivia: The most expensive wristwatch ever sold, the unique Patek Philippe 5016A, is, you guess it, a perpetual calendar watch. With a tourbillon. And the next Complication we are about to introduce.
The Most Romantic Complication: The Minute Repeater
Take the Audemars Piguet Supersonnerie pictured above as an example, once the button at 8 o'clock is engaged, it winds up a dedicated mainspring used to power the minute repeater function and via a very intricate network of gears, two tiny hammers slam themselves against the metal gong that forms the wall of the movement and start making a series of sounds that corresponds to the current time, usually in the sequence of hours, 15-minute intervals and last but not least, residual minute(s) beyond the 15-min intervals.
To hear the AP Supersonnerie chiming away, look no further than the below clip from ABlogtoWatch (chiming starts at 00:25).
Trivia: Angelina Jolie owns a lady Patek minute repeater that's worth more than HKD3,000,000. The story behind? Brad Pitt actually travelled to Geneve to pick this watch up personally as a gift to his super radiant actress-wife. I'm not sure if I want to be Jolie or Pitt more.