In the watchmaking world, the term complication refers to any function in a watch beyond the simple display of hours and minutes. Basically, the more things a timepiece does, the more complications it has. Some of the most common complications include chronographs, day/date displays, dual time zones, alarm, power reserve indicator and many other. Practical and useful, they are designed to provide information that is helpful to users. However, there are some complications that are not very useful to an ordinary user. Instead, they are more seen as a statement, a feature that highlights the brand’s exceptional watchmaking ability. In this article we will go through some of these “useless” complications. They are not in any particular order, just some I personally find interesting.
The equation of time displays the difference between the actual solar time and the 24-hour day, termed “civilian time”. This difference varies between plus or minus 15 minutes. Because of the Earth’s elliptical orbit and inclined rotation axis, only four days are exactly twenty-four hours long. Many brands use this complication in their watches including Girard-Perregaux, Blancpain, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Panerai. On some watches, the equation of time is displayed on an arc or subdial with graduation from minus 15 to plus 15 minutes. Other timepieces feature two minute hands – one for the true solar time and the other for the “civilian” time.
Next we have the “suspended time”. The first, and so far the only, watch that uses this complication is the Hermès Le Temps Suspendu. Essentially, this complication allows the user to “freeze” or suspend the time for as long as he/she wants. By pressing the pusher at 9 o’clock the hour and minutes hands jump instantly to a narrow “V” area at 12 o’clock while the date hand completely disappears from the sight and hides under the raised area. When user presses the button again, the hands return to the current time/date. What’s important is that during this whole process, the movement still runs in the background.
Another interesting feature is the Franck Muller’s “Crazy Hours”. Unlike most watches, the “Crazy Hour” pieces feature a random arrangement of hour numerals. For example a “6” is at 2 o’clock, “11” is at 3 o’clock, “8” at 12 o’clock and so on. This means that if the hour hand is pointing at “8”, you’re in the 8th hour even if the “8” is physically in the 12 o’clock spot. Every 60 minutes, the hour hand makes a quick jump to the next numeral, regardless of where that hour is placed on the dial. As opposed to these random jumps, the minutes hand follows a traditional 60 minutes cycle.
And finally the word or two about the dead-beat seconds. Often called the “jumping seconds”, this complication is added to make the smooth sweeping seconds hand in a mechanical watch tick one time per second, similar to how quartz timepieces work. Although it looks simple, it is actually quite difficult to accomplish this feature. The dead-beat seconds complication requires extra gears and mechanics to slow down the rate of the seconds hand. Many collectors don’t like this complication as they prefer the charm of a sweeping second hand. Also, some consider that it makes their watch look like a quartz piece. There are a few brands that use this complication. The most notable model that incorporates this mechanism is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic.