What Are Watch ‘Complications?’

What Are Watch ‘Complications?’

| 03.23.23

You’ve doubtless seen this word bandied about whilst cruising through the Watch World. “Complication.” What does that mean, exactly? Thankfully, it’s not as complicated as one might think. (Cue crash cymbal.) 

In short, a ‘complication’ is anything a timepiece does beyond simple timekeeping. Technically, the date function on a watch — which is a form of basic calendar — is a complication. So is a moon phase display, which — you guessed it — displays the current phase of the moon, and so is a day-date display, or a chronograph. All of these are “complications.”

Adding a complication to a basic time-only movement adds to the complexity of the timepiece housing it and thus, usually, increases the price of said watch. (Though this isn’t always the case if the watch is quartz-powered, or houses a more massed-produced movement) Generally, the more complicated a mechanical watch, the more expensive — unless we’re talking about ultra-luxe time-only watches such as a Patek Philippe Calatrava, some of which are more expensive than, say, a calendar watch from a comparable Swiss maison

It helps to understand what some of these complications are so that you can be an informed buyer when shopping for your next timepiece. So without further ado, here are a few commonly seen watch complications:


DOXA Sub 300 Carbon 'Divingstar'

Nothing much to see here, folks — just the common date wheel. Though they’re now ubiquitous, it was really the Rolex Datejust, which debuted in 1945, that brought this complication into everyday watchmaking. 


Rolex Day-Date In The SHOP

Exactly what it sounds like, this complication adds the day of the week to the equation. And once again, Rolex really does this one best in the form of its Day-Date.

Moon Phase

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Moonphase

In this classically inspired complication, a small aperture at the bottom of the dial reveals a rotating disc with the current phase of the moon, typically conveyed via a whimsical illustration of an anthropomorphic lunar surface with a face on it.


Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Moonphase Chronograph

There are several types of calendar complications, but for the sake of brevity, consider the complete calendar (day, date, month), which needs to be manually adjusted at the end of each month; the annual calendar (day, date, month) which generally only needs adjusting at the end of February; and the perpetual calendar (dat, date, month, leap year), which can account for leap years and is often accurate to 100+ years if kept wound. To each of these types of calendars is often added the phase of the moon.


Omega Speedmaster Professional Two-Tone

This is the “time writer” complication that records elapsed time via a set of subsidiary registers (or “totalizers”) each with their respective hands on the dial, which display said elapsed time. The starting, stopping, and resetting of the complication is done-so by using one, two, or most commonly, three 'pushers' found on the outside of the case — or occasionally within the winding crown itself.

Tide Indicator

Reflucta Tidal Moonphase Diver

 This fairly rare complication swaps out the moon phase indicator for one that displays the tides. Originally developed for anglers and sportsmen, the tide indicator has been used on only a handful of mechanical watches.


Benrus Wrist Alarm 'Bullitt'

Mechanical alarms employ a tiny striking mechanism that audibly chimes within the watch. Amazingly, alarms have even been developed for dive watches, giving the diver a heads up when it’s time to surface.

Minute/Quarter Repeater

 Jules Jurgensen Minute Repeater

Repeating mechanisms employ a slider or button on the case flank that, when engaged, audibly chime the time using a series of gongs. This complication is generally reserved for incredibly high-end pieces.

Complicated Watches at Analog:Shift


Of course, we carry plenty of complicated watches at Analog:Shift.com — everything from the humble Rolex Datejust all the way up to absurdly sophisticated pieces from the likes of Patek Philippe. Try typing in “calendar,” “moon phase,” or “chronograph” into our search bar and seeing what we have in stock!