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The different types of complication watches

Although the main functionality of watches is to tell the time, a wide variety of additional internal components called complications have been developed by ambitious and creative watchmakers.

In this article, you will find the different types of complication watches designed by talented watchmakers and builders during the last few centuries.

The chiming complication

Chiming watches were created to know the time in an era marked by public and private lighting which was still quite rare. These watches with this complication allowed to indicate the passage of the hours and quarters by striking on a system of bells or tuned stamps, like real musical instruments.

It was as early as the 15th century that this sound system appeared on pocket watches. Following the development of wristwatches in the 20th century, watchmakers had to be ingenious to find a way to miniaturise the hammer mechanism that allows chiming to work so that it can be adapted to smaller cases. 

Two distinctions can be made within this complication dedicated to the chiming watch: the grand chime model watch and the small chime model watch. 

Complication sonnerie
A complication pocket watch with chiming

A watch with a big chime

This system works automatically at each passage of the hours. The watch will chime at every full hour that has passed. At each quarter of an hour, the bell will repeat the hour and chime the quarter.

A watch with a small chime

This system will also chime the hours and quarter hours automatically but unlike the big chime, it does not repeat the hours at each quarter. The watch will therefore chime at every full hour and also chime the quarters at every quarter-hour.

Chronograph and chronometer: two distinct watch complications

Chronographs and chronometers are two similar but very different terms, so they should not be confused.

Indeed, a chronograph can be a chronometer. But a chronometer is not essentially a chronograph.

The chronograph watch

he term chronograph is used to designate an additional function, a watch complication allowing to measure short time intervals in units of seconds, minutes or sometimes hours.

The chronograph watch has two distinct mechanisms: the first one classically indicates the time and the second one is used to calculate the time interval. This second function can be displayed on the dial by means of one or more counters, or by means of a central hand called the “chronograph hand”, which is triggered by a push button that also allows it to be stopped and reset.

The chronometer

The term chronometer is used to designate a very high precision watch, capable of displaying the second. In order to be qualified as a chronometer, the watch model must obtain a certification issued by a neutral official organisation (usually the COSC, the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres).

We can therefore conclude that the chronometer is not a function but an indication of the high quality and accuracy of the model.

Learn more about watch complications with Initium

At Initium, and as an ambassador of watchmaking, we offer for any type of course chosen a theoretical part explaining the technical aspects of mechanical watchmaking. In our workshops and discussion with our master watchmakers, do not hesitate to satisfy your curiosity about the different types of watch complications, we will be delighted to answer them!


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