Here at The Watch Collectors' Club, we want to help you explore the watch world, and one of the most fun things to look at is unusual watch functions, also known as complications. We all know that many modern mechanical watches have functions on top of telling the time, and enthusiasts enjoy the different designs found to implement them, the careful craftsmanship required to make them work, and the engineering required to fit multiple functions into one mechanical movement. You may know of the common functions like the Date, or Calendar Functions, and the various types of Chronograph, but there are some really unusual ones we'd like to highlight. Read on for a list of some of the most unusual complications ever tried.
An IWC with a calendar complication that shows the Day, Date and Month, a very popular high-end calendar mechanism.
The Usual Suspects - common watch functions
Many people love it when their mechanical watch has an additional function even if they don't ever intend to use it. This explains the widespread popularity of chronographs, or stopwatches of different kinds, moonphases, different kinds of calendar watch, and even mechanical alarm watches. At the high end, we often find watches with more elaborate calendars that are perpetual, which means they can automatically account for a leap year. Many brands make all of these functions, but there are some complications that are much more rare.
A Vintage Breitling Top Time Chronograph - one of the most common functions or complications added to a mechanical watch.
Five Unusual Complications (or Functions)
The Golf Score Counter
Many watch brands have sponsored professional golfers for years without seeing the need to help them count their golf score while playing, but Hublot decided this fun and actually quite helpful movement addition should be attempted for their Big Bang Unico range of sports watches. It counts the score on each hole the total score and the number of holes played. The design is straightforward and it has three bulky pushers to make it all easy to use with a golf glove on. I love this watch, it's pricey as they put it in cases made of fancy materials, but it is useful and well-designed.
The Hublot Big Bang Unico Golf, which can count the score of each hole, cumulative score, and tell you which hole you are on.
The Mechanical Depth Gauge
Given the extremely large number of diving watches produced since the first couple were launched in 1953, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and the Rolex Submariner, you would think that many manufacturers would have rushed to include a handy tool showing the diver how deep they were into their watches. In fact, it's hard to do well, not least because it involves having a hole in the case! The water enters a small internal reservoir and pushes a counter to the required indicator. On the IWC Deep Three it even shows the deepest depth achieved. Oris also have made a few depth gauge watches in the past. It's a technically tricky and fun addition to any dive watch.
A Vintage Favre Leuba Dive watch with a Depth Gauge.
An IWC Deep Three watch with a depth gauge that will also record the depest level reached. The water to run this goes inside the watch case to move the indicator round!
A very small number of watches have had a temperature function over the years. It's quite complicated to do as you need to connect a very sensitive gauge to a small part that expands and contracts within the watch. It's a clever and interesting dial differentiation, but probably a low level of accuracy that limits its usefulness, it's a fun function very rarely found.
A Ball TMT Watch that includes a Temperature gauge at the six O'clock position.
An Altimeter tells you how high you are above mean sea level, and is crucial for pilots and mountaineers. Mechanical altimeters were the norm up until the 1960s, but very rarely did they feature on a wrist watch. Today they are equally unusual, but Oris maintain one in their range of Pilot's watches. They work by measuring air pressure and displaying it on a scale.
The Oris ProPilot Altimeter, which features an Altimeter displayed on the dial.
The tides move with the moon, and every part of every coastline on earth has different tides in terms of height due to the shape of the coast and the depth of the water, however the times of high and low tide can be calculated with accuracy forever into the future. These can then be modelled on a watch so long as you set it to the correct high tide time at the location you are interested in. Various watches have featured a tide timer, also known as a Solargraph, and today it seen as a luxury complication featured in those watches associated with sailing and yachting.
The IWC Yacht Club Moon Tide, has a tide timing mechanism on the dial.
Chiming and Sounding Functions
Another area of High Horology where watch makers make incredibly complicated mechanical features is in the realm of watches that can make sounds for specific purposes. Chiming watches can sound the time on demand, or sound the time at a specific interval, such as on the hour. These are worth investigating in a separate Blog Post, which we will write in the future. They are very expensive to make and only usually feature in very fancy watches, yet British Brand Christopher Ward recently made a new chiming watch that chimes every hour for a more accessible price. It is designed to show off the chiming mechanism, where a hammer bangs on a metal gong on the dial side of the watch. It is called the Bel Canto and may be the start of a new era of sounding watch complications.
A Christopher Ward Bel Canto watch with the chiming gongs clearly visible in the lower half of the watch face.
There are many watch functions and complications and it is fun to seek out the more unusual models as well as marvel at the range of designs to implement them. We at The Watch Collectors' Club love exploring the huge variety of different kinds of watch, and hope to help you do it easily and by learning from others. If there are any complications you would like us to cover in more detail, please let us know via email or on Social Media, and come along to one of our online or in-person watch events to share your thoughts with us!
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