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Complications are display mechanisms on a watch. Some, like hour, minute, and second, are taken for granted, while others are so rare and difficult as to be considered "Grande Complications" (see below).

History of Complicated Watches

The history of the manufacture of complicated watches follows the spread of knowledge from France and Germany to the Swiss Jura region. It revolves around three classical complications: chimes, chronographs, and mechanical calendars. The genesis of complicated watches can be traced back to chiming clocks, marking a significant impetus in their development.

The origins of chiming clocks are often attributed to France and Germany in the 14th century, although their existence likely predates this period. Initially, these clocks automatically chimed on the hour or quarters, replacing salaried workers who manually signaled time by ringing bells or firing guns. The evolution led to the production of pocket watches with similar capabilities, pioneered by English watchmakers Edward Barlow and Daniel Quare in 1676. Julien Leroy later introduced an on-demand chiming clock in the early 19th century for the King of France, a concept known as repetition.

The repetition concept, where the chime could be triggered on demand, became synonymous with chiming watches. Breguet, the legendary French watchmaker, played a pivotal role in perfecting the repetition mechanism for pocket watches. Breguet's innovation included a latch preventing the chime from operating until fully cocked. Through the mid-19th century, French and English watchmakers crafted repeaters, quarter repeaters, and minute repeaters, with some featuring additional "passing" chimes, resulting in the grand and petite sonnerie.

Concurrently, watchmakers experimented with clocks featuring sweeping seconds hands, with Nicolas Rieussec producing a timer for King Louis XVIII in 1821. Adolphe Nicole later added a re-setting feature, creating the compteur and chronograph. Chronograph mechanisms advanced significantly in the latter half of the 19th century.

The intricate knowledge of these advanced complications was initially guarded by English and French watchmakers. However, it eventually spread to Geneva and Fleurier, where aspiring students absorbed the secrets and disseminated them to the Vallée de Joux: Le Sentier and Le Brassus. The watchmaking families, including LeCoultre, Audemars, and Piguet, mastered the creation of complicated watches, supplying not only Geneva but also Paris and London.

The knowledge of complicated watchmaking also made its way east to the Neuchâtel mountains. Edmond Mathey-Tissot's workshop, founded in Ponts-de-Martel in 1886, became a hub for complicated horology. Other watchmakers, such as James Bertholet, L.-C. Greandjean, E. Robert-Mairet, and H. Sandoz-Robert, joined in producing repeaters, chronographs, perpetual calendars, and more. Le Locle, influenced by nearby Ponts-de-Martel, emerged as a center for complicated watches in the 1890s. At the same time, watchmakers like Jules-Frédéric Jeanneret traveled further east to Saint-Imier, establishing the town as a center for chronographs. Eventually complicated watchmaking came to La Chaux-de-Fonds as well.

Le Locle itself became a stronghold of complicated watchmaking. Charles Barbezat-Baillot established his firm in 1888, focusing on repeaters, chronographs, and rattrapantes. The Le Phare brand, introduced by 1890, gained acclaim. Barbezat-Baillot's protege, Georges Pellaton-Steudler, refined designs with interchangeable components, enabling mass production of repeating watches. Le Phare garnered recognition with medals in Paris, Liège, and Milan, solidifying Le Locle's contribution to the evolution of complicated watchmaking.

Typical complications

The following complications are commonly found on many watches:

Non-Timing Complications

Many people only consider complications related to time-telling when counting. However, a number of watches feature other non-timing features or complications, including the following:

Grande Complications

More elaborate functions are often used to demonstrate the technical skill of a watchmaker. These Grande Complications are often so important that they are the focal point of a watch. Some, like the tourbillon, perpetual calendar, and repeater, can command hundreds of thousands of dollars and are hallmarks of a prestige manufacture. For example, see the Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon Ref. 5002 with twelve complications, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Hybris Mechanica series, or the Vacheron Constantin Tour de L'Ile, depicted here.

Some consider a watch to be "Grande Complication" if it includes any of the following rare complications. Others demand that a watch have more than one of these. Still more consider a watch to be a "Grande Complication" only if it includes complications from three categories: Timing, chiming, and calendar.

Grande complications include:

Super Complications

Watchmakers occasionally "flex their muscles" by releasing special extremely-complicated watches, singularly or in tiny numbers. Such is the case for the most famous complicated watch, the Henry Graves Supercomplication by Patek Philippe. This pocket watch, commissioned in 1925, has set consecutive records when sold at auction, most recently selling for CHF 23.2 million ($23.8 million) on November 11, 2014 at Southeby's in Geneva. That same month, to celebrate their 175th anniversary, Patek Philippe released a limited edition of seven Grandmaster Chime wrist watches, their most complicated ever, with more chiming functions than any other watch.