9 Watch Complications That Are Completely Useless

 In Collecting Watches

Complications might serve various purposes. Some are very useful, some of them at least can be useful.

Sometimes they’re a display of the manufacturer’s technical skill. Sometimes they’re decorative.

And sometimes… Sometimes they’re just useless. Let’s have a look at the most useless complications out there, in no specific order.

24h indicator

By 24h indicator, I don’t mean a GMT. Some movements have an additional 24h subdial that isn’t independent of the main 12h display.

Exactly what’s the point of it? You look out the window, the sun’s up high, and the watch shows 12 o’clock. Well, that’d be noon. Thank you, no 24h indicator needed.

The only use for it that I can think of is telling the time somewhere by the Arctic Circle or in the South Pole, but then again, a 24h watch (Glycine Airman, for example) or a GMT watch is much more useful.

The 24h indicator seems to serve only one purpose, and that’s being a space-filler. Sort of a horological “dead donkey.”

It serves as a space-filler in a wide range of movements from very different manufacturers. Seiko uses it in the VK-64 quartz chronograph ebauche.

Even Patek Philippe uses it. Moving the date display to a window left some unused space around the moon phase display. Let’s fill up this space with a 24h indicator. Done.

Day/night indicator

Again, unless you’re on the North or South Pole, it’s useless. It’s a feature thrown now and then on dual-time watches, like specific versions of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso.

Technically, if you need to keep track of time in a distant time zone, it’s not that bad.

Say, you’re in Spain and happen to do a lot of business in Australia. In Sydney, for example. You don’t want to wake someone up in the middle of the night with a call. Then again, if you’ve been doing business in Sydney for years, you know what the time difference is.

Tourbillon

The tourbillon, while not an indicator of any measure of time, is certainly an attractive complication.

A quick explanation for if you don’t know what it is. The rotating cage of the tourbillon with the balance and escapement inside, reduces the effect of positional variation. It certainly was a cut above everything else back in the day of its inventor, Abraham-Louis Breguet. Technically, this could be useful.

However, unless you’re obsessed with accuracy, you don’t need it. Besides, the most accurate mechanical wristwatch movements aren’t tourbillons. For whatever reason, no manufacturer even bothers to have a tourbillon movement tested and certified by an independent institution.

If the tourbillon served any purpose at one point, it no longer does. It’s hard even to say that it’s a display of the manufacturer’s skill. The tourbillon is the most expensive complication as if the manufacturers wanted to say, “Look, that’s some sorcery you’ll never understand, and we’d like you to believe it’s worth the 30,000 dollars you paid for it”.

Meanwhile, Chinese manufacturers will sell you one for a few hundred bucks. TAG Heuer managed to introduce a mass-made tourbillon chronograph movement, the calibre Heuer 02T. The price for the base version of the watch that uses it is circa 12,000 USD. And even then, Rolex, Omega and Grand Seiko are happy to sell you a watch that’s tuned to far more narrow tolerances, for half the price, and that happens not to be a tourbillon.

So, is there a point to all the tourbillons for tens and hundreds of thousands, or the tourbillon at all? I don’t think so.

If you’re obsessed with extreme accuracy, but you want to keep it traditional, get a chronometer-certified watch. If you’re obsessed with accuracy, or you’re living from one Japanese bullet train to another, get a quartz watch. Perhaps even a high-precision quartz, like a Longines VHP or some COSC-certified one from Breitling. Even Tissot offers COSC-certified quartz watches.

All guaranteed to perform better than the fanciest tourbillon.

Useless complications tourbillon

A Greubel Forsey with a tourbillon.

Equation of time and sidereal time

The equation of time complication shows the difference between the apparent and mean solar time. Sidereal time is a system used to calculate the coordinates of celestial bodies, which is meant to make observation easier.

So, the only people who need something like this are astronomers. However, in the digital age, even they don’t need it.

The only people who could have any use for these complications are those who:

  • Have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on a watch with these complications.
  • Have an awful lot of luck so someone will ask them what that complication is so that they get a chance to show off that knowledge.

Clocks with the sidereal time and equation of time complications were once used by observatories, but now that observatories don’t need them anymore, they’re just museum exhibits.

Foudroyante

This complication is often overlooked.

I suppose the main reason that it’s overlooked is that it serves no real purpose. It’s a hand that makes one complete turn per second, with four, five or eight stops along the way.

Unless it’s paired with a chronograph, there’s no use for it.

Dead-beat (true) second

Most, if not all of us, associate the “stuttering” motion of the seconds hand with quartz movements. Still, what we associate with a quartz-controlled stepper motor was in fact around since circa 1675.

The invention can be credited to Richard Towneley, an English mathematician, and astronomer. It was intended as a seconds display that could be used to set other clocks in reference to it.

It was popular for a short time in the 19th century, when it was used in high-grade pocket watch movements. The complication had a short comeback during the 1950s and 1960s, in watches like the Rolex Tru-Beat.

Chezard, an ebaucherie, made a number of generic dead-beat seconds movements, mostly used by Doxa. Then, the complication largely disappeared from the market.

Today, very few makers use it, notably Jaeger-LeCoultre, Habring2, and Grönefeld.

If for whatever reason you like your seconds hand to have a stuttering motion of a quartz watch, but you still prefer a mechanical movement, this is for you. Otherwise, it makes very little sense.

Weekly calendar

All it shows is which week of the year it is. It isn’t something you need to fill in on documents.

Of course, that’s unless you write the date like “Thirty-first day of the month of April, fifteenth week of Anno Domini 2019” which is even more complicated than anyone would have written the date in the Middle Ages.

It’s another fancy way of cluttering the dial.

Moon phase

The moon phase complication has no use whatsoever.

Of course, if done tastefully, it’s certainly a beautiful feature. Its only purpose seems to be decorative, but it isn’t a space-filler like a 24h indicator. It creates the illusion of more mechanical complexity to the watch, and I must admit, it makes a dial more lively.

Any other point to it? Not really.

Useless complications moon phase

A Universal Geneve with a moon phase.

Planetarium

If anything speaks in favor of this complication, is that it looks spectacular.

Few manufacturers make planetarium watches, and we’re talking of pieces priced from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. To name just a few of these manufactures – Christiaan van der Klaauw, Jacob & Co.

Now, does it have a practical use? No. But it looks stunning.

All in all

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to own a watch with a moon phase. Just because I think it looks great. Since I don’t care about the phases of the moon, the complication would be useless.

Then again, not everything has to be useful. Sometimes it’s just a matter of good looks.

The 24h indicator, however, is probably the single most unnecessary complication on this list. It’s the King of Useless. It doesn’t tell you anything you wouldn’t know by looking out the window. You can’t set it independently, so you can’t use it as a primitive GMT. And, on top of that, it also doesn’t look good.

All of these complications have the same flaw. They’re hardly useful, or completely useless.

Some of them are just there to fill in space and make a watch appear more sophisticated.

The tourbillon, dead-beat seconds, and sidereal time/equation of time were designed for a specific purpose, but that purpose no longer exists. But since they’re pleasant to look at, I guess that’s reason enough to keep using them.

Do you know any other useless complications? Let me know in the comments below.

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Showing 7 comments
  • Avatar
    Chayal M L
    Reply

    Thanx guys for another informative article.
    Regards,
    Chayal.

    • Melvin Hollenberg
      Melvin Hollenberg
      Reply

      Good to hear from you, Chayal. Glad you like it.

      • Avatar
        Pete
        Reply

        Thank you again Michal for yet another fine article. Your observations reflect mine , on the ones I knew of…and the Universal Geneve pic made my day!
        A dream watch of mine for many years!
        Best,
        Pete

        P.s. please keep writing, never stop.

  • Avatar
    Kraig
    Reply

    FYI, surfers and sailors are highly dependent on knowing the phase of the moon due to its affect on tides. While there are other sources of info for this, it is nice to have that at a glance if you surf or sail often.

    • Melvin Hollenberg
      Melvin Hollenberg
      Reply

      Thanks, Kraig. As you said, there are excellent worldwide tide times and tide charts available but it could be useful.

  • Avatar
    Adam
    Reply

    I love your site and articles by both Michał & Melvin.
    Thank you for writing this blog. It is a joy to read.

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