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What complications and features should I look for in a watch?

Pancor P02 mint green dial mechanical watch

In this day and age we rarely wear watches with time keeping as the main reason. If you haven’t opted for a smart watch you are most likely wearing one as a style accessory.

That was not always the case however. Wrist watches, and pocket watches before that, were crucial tools in both professional and casual settings, as we’ll see in this post. Nowadays we mainly enjoy these mechanical wonders for their beauty and historical significance but it doesn’t hurt to know what each complication and feature can do for you, should you have to rely on it one day.

Let’s take a look and see what watch complications can do for you and if it’s something you should look for in your next watch.

Date

Aquatico Aqua One with date window at three o clock.

A very common feature in a watch is to show today’s date. It can sometimes interfere with an otherwise clean dial layout, but personally I would usually opt for a date version if I can. I just find it really useful. You do have to set the date every other month if it’s an analogue watch but that doesn’t bother me.

Day date

Merkur Seizenn pepsi dial and day date function.

What’e even better than having today’s date on your wrist is having today’s date and week day! I find this super useful, maybe because my head is in the clouds more than often. I also think this can look really good when it’s incorporated nicely in the dial layout and oftentimes offer better visual balance than simply a small date window that doesn’t significant enough to hold its own.

Dive bezel

Seiko SKX007 with a unidirectional 120 click dive bezel.

The dive bezel is mandatory on any dive watch. It’s used to keep track of elapsed time and can be used for knowing when to surface or make a decompression stop. Because of the risk associated with miscalculating time under water, the dive bezel would normally be unidirectional. If the bezel would accidentally be moved during the dive it will only shorten the dive and not fool the diver into staying in too long.

Dive bezels look great and give your watch a sporty look. There are also inner dive bezels which are operated with a crown.

World timer bezel

Wolbrook Skindiver WT with world timer bezel.

This is an interesting solution for globetrotters and pilots alike. It displays major cities around the world, and the time difference against GMT (Greenwhich Mean Time). Maybe not that useful nowadays, but a cool and different looking design element with a rich history in aviation.

12 hour (2nd time zone) bezel

Baltic Aquascaphe with 12 hour bezel.

If you like the look of a dive bezel but find the count-up bezel not so useful you can look for a 12-hour bezel. It’ll still allow you to time things, but the hour markers on the rotating bezel allows you to easily track a different time zone. Is this useful? A bit maybe, but it’s mostly a god looking bezel.

GMT hand

Grand Seiko GMT with GMT hand.

The GMT hand combined with 24 hour bezel lets you track a 2nd time zone, just like the 12 hour bezel. This is a more advanced feature though as it requires a more complicated movement. The advantage is that you can differentiate AM from PM for the 2nd time zone. If you can do basic arithmetic you don’t have to pay top dollar for a GMT movement to tell you the time, but it’s a cool looking complication with a bit of a globetrotter vibe to it.

Chronograph

Vertigo Pilot One powered by the manual wind Seagull ST19 mechanical chronograph movement.

One of the most iconic wrist watch complications is the chronograph. Chronographs come in all sorts of variations, both functionality and aesthetic-wise but it’s basically a stop watch combined with your regular time keeping function. Useful for measuring distance travelled, speed and other more complex calculations used in both aviation and racing. On a chronograph the main dial second hand is used for measuring chrono time. Just like a stop watch, it’s operated with the omnipresent pushers on the case. Normally there is also a continuous second hand in one of the sub-dials, but not always. I love the looks of chronographs and also find the timer function useful in all sorts of situations.

24 hour dial

Panda dial Seiko chronograph with VK63 and 24 hour dial.
Seiko

A 24-hour dial is normally one of the sub duals on a chronograph, although it can also be seen on it’s own. Since most watches have an hour hand that moves 12 hours per cycle it will rotate twice in a day; AM and PM. If you were stuck in a room with no windows for a few days (or a cave) there would be no way to tell if it’s day or night from your watch – unless you have a 24 hour dial! So that’s when that’s handy. In all other cases you would usually be able to tell AM from PM without a 24-hour dial. So why does some chronographs have them? Probably to have something to show in a sub-dial that’s there for layout symmetry’s sake.

Power reserve indicator

Pancor P02 with power reserve indicator at 12 o clock.

Speaking about useless features that’s mainly there because they look good – A power reserve indicator is just that. Here is one combined with the also useless 24-hour dial (which doesn’t even show numbers so it’s literally useless). A power reserve indicator is there to show you how much energy is left in the spring that powers your mechanical watch. If it’s low you might want to wind your watch. But if it’s an automatic watch, with a self-winding movement powered by kinetic energy from your moving wrist, it’ll be fully powered most of the time anyway (a mechanical watch can normally hold energy between 30 and 80 hours, so leaving it to rest while you sleep is not a problem.)

Display case back

Vertigo Pilot One showing its Seagult ST19 through the display case back.

A display case back is not a function, but it is a feature that many watch enthusiasts enjoy. It allows them to see the movement in action, which can be a joy if it’s a nice mechanical movement housed in the watch. Especially for more high-end timepieces the movements are finished to such a high standard that it would be a crime to cover it up and hide its beauty from the world. Low-end movements on the other hand look rather bland and showing it is more of a sign that the manufacturer is taking the piss and is trying to sell a low-end piece to naive buyers who thinks that anything mechanical is luxury.

What functions do you find useful in an analogue watch?

Which feature on this list would you pay extra for and which ones would you rather avoid? Is less more and a clean dial takes the win, or do you want a busy dial crammed with features? Let me know in the comments below. Personally I mainly choose the watch based on looks, but I do find some of the timing functions useful sometimes. There is one BIG no-no for me though, and that is watches that imitate a function without it actually working (a non rotating dive bezel, chronograph dials that don’t operate etc. ). This is a total piss-take sometimes seen in fashion and mall watches and to me it feels like a slap in the face.

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