The irony of this question is that it’s a very simple answer: watch complications are basically any other feature on a watch dial/face that isn’t simply telling the time.
Common examples of complications on watches include date displays, a graphical illustration of the current moon phase or – on mechanical watches – a power reserve indicator, which shows how much longer the watch will run for if it’s left stationary and not wound.
This lovely Bremont Jaguar D-Type watch, for example, has three complications: a 30-minute counter at 3 O’Clock, a date display at 6 O’Clock, and a hour/minutes small second counter at 9 O’Clock.
In the mechanical watch world, more complications generally equate to greater sophistication, because each of those different elements must be engineered and fitted within the confines of the case.
The tourbillon, for example, has traditionally been regarded as a high-end complication only found in the brutally expensive watches worn by talented movie stars or Nicholas Cage. In a tourbillion watch, the regulating system is mounted in a revolving cage designed to offset the detrimental effects of gravity on the watch’s accuracy, when the watch is left in the same position/orientation for sustained periods of time.
A tourbillon – often visible through a window in the watch dial and hence regarded as a complication – is made up of around 70 different parts, all within the size of a ten-pence coin. It’s a piece of high-end horology that commands a high price, although cheaper Chinese imports are beginning to make tourbillion watches affordable for even supermarket managers or Chris Grayling.
What are smartwatch complications?
Complications are, of course, much easier to add in the smartwatch world, because they are merely pieces of software code rather than additional mechanical components.
Common complications on smartwatches include counters to show how many steps you’ve walked today, the weather forecast or notifications of unread messages.
The apps you have installed on a smartwatch often come with their own complications that you can add to a watchface. The great thing about smartwatch complications is that you’re not stuck with whatever comes out of the factory – many watchfaces let you customise the complications you have on your display.
Apple has instructions on how to add/change the complications on your Apple Watch here. If you’re a Google WearOS user, press down on a blank part of the watch face until the face minimises, drag the screen upwards and tap the settings cog to see if you can adjust the complications on your chosen watchface.
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