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Unique Complications You Might Not Know

December 8, 2023

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A brief look at some of the most obscure complications in watchmaking

Horology is the result of generations of work by watchmakers and clockmakers. In this time, horologists have made countless innovations. Naturally, some complications have become staples of luxury brands; nearly all top Swiss brands offer chronograph, perpetual calendar, and tourbillon watches. Other complications remain obscure due to their limited practicality or difficulty to produce. These lesser-known innovations can be more exciting than the classic complications of high horology, if only for their novelty and rareness. The following complications stand out from the crowd and may be more attainable than you might expect.

Alarm

AlarmThe Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 956 viewable through the caseback of the Master Control Memovox 

An alarm complication does exactly what you think; it allows the wearer to set an alarm to go off at a desired time. Accomplishing this function requires some clever watchmaking. Typically, an alarm movement will use a  notched cam connected to the alarm hand to trigger a lever at the desired time. The lever releases energy from a wound spring to activate a hammer which strikes a membrane.

One of the most famous examples of the alarm complication is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox, a watch first introduced in 1950. The brand offers the "Memovox" feature in the Polaris Memovox and Master Control Memovox. Both models have two crowns, one for typical time setting and winding and the other for setting and winding the alarm. Arguably, the true. paradigm of the alarm complication is the Vulcain Cricket, the first wristwatch to feature the function. Launched in the 1940s, the watch served as a companion to several United States Presidents. Almost every President has been given a Cricket due to a tradition dating back to when President Harry S. Truman received the watch as a gift upon leaving office in 1953. The model is still in production today.

Resonance  Resonance

 The extraordinary dial of the Armin Strom Pure Resonance   showcasing the movement's dual balance  wheels connected   by a resonance clutch spring.

 According to The Watch Pages, resonance is the tendency of   moving bodies in close proximity and  of   similar natural   resonant frequency to synchronize. The phenomenon is akin to   a singer matching the   frequency of a tuning fork. In practice, a   resonance watch will have two independent mainsprings, gear   trains, and closely situated balance wheels which beat in   unison. This configuration increases accuracy   by stabilizing   the rate and minimizing  external influence on timekeeping. For example if one balance   wheel is perturbed, the other will correct.it.

Perhaps the most famous modern example of this complication is the F.P. Journe Chronomètre à Résonance. Released in 2000, the timepiece draws inspiration from eighteenth-century watchmakers like Abraham-Louis Breguet. Due to its limited availability, the model fetches over $250,000 on the secondary market. Armin Strom, a lesser-known independent Swiss watchmaker, offers resonance at far more attainable prices in its Mirrored Force and Pure Resonance watches.

Pointer Date

The 2023 Oris Big Crown Pointer Date featuring Oris's new in-house Caliber 473

Most date displays in modern watches indicate the day of the month with a rotating disk beneath the dial. A pointer date mechanism offers a more elegant way of displaying the date. As the name suggests, on a pointer date watch, a hand points to date markers on the dial. The complication is usually included in classic triple calendars and perpetual calendars; it is somewhat rare to find on its own.

The Oris Big Crown Pointer Date exemplifies the complication well. The model family began in the 1930s. The brand continues to use the vintage design language of the original in the current collection. Highlights include upright Arabic numerals and, of course, the prominent arrow-shaped date hand. The majority of the watches in the collection are powered by the Oris Caliber 754, a movement based on the Sellita SW 200-1. These models are priced at around $2,000. Oris also produces more expensive timepieces using the in-house Calibers 403 and 473. 


Regatta ChronographRegatta Chronograph

The Rolex Yacht Master II
Regatta chronographs, or yacht timers, have a very specific   application in boat racing. 

Unlike a traditional chronograph which counts up to time events, a regatta chronograph counts down to the start of the race. Most of the time, this countdown is five or ten minutes. Some yacht timers may also feature a conventional chronograph function to time the ensuing race.

A well known modern example of the complication is the Rolex   Yacht-Master II. Unlike most regatta chronographs which   countdown either   five or ten minutes, the Rolex Yacht Master   II can be programmed for countdown times between one and   ten minutes. The wearer can also reset the   countdown to the   nearest minute with a push of the reset  button. Other yacht   timers include   Frederique Constant's Yacht Timer Regatta Countdown, the Panerai Luminor 1950 Regatta 3 Days Chrono Automatic Flyback, and the Omega Planet Ocean Regatta.

Deadbeat Seconds

  Deadbeat Seconds

 The A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Jumping Seconds uses a constant-force mechanism to achieve the deadbeat seconds complication Deadbeat seconds, or jumping seconds, is a complication in which the seconds hand of a mechanical watch moves once per second. The complication is often described as ironic because an inexpensive quartz watch achieves the exact same movement. The seconds hands of most mechanical watches tick several times a second according to the frequency at which their balance wheels oscillate. Converting the oscillations of the balance wheel into a single tick every second to create a "deadbeat" second takes quite a bit of extra work.

 According to SJX Watches, the function can be achieved through several methods. In a star-and-flirt mechanism, a star-shaped wheel connected to the escape wheel rotates after a certain number of oscillations of the balance wheel to release a lever called the flirt. Powered by its own hairspring, the flirt moves the second hand until it contacts the next tooth of the star,  creating a deadbeat second. Another method involves a secondary escapement connected to the fourth wheel that can lock and unlock a spring-loaded ratchet. The ratchet advances the second hand once every second. A third way uses a constant-force mechanism that regulates the release of force from the mainspring to drive the second hand forward in one-second intervals. 

Due to the complexity of the watchmaking behind the complication, deadbeat seconds are almost exclusively found in higher-end watches. For instance, an Akrivia Rexhep Rexhepi Chronometre Contemporain featuring jumping seconds recently fetched over $900,000 at auction. Other examples of the function include the A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Jumping Seconds and De Bethune DB25 Starry Varius Aérolite. The most affordable deadbeat seconds watch is the Habring^2 Erwin, which costs around $6,000 at retail and $9,000 pre-owned. 

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