In the weird and wonderful world of horology, perhaps the most satisfying and personal aspect of owning a watch is its ability to tell you more than just the time.
Whether it be a chronograph (the forbear to the stopwatch) or a timepiece that chart the phases of the moon, these complications are the result of painstaking craftsmanship from the world’s best watchmakers. In spite of their name, however, the skill is not in their complexity but in solving a technical problem in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible.
It can take years to perfect some of the aesthetically pleasing designs designs you’ll find on our shortlist below, each of which has seen a master watchmaker use their decades of experience to create an ingenious solution to a pertinent watchmaking question.
Take a look at this year’s Best Complication shortlist...
Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Squelette 5395
We don’t need to tell you how impressive the watchmaking is within Breguet’s new extra-thin tourbillon: it’s there for all to see on this eye-poppingly gorgeous skeletonised timepiece. Still, this is the Square Mile Watch Awards, so we’ll tell you a little more about this hot candidate for good measure.
Beneath a domed glass-box crystal, you’ll find the hair-thin 581SQ calibre. This movement is just 3mm in size (creating the watch’s extra-thin profile of 7.7mm), but even more impressive is that Breguet has managed to add a tourbillon while simultaneously removing enough of the metal to create the stunning open-work dial without compromising the watch.
One noticeable absentee is the apparent lack of a winding rotor - it’s actually still present, but instead has been inserted onto the movement plate to save space and, more importantly, allows the wearer to see right the way through the watch.
It’s one of a number of areas where the manufacture has refined its creation for maximum visual impact.
The results speak for themselves. Openworking an automatic tourbillon requires all of the watchmaking tools in the shed - and that’s before you get to the small matter (literally) of the fact this is an extra-thin watch. This is nothing short of a masterpiece.
For more info, visit breguet.com
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic
“The world’s thinnest…” seems to be a phrase that makes its way into every annual Baselworld press release where Bulgari are concerned – and it’s easy to get a little bit numb to the remarkable advancements the Italian brand’s watch division has achieved in the world of micromechanics. Whatever you think of ultra-slim watches, you’ve got to hold your hands up to these guys and respect the game. Bulgari balls hard.
And, lo-and-behold, we find ourselves here again: the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT, the world’s thinnest automatic chronograph. In the year the El Primero (the first ever auto-chrono) celebrates its 50th anniversary, it’s a delightfully irreverent play to bring this watch out right now. In the world of Swiss watchmaking, this probably qualifies as banter.
Astonishingly, Bulgari has wedged GMT and chronograph complications (and a 55-hour power reserve) into just 6.9mm of case depth. It comes with the brand’s typical low-key typography on the dial and a matte-grey sandblasted titanium finish. Industrial chic is how Bulgari likes to showcase its record breakers, and we’re more than happy with that fact.
So how have those whizzkids managed to create so much in such little space? For a start, it has dispensed with the traditional rotor and replaced it with a peripheral one and have gone for a slightly larger 42mm case. As if to throw a couple of fingers up at the competition, Bulgari has also added hand finishing on the see-through caseback in the form of the Côtes de Genève details you’re likely to see on some of the storied brands we know and love.
If it sounds like this watch is just one big flex to the chronic conservatism of other watch brands, it isn’t. To be frank, in spite of all the innovation, this is the best and most useful timepiece Bulgari has made – at a cost that isn’t so much f-you money as f-yes.
Watch buyers are going to have to ask themselves are difficult question: the Bulgari offers world record setting innovation and a truly unique piece at the price point of a Rolex Daytona or a precious metal El Primero. Decisions, decisions…
For more info, visit bulgari.com
Hermes Arceau L’Heure De La Lune
There’s something wonderfully unorthodox about Hermès timepieces. Whether it’s the sloping italicised numerals of the Arceau collection or the quirky charm of L'Heure Impatiente’s novel 12-hour timer complication, they never fail to put a smile on our face. It’s exactly this thought that ran through our mind the first time we laid eyes on the Arceau L’Heure De La Lune – a totally unique but utterly gorgeous take on the moonphase complication.
Hermès employed one of the greatest watch minds in Jean-Francois Mojon to bring its vision to life. Mojon has worked with the likes of MB&F and Harry Winston on ambitious projects in the past, and he has lent his name to a horological feast for the eyes here.
It’s rare to find a watch that flips a complication on its head
Delving into the design, we’ve got two stationary mother-of-pearl moons (one for both the northern and southern hemisphere) that are topped by two floating lacquer disks (displaying the hours and minutes on one, and the date on the other) that make a full sweep of the dial every 59 days.
The current lunar phase is shown by how much of the moon is obscured by the rotating subdials – a simple enough premise but visually impressive nonetheless.
Look closer and you’ll find further Hermès flourishes: the two hemispheres are inverted (south being at the top), while one of the pearlescent moons improbably contains a subtle pegasus motif by artist and designer Dimitri Rybaltchenko.
For the dial itself, you have a choice to make between a meteorite and an aventurine dial. Aventurine, a type of Murano glass flecked with golden shimmers of copper, creates a particularly whimsical extraorbital effect, but the moody meteorite option with its graduating grey disks and idiosyncratic textured dial encapsulates an austere moon-like aesthetic perfectly in keeping with this piece’s theme.
It’s rare to find a watch that flips a complication on its head, but Hermès has delivered in spades.
For more info, visit hermes.com
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel
“The Watchmaker’s Watchmaker”: ask anyone about Jaeger-LeCoultre’s historical influence on the horological world and this is the phrase you’re likely to encounter. The Swiss brand, founded on the south slopes of the Vallée de Joux in 1833, once created movements for watchmaking giants Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, and while it’s power may have diminished slightly in the centuries since it remains one of the finest producers of movement’s on the planet.
JLC has created more than 1,200 watch calibres in its history, but its new Master Grande Tradition Gyrotourbillon Westminster Perpétuel is one of the three most complicated timepieces the brand has ever produced. Six years of development, 1,050 individual pieces, more complications than you can shake a stick at and a whopping €800k price tag compromise one of the most thrilling pieces of haute horologerie you’ll ever encounter.
This watch is outrageous
Let’s try and break this behemoth down – starting with its revolutionary centrepoint, the gyrotourbillon. In its simplest form, this multi-axis tourbillon prevents gravity from having an adverse effect on the accuracy of the watch by moving in harmony with the turn of the rest. Or, in the words of avid watch collector and famous musician John Mayer: “A tourbillon is a study in overdelivery.
It’s a mechanical “shaggy dog” story; follow the gears and the springs and the cage that rotates on multiple axes like some kind of time machine drawn on parchment, and you get to the punchline: it’s five past three. Does it do anything else? It’s not meant to. It takes the long way through an otherwise short story.”
Of course, in the case of this the Westminster Perpétuel there’s several chapters left in its narrative. There’s the minute repeater function, programmed to play the Westminster carillon – otherwise known as the chime resonating from Big Ben’s clock tower. We could add that the case is made of white gold because it is the most resonant precious metal or that the gongs of the minute repeater are individual engraved with the corresponding Sol-Do-Ré-Mi (or G-C-D-E chord progression), but you get the point, this watch is outrageous.
The final touch is a beautifully clear perpetual calendar display on an enamel and silver-grained sub dial, surrounded by a swathe of openwork access to the real star of the show: the movement.
Master watchmaker Christian Laurent has been with Jaeger-LeCoultre for 48 years – his life’s work is in this one tour de force timepiece, and it shows.
That’s enough from us, we’re going for a lie down.
For more info, visit jaeger-lecoultre.com
Montblanc 1858 Split Second Chronograph
Montblanc’s relationship with esteemed movement maker Minerva continues to bear fruit more than a decade on from the first releases of the 1858 collection - a name inspired by the founding date of Minerva manufacture. The Split Second Chronograph is yet another vintage-inspired marvel that draws on the brand’s illustrious past.
This specimen comes in an attractive bronze case and contrasting black lacquered dial, with one of the more unusual dials you’ll find on the market today. There’s minutes and seconds track around the outer chapter ring, luminous Arabic numerals for the hours, two sub-dials detailing the running seconds and the chronograph totaliser, and a colimaçon (snail) tachymeter scale that curls its way around the very centre of the face.
Even more interesting than the dial itself, however, is the in-house movement designed by Minerva. The calibre MB M16.31 is a split-second chronograph complication - essentially enabling the measurement of intermediate times without interrupting the main counter - made all the more impressive by the fact that the chronograph is started, stopped, and reset through a single button. Split-second chronograph are largely considered one of the hardest movements to create in house, but adding a monopusher element? That just takes the biscuit.
For more info, visit montblanc.com