Strange Watch Complications: Thermometers To Biorhythms

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms X Fathoms

Among the 50+ watches displayed on Hodinkee’s Talking Watches With Bill Higgins, one stood out as particularly unique: the Certina Biostar. The Biostar is a timepiece that tracks and displays “biorhythms”: a pseudoscientific theory of physical, emotional, and mental cycles lasting 23, 28, and 33 days, respectively. While biorhythms might be make-believe, the movement is anything but. The Biostar does accurately track these cycles. This got me thinking – what are some other watches with strange complications? What makes a complication “strange” in the first place? In Vincent Deschamps’ recent article Funky Watches We No Longer Need, he mentioned some good picks from Vulcain and Blancpain. Today, I’m going to look at a few more strange complications: what they do, who they’re for, and what makes them strange.

Certina BioStar – Biorhythm Mechanism

Certina Biostar Electronic

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Believe it or not, there’s more to say about the Certina Biostar. The first reference (Ref. 7301 050), released around 1965, was the only manually-wound reference in the model’s history. This was the watch featured on Talking Watches With Bill Higgins. The hand wound reference was sold until 1970, when Certina  hopped on the quartz bandwagon, releasing the Biostar Electronic (pictured). Over the next 5 years, they released a few marginal references, as well as Biostar pocket watches and table clocks. I can’t find a single example of the table clock out there – if you see one in the wild, take a picture for me.

Upon receiving your Biostar, you’re expected to open the instruction booklet (I hope you can read German), open the watch itself, and adjust the biorhythm wheels in accordance with your birthday. How do you adjust them to your birthday? I don’t know – I don’t speak German. Even if you can set this watch accurately, you’ll have to learn how to read it. Only then will you finally be in touch with your biorhythms – at just a quick glance. The Certina Biostar is undoubtedly one of the most eccentric watches ever made. . . and I think I want one. 

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms X Fathoms – Mechanical Depth Gauge

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms X Fathoms

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In terms of aesthetics, build quality, innovation, and price, the Blancpain X Fathoms couldn’t be further from the Certina Biostar. I doubt they’ve ever been mentioned in the same breath. That said, their complications are similarly distinctive. The X Fathoms features an entirely in-house mechanical depth gauge made from zirconium alloy. While a handful of watches have done something similar, this $40,000 Blancpain does it best. This depth gauge reads up to 90 meters, recording and displaying your maximum depth. It also features a 5-minute decompression timer for safe ascension. This watch isn’t strange in the same way as the Certina Biostar. The X Fathoms is an incredibly functional tool. It’s strange because of its mission statement. As I said in my recent article What Do Modern Dive Watches Represent?: “Blancpain easily (and inexpensively) could have installed an electronic depth sensor, but that’s not the point of the watch”. Designing a mechanical depth gauge in the 21st century is a labor of love. This watch encapsulates the spirit of post-quartz horology. While there’s nothing strange about a dive watch with a depth gauge, there's something strange about those interested in mechanical depth sensors. Blancpain and I have that in common. Beautiful? Yes. Strange? Absolutely. 

Ball Trainmaster Kelvin – Mechanical Thermometer and Kelvin Conversion

Ball Trainmaster Kelvin with black dial

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Irrespective of its complication, the Ball Trainmaster Kelvin is a stunning dress watch. The domed sapphire crystal, polished gold case, and matching applied indices give it a vintage feel without sacrificing modern finishing. At the end of the day, this is an enlarged version of previous models. Still, the dial proportions feel perfect. The Trainmaster Kelvin may look like other Trainmasters, but one increasingly rare complication sets it apart: a mechanical temperature readout. Despite the watch’s name, the units are in Celsius. However, you can (no so) easily convert Celsius to Kelvin using the chart printed on the sapphire caseback. The idea of a mechanical watch that can read Kelvin but not Farenheit is. . . hilarious. So who is this watch for? If you find yourself needing the ambient temperature, the Trainmaster Kelvin might be for you. If you find yourself needing the ambient temperature in Kelvin (and you also want a COSC-certified, 18k gold dress watch), the Trainmaster Kelvin is definitely for you. Who is that person? I'm picturing Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Final Thoughts

“Strange” is a bit of a loaded term. It often has negative connotations: othering or belittling something. These watches aren’t lesser than others, but they’re unequivocally  different. When your watch’s complication requires a paragraph of explanation, you’re wearing a strange watch. A mechanical thermometer on your wrist is a conversation starter. The Kelvin conversion chart on the back is a conversation extender. Unconventional complications like these are as beautiful as they are strange. With that, I’m going to continue my search for a Biostar table clock.

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