Before computers, satellites, and smartphones, watches came with all sorts of complications that helped people do stuff. Either time and event, measure the speed of a car on the race track, or even calculate the fuel consumption of an airplane and its related range capacity. These complications were actually useful and crucial to help the human race make leaps in terms of technology, science, and exploration. We probably wouldn’t have most of the technology we enjoy everyday if it wasn’t for the incredible feats of watchmaking. But are they useful now? Well, no they aren’t although brands still make perpetual calendars and chronographs because people are into these types of watches.
In this article, we’ll discuss watch complications we no longer need although they still exist. We’ll take a look at the first iteration of each complication and what it was made for, and some of the best examples available today.
We No Longer Need Chronographs
As we’ve discussed a few weeks ago, the first wrist watch chronograph was made by Longines in 1913 with its mono-pusher chronograph. It was a revolution as before 1913, chronographs only existed in pocket watch form. This type of complication was used to time car races, how fast an object was moving, and various iterations of the bezel inserts also made it possible to calculate distance from a target and the pulsations of the human heart. The most iconic chronograph is perhaps the Omega Speedmaster as its connection to NASA and space exploration is rather unique.
Today, we no longer need chronographs since we have smartphones that can time things more accurately. However, it is perhaps one of the most popular complications still being made because those who like to live analog lives—like yours truly—love to be able to time an event using a chronograph strapped to my wrist. I do find many uses for it in my day-to-day life, although all of these things could be accomplished by way of a smartphone. After all, we are into watches not because they are necessary but because of the way they help us relate to time.
We No Longer Need Perpetual Calendars
We definitely no longer need perpetual calendars of any type of calendar watch for that matter. I just love the idea that a watch can track days, months, and years and that they had to be set up to be able to do so for multiple decades. Think about it: how did people stay organized and synchronized before we had watches and calendars? I honestly don’t know and perhaps I wouldn’t have asked myself these questions should I have been born 500 years ago. But here I am today. Perpetual Calendars are no longer needed although they are seen as the most complicated complication any brand can make.
I personally find it impressive that engineers and watchmakers were able to create such complications. One of the best examples of a Perpetual Calendar is perhaps the Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph, although many other brands have made equally impressive perpetual calendars. As you have already guessed, smartphones and computers have made this complication obsolete, but we can still admire a perpetual calendar timepiece should we be able to see one in the metal and, more importantly, own one.
We No Longer Need Moon Phases
Over the years, moon phases have become more of an ornament than a useful complication. We see moon phases adorning beautiful dress watches and they are often seen as being sophisticated and elegant. At the beginning, the moon phase complication was developed for sailors to make it easier for them to track the tides since they are related to our distance to the moon and its gravitational pull on earth. There are too many good examples of watches with moon phases to choose from, so I recommend you look into the big Swiss brands and independent brands.
Nowadays, only sailors need a moon phase complication and mechanical watches that had one have been replaced by computers and advanced navigational tools. I’m pretty sure that there are a couple dozen applications that can do the same on our smartphones now. However, as mentioned above, people do like moon phases for the fact that they are intricate to make and beautiful to look at and further deepen our connection to the idea of passing time.
We No longer Need Dates
Lastly, I would argue that we no longer need a date on our watches. Again, this is something that can be done using a smartphone and it is perhaps the easiest thing to check as the date always appears on our phone screen somewhere and on our computers. But if you are like me, you perhaps find it helpful to have a date complication on your watch since it is quick to check and it’s always there. I would add that if you are like me, having a date is a different way to interact with your watch and to situate yourself within the current month. There is no one best example of this type of complication, however I would mention that Rolex was first to add a date on a watch—the Datejust released in 1945.
There are actually other complications we no longer need, however some of these could be seen as “features” rather than “complications.” For example, power reserve indicators and the various types of chronographs that exist, from classic chronographs that make it possible to track elapsed minutes and hours to flyback and split-seconds chronographs. There is yet another complication that I did mention here that we also don’t need and that would be GMT and world timer watches. Tracking time in different parts of the world can easily be done on a smartphone and computer, and the reason why I didn’t mention earlier is because it’s my favorite non-essential complication. Sorry, I was being a little selfish here.
As a final word, I would argue that we no longer need watches either but that’s a discussion for another day.
Featured image: www.thehourglass.com