I n the world of horology, there are seemingly endless facets and rabbit holes to explore, with the many brands, watches, histories, sales and tales all swimming together to present a vivid, colourful market for collectors and enthusiasts. Few, if any, areas of technical watchmaking are as engaging as that of complications, with these intricate mechanisms able to not only provide additional functionalities to a timepiece, but further mechanical intrigue.
The many esteemed manufactures of the world understand this, researching, developing and executing upon both common and rare complications to showcase their refined production ability. The Luxury Edit at Sotheby’s presents an array of incredible timepieces equipped with equally impressive complications, showcasing some of the best the current market has to offer.
Beyond Telling Time
Complications are a broad category in watches. At their most simple, a complication could be an added date function to an otherwise time-only wristwatch. A step further could be in the inclusion of a day function, a chronograph or a GMT. In another step further, a watch could join together day, date and year indicators with other technical attributes for either a triple calendar, annual calendar or perpetual calendar, respectively. And at their most complex, a watch could go even further bringing together multitudes of complications, this most famously accomplished by means of what's called a grand complication timepiece, which typically contains a chronograph, minute repeater, perpetual calendar, and moon phases, with some variety based on individual model or maker.
The Fine Watches auction at Sotheby’s New York has many rare and fascinating timepieces representing this entire range. A deceivingly complex example among the highlights is the Patek Philippe Reference 5110R, a pink gold wristwatch that utilises a world time function which tracks times in multiple global cities simultaneously. In many ways the worldtimer epitomises the spirit of exploration and global adventure via its unique capability, while at the same time it represents an elevation of the simpler GMT function via its mechanical complexity and difficulty to produce and perfect.
The Ever-Increasingly Complicated Chronograph
A chronograph, while almost as common on wrists as time-only and time-and-date watches, is exceptionally more difficult to design and manufacture than its aforementioned counterparts. For this reason, the chronograph and variations thereof are one of the chief mechanical focal points for esteemed watchmakers, with many of the world’s famous manufacturers showcasing their technical ability in their creation.
A. Lange & Söhne has long been a leader in the chronograph field, a reputation showcased in the A. Lange & Söhne Reference 424.038 Triple Split Chronograph recently sold in Hong Kong. The limited-edition timepiece and its unique complication showcases the brand’s unwavering commitment to innovation, setting new benchmarks in watchmaking excellence.
Patek Philippe is another chief leader in the market, showcasing technical skill via both simpler and more complicated chronograph-containing watches. Take the Patek Philippe Nautilus Reference 5980/1A-001 coming up in New York, for example. This model is a rare example of a stainless steel flyback chronograph paired with a date function. A flyback chronograph allows for a user to reset the chronograph without needing to stop the tracked time, allowing for an immediate and simultaneous reset and restart of chronograph time.
Another highlight from Patek Philippe in the upcoming New York is the Patek Philippe Reference 3940P. The timepiece is a stunning example of a perpetual calendar chronograph by the brand, representing a harmonious marriage of timekeeping and intricate calendrical functions. Produced in platinum, this masterpiece seamlessly integrates the ability to measure elapsed time with the perpetual calendar’s date, day, month and moon phase indications. It exudes elegance and sophistication, working to capture the essence of timeless luxury the multi-generational maison is renowned for.
Complicated But Not a Complication
The rise in interest for watch complications in the modern market has come alongside the increasing interest in more niche areas of the market, generally. On this note, some watches might be particularly complicated, but lack what might be traditionally a formal mechanical complication. A time-only watch containing a tourbillon mechanism is a perfect example, which is more a type of regulating organ for a movement's timekeeping, rather than something adding any additional functionality.
Complication or not, a tourbillon is nonetheless complicated and worthy of note. Included in the New York auction is a rare and interesting example of this, the Freak Blue Phanton by Ulysse Nardin (reference 020-81) has a “carousel” tourbillon, first developed as an alternative to the traditional tourbillon created by Abraham-Louis Breguet.
Like a tourbillon, an artistic collaboration timepiece is not, by definition, a watch necessarily containing a complication, but they nonetheless represent more complicated timepieces that draw similar niche intrigue. Bulgari presents one such model via the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tattoo Acqua, Reference 103707 that recently sold in Hong Kong. This highly limited timepiece uses the renowned and ultra-thin, titanium Octo Finissimo as its base design, while a special collaborative effort with the independent watch gallery Chronopassion results in its unique tattoo-inspired aesthetic.
The Lasting Market Complex
Although newer quartz and digital timepieces can accomplish the job of keeping and measuring the time as efficiently and accurately, the mechanical and analog style helps connect a wearer to the moment in a way that feels both more traditional and authentic.
As watch collecting, particularly in the luxury space, has become more prominent in recent years, it is natural that more niche areas of the hobby have grown in popularity. The continued growing intrigue of complication-containing and complex watches generally then seems organic, with collectors and enthusiasts being drawn to objects that serve as artistic and horological showcases both of themselves and of their wearers.