We, as people, are not easily entertained by simple things. Look at our relationships (work and personal), the media that we consume and the foods we eat. Anything that can be simple can be, and inevitably is made more complex. Watchmaking is not exempt from this.
When the concept of measuring time got started, it was originally ancient cultures measuring the days by measuring days by marking bones. Soon, people being people made things a little more complicated. Not being content with just marking the number of “suns” they saw, it was decided that we needed to get more specific-taking those “suns” and breaking them down into measurable units. Thus we have the the created observation and measurement of the hours. From sticks, we then moved to water clocks (and experimenting with different fluids like mercury), to using gears and pendulums. This increasing complexity was done in the pursuit of precision. The great thinking minds were not content with “ehh… it’s been about an hour since we started talking,” so the hour was broken down into minutes, minutes into seconds. Thus, the field of horology has been created named. Horology is the art and science of measuring time.
So, having roughly traced the path from sticks to clocks, the complexity is now taken a step further. The desire to miniaturize a clock resulted in the creation of the watch. A lot of early watches were extremely simple in their design and execution. This simplicity came at a price-accuracy. A lot of original watches lacked a minute and second hand (some watches had minute hands, but they were quarter/half hour indicators). Thus there was the creation of the first complications-minute and second hands. Now that the accuracy question had been addressed, and the second part of the horology definition had been met (the science part), it allowed watchmakers to address the inherent creative side of watchmaking-adding complications.
Complications are additional functions that have been added to watch in addition to displaying the time (and sometimes the way time is displayed is a complication in and of itself). Calendar functions (single/double/triple display), Day/Night Indicator, Moonphase, Repeater Chimes (and alarms), Chronographs and Tourbillons/Carousels are just scratching the surface of complications.
The more complicated a watch is, the more the price of the watch is going to be. For the most part, this makes sense-you add extra components, you increase the cost. There are complications that are considered “premium” complications and fetch a hefty price (and represent a good “value” for the addition) like minute repeaters. The flip side would be a tourbillon (without getting too detailed right now since I will be doing a separate post on them, they are essentially useless in modern wristwatches, thus their inclusion adding an extra $30-50,000 in price is confounding)-beautiful but pointless.
In the meantime, enjoy these pictures of each of the complications that I mentioned!