We seem to be living in a watch era in which people lose their marbles over a faded bezel — something that just happens — while man-made tour de forces like a gyro tourbillon seem to be brushed aside. I blame the retro trend, which gave us watches like the Tudor Black Bay. But it’s also a trend that overshadowed the traditional, marvelous craftsmanship of boundary-pushing master watchmakers. But it’s not all bad tidings because, when current complications are out of reach and only to admire, neo-vintage ones might be up for grabs instead. That’s the advantage of shopping for things that are not en vogue. Yes, my dear Fratelli, all of us can make complications great again.

When my interest in watches started, it didn’t take me long to become impressed by all the wonderful complications that master watchmakers created for brands. It was in those days that fellow watch enthusiasts talked about the technical genius Kurt Klaus, not the designer Gérald Genta. That says a lot. A watch’s appearance was also important, but the main focus was on a timepiece’s inner workings. And we couldn’t get enough of double chronographs, perpetual calendars, flying tourbillons, and minute repeaters. How times have changed… It seems that all eyes are aimed at easily recognizable, relatively simple watches with a household brand name on the dial. People are talking about resale value, not retrograde date displays. What happened to the fascination for complications?

Make complications great again

IWC Il Destriero Scafusia Grand Complication

Come on watch fans, let’s make complications great again

Is it fair to say that Fratello readers are no-nonsense, down-to-earth, knowledgeable watch fans? I think it is. I also see the phenomenon that I described above happening with both the Fratello readers and contributors; complications don’t cause big rushes of adrenaline. Is it because our contributors have seen everything already and have gone blasé? And is it because complicated watches often carry a very heavy price tag for the readers, commenters, and contributors alike? I will try to answer these questions.

The Il Destriero Scafusia’s ultra-complicated movement

When asking some of my colleagues why complications don’t make an impression anymore, the consensus was that luxury watches nowadays are all about recognition. It’s about wearing the correct, easily recognizable brand. And watches aren’t the only things that are all about visible recognition. Something we also noticed is that the articles on Fratello are scanned and not always fully read, which sometimes becomes very clear when reading the comments. After scanning the header, the intro, and a few paragraphs, a comment is written that clearly shows the article hasn’t been read in its entirety. And before you scroll down in anger because I’m disrespecting the Fratello audience, I think we should count ourselves lucky to have such a loyal, smart, and civilized audience that usually pens down very sensible and thoughtful comments.

Still, what I hear is that complicated watches take time to describe and therefore take time to understand. And in the fast-moving times we live in, time is getting more and more precious.

Make complications great again

Close-up of the Il Destriero Scafusia’s complicated movement — Image: SJX

Ownership versus the experience

Another interesting answer to the question of why complicated watches have left the spotlight is about ownership. I don’t mean ownership in the Patek Philippe sense, by the way. Having said that, the brand that has been using the slogan “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation” for 28 years lends itself very well to an interesting observation regarding “simple” versus complicated watches. But first things first. Instead of experiencing the fine artisanal history, techniques, and finishing of a luxury watch on the wrist and talking about it like an unpaid ambassador of the world of high horology, the timepiece is merely owned and used to show off it is the “right” brand and model.


Nautilus ref. 5712/1A-001 — Image: Xupes

The Nautilus dilemma

Last year, I wrote a story with the title “Most Patek Philippe Nautilus Owners Don’t Care About The Watch,” and I still stand by that statement. I once had a very interesting talk with a now-retired Italian cycling pro who wanted to sell his steel Nautilus 5712 to get a 5711 in the same alloy instead. Why? Well, because the 5711 was the watch that everybody was talking about and showing off on Instagram. That’s why he now preferred the three-hander over the complicated version he once chose. And he was willing to even lose a bit of money in getting the much-desired 5711. Currently, the “cheapest” 5712/1A-001 on Chrono24, for example, has an asking price of €84,612, while the least costly 5711/1A-001 has a price of €91,000.

Nautilus ref. 5711/1A-001 — Image: Xupes

If you ask me, preferring the three-hand 5711 with a date window over the 5712, which has a pointer date in a sub-dial with the moon phase and also features a power reserve indicator and small seconds, is a clear case of ranking ownership above the experience a watch can bring. That becomes even clearer when you know that the 5712 houses the sublimely finished micro-rotor caliber 240 PS IRM C LU, which is visible thanks to an exhibition case back. What’s even odder is that a superb, more complicated watch in a precious metal case, such as the Perpetual Calendar ref. 5140J, can be had for around €45K.


Perpetual Calendar ref. 5140J — Image: Amsterdam Vintage Watches

The brands have themselves to blame

Not everything can be blamed on the fact that we’re living in a fast-paced world where we “have to” quickly catch people’s attention with an easy-to-recognize image. No, we can’t just fault the surrealistic social media realms, in which the sun, people, and watches always shine brightly, for the downfall of complicated horology. The watch manufacturers themselves also helped kill the dream that complicated watches embodied to most watch fans.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Tourbillon ref. Q1658420 in rose gold

Take Jaeger-LeCoultre from Le Sentier, a small town in the Valhalla of complicated watchmaking, the Vallée de Joux, for instance. In the early 2000s, the brand launched the Master Control Tourbillon in steel for a price of around €55K. It was a huge chunk of money, but it was still somewhat of a breakthrough watch. The choice of steel instead of a precious metal case led to a lower price. At that time, Jérôme Lambert, who’s now Richemont’s overall CEO, was CEO of “JLC” from 2002 until 2013. In a way, the steel tourbillon from a respected, traditional watch manufacturer democratized luxury watchmaking.

Make complications great again

Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage Perpetual Calendar in rose gold

Monsieur Lambert tried earnestly to market fine watchmaking for the people when he left JLC for Montblanc in June 2013. One year later, during the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH), Montblanc launched the Meisterstück Heritage Perpetual Calendar for less than €10K in steel and less than €17K in rose gold.

Frederique Constant Manufacture Perpetual Calendar

Other examples of “complications for the masses” were the 2016 Frederique Constant Manufacture Perpetual Calendar, a QP priced under €8,000, and the 2016 TAG Heuer Carrera 02T, a 45mm COSC-certified automatic chronograph chronometer with a titanium and carbon flying tourbillon, which retailed for €13,500 at launch.


TAG Heuer Carrera 02T — Image: Watchfinder

Democratizing and simplification

Affordable complications can be seen as an example of the democratizing of luxury. On ScienceDirect, luxury democratization is described as the “perceived reduction in the distinctiveness, exclusivity, and self-differentiation of luxury goods due to their wider availability and access.” How can you rhyme the reduction of exclusivity with the emotional story of the master watchmaker who, by using all his artisanal skills, manages to create exceptional micromechanical creations? What to make of that carefully constructed tale to justify the heavy price tag? The new stream of significantly lower-priced tourbillons and perpetual calendars created a feeling somewhat comparable to the sinking sensation you felt when you discovered that Santa was actually your Uncle Bob with a fake beard.

Luckily for the leading luxury watch brands, the recent steady rise of global middle classes in the past decade, especially within developing markets, was in constant motion and has opened new possibilities. The aspirational class, driven by the longing to belong to a certain “tribe,” was targeted. Unfortunately, this new target audience turned out to be immune to complications but highly receptive to hype and trends. The hype was and is Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet sports watches, and the trend was and still is retro, with almost every established brand milking it relentlessly.


Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar John Mayer Limited Edition

Asserting dominance

Speaking of Audemars Piguet, the brand that leans strongly on the Genta-designed Royal Oak and also knows exactly which hot celeb it wants to do collabs with (John Mayer and Travis Scott, for example), showed last year that it hasn’t lost touch with old-fashioned watchmaking by releasing the Code 11.59 By Audemars Piguet Ultra-Complication Universelle RD#4. The watch featuring 40 different functions and 23 complications is a timepiece in the spirit of IWC’s famous Il Destriero Scafusia, the Blancpain 1735, Vacheron Contantin’s Ref. 57260 pocket watch, and the double-sided Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime. The Ultra-Complication Universelle RD#4 is a display of watchmaking prowess, a technical tour de force meant to assert dominance. The watch stands in a long and rich tradition of watchmakers trying to outdo each other.


Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime in its presentation box

Still, no matter how formidable the Ultra-Complication Universelle RD#4 is, the lengthy, in-depth article about the mind-blowing watch that won the Aiguille d’Or during the GPHG 2023 — a clear sign there are watchmaking powers at work that also want to make complications great again — got just 22 comments. Did only a few readers make it to the end of the article? Did they not care because the watch was out of budget, or did the watch not live up to their expectations? The comment “The only question I have is… does it hack?” might lead you to believe the latter, but it was obviously meant as a joke — a very funny one, I think. But other comments showed more skepticism.

Code 11:59 by Audemars Piguet Ultra-Complication Universelle RD#4

Make complications great again: dare to dream

Since I’ve mentioned AP’s Ultra-Complication, I will use the brand’s motto, “To break the rules, you must first master them,” and break a rule of my own by making a car analogy. Watch fans could take car fans as a good example. Car enthusiasts who drive their Polo GTIs with pleasure also love to read about the Porsche GT3 RS they will never own. Despite it being out of budget, they still want to know everything there is to know about the sports car with its 4.0-liter, high-revving, naturally aspirated 525 PS (386 kW) flat-six engine. They also take time to understand how the car’s aero wishbone on the front axle creates up to 40 kilograms more downforce than the previous model generation.

Watch discussions nowadays revolve around the brand, price, model, and color, not around new, breakthrough technology used in escapements, for instance. A new bezel color for a retro dive watch is more talked about than Frederique Constant’s monolithic escapement that beats at a staggering 288,000 vibrations per hour and replaces the 26 components of the standard construction with a single component fitted with two regulation weights. Why? Because the brand is “FC” and not “AP”? Because it’s (scary) new and futuristic, not (safe) easygoing and comfy retro? The answer is quite possibly all of the above. Brand perception seems to outweigh product value. People first recognize the brand, and the product follows, meaning a logo holds more weight than quality does.


Frederique Constant Monolithic

Wrapping up complicated matters

Complicated watches from traditional, well-established brands might have been on the brink of affordable before, but they aren’t any longer. Prices of luxury watches have gone up dramatically, and we’ve written extensively about the subject of prices on Fratello. When basic models go up in price, complicated ones do too. And since the product follows the brand, complicated timepieces with the right brand names on their dials have gone far out of reach for a lot of people. On a side note, the brands that are in the center of attention —  the “right” brands — you can count on just one hand. A lot of traditional Haute Horlogerie manufacturers are struggling for attention.

Christopher Ward C1 Bel Canto

Not one but two Fratello Top Tips to wrap things up

Allow me to end with not one but two Fratello Top Tips. If you feel adventurous and ready to explore the rich world of complications, the Christopher Ward C1 Bel Canto might be for you. For €4,095, you can buy this 2023 GPHG Petite Aguille winner that shows all its fascinating inner workings on the dial and sounds a chime every hour. And if you’re feeling even more adventurous, as our own Dave often does, you might find the ultrathin and ultralight Behrens 20G to your liking. This distinctly different US$7,600 watch is proud of its Chinese origins and displays that in a most original way.

If you insist on wearing an established brand and have twice the budget, neo-vintage is the way to go. On Chrono24, €10K can buy you the latest version of the Rolex Submariner Date. But instead of buying this ultimate logo watch for more than retail, you could also look at sophisticated calendar watches from the likes of Jaeger-LeCoultre, Blancpain, IWC, and even AP.

Make complications great again

Behrens 20G

It’s time to make complications great again

What do you think, Fratelli? I think it’s time to make complications great again. It’s time to enjoy the origins of watchmaking once more instead of thinking solely about resale value, the color of a bezel, and what watch brand X should reintroduce. Yes, it is time to enjoy the innovations of watchmaking again and dive in deep to understand groundbreaking technology. After all, the steady increase in watch prices outpaces the rise of most incomes. And that means that even the basic watches that are (just) within reach now will soon be the stuff of dreams.

Make complications great again

Dreaming of the Reverso Tribute Duoface Tourbillon (Q392242J) that costs €130,000 before tax

Now, I ask you, what is a more interesting watch dream, the one in which you pay €8K for a revamped 1950s dive watch with run-of-the-mill movement or the same money for a never-seen-before watch with a bunch of highly complex and intriguing complications that blow your top? And before you ask, yes, the complicated watch of my dreams does hack.


The Roger Dubuis Excalibure Spider Countach DT/X watch is more expensive than the iconic supercar with the same name, but the watch has 2 flying double tourbillons tilted at an exact 90° angle and the car doesn’t