The chronograph is one of the most popular watch complications, and for good reason – not only does it give an edgy appearance to the timepiece, it is also highly practical.
Chronographs basically let the wearer measure time and make calculations. It’s like the stopwatch on your phone, but it’s much more useful because it’s built into a watch face.
Not only that, but most chronographs have features that allow you to calculate multiple events at once. A chronograph can also be used to tell time, although this isn’t always practical when trying to perform other calculations at the same time.
In this article, we’ll go over what makes up a chronograph watch, the different types available today, and the most popular chronographs available in the market today.
Omega Speedmaster MoonWatch Chronograph Black Dial Mens Watch 3570.50.00
What is a Chronograph Watch?
“Chrono” when translated from its Greek origins means time, and “graph” subsequently means measure. The purpose of this complication is easily translated from its name. It measures periods of time and is one of the most popular watch complications in the watch world. To those who are new to the world of watches, it can simply be referred to as a stopwatch – it can display the time while also recording time in varying amounts.
The most common combination is a set of three sub-dials that measure the hours, minutes, and current seconds. The seconds hand of the dial tracks the seconds of your chronograph. There are, however, more complex types of chronographs. Let’s explore.
Different Types of Chronographs
Bell & Ross Heritage Back Dial Chronograph Bronze Watch BRV294
Simple or Standard Chronograph
The chronograph function is achieved by two pushers, one for starting and stopping the timing process, and another for resetting it. These pushers usually straddle the crown of your watch on the right-hand side of the watch face.
The most common type of simple or standard chronograph uses a sweep second hand that moves around in full circles once per second (as opposed to fractions of seconds). This allows you to time events with precision down to 1/10th of a second – enough resolution for most people’s needs!
IWC Le Petit Prince Big Pilots Monopusher Edition Watch IW515202 (photo: IWC)
A chronograph with a single push-piece is called a monopusher. This was the very first type of chronograph watch.
The pusher starts, stops and resets the chronograph. It can be located on either side of the case and often has its own crown located at 3 o’clock.
The biggest downside to the monopusher is that it very simplistically measures a single timer, and you can’t stop and restart your timer. There’s no pause. If you stop the timer you have to go through ‘reset’ before you can start again, and it will be from 0.
Panerai Luminor 1950 Flyback PCYC Ceramic Mens Watch PAM00788
In answer to the need to measure multiple laps whether you’re timing a run, a race, or anything else that requires laps.
The flyback chronograph is a type of chronograph that allows you to measure intervals in time with ease. Most people think it’s just another way to do the stopwatch feature on your watch, but there are many benefits to using this type of watch over other types of chronographs.
With two pushers, a flyback chronograph has an additional function to the reset button on the bottom. While the timer is running, pressing the lower reset button will reset the main timer hand to zero where it will instantly start timing again without the need to press the top pusher again.
IWC Rattrapante Chronograph Panda Dial Limited Edition German National Team Steel Mens Watch IW371803
A rattrapante chronograph, also called split seconds chronograph, is a more rare type of mechanical watch that can measure split times. When talking about chronographs, a rattrapante is the most complicated type of chronograph requiring more moving parts in the watch’s movements.
Your rattrapante chronograph has three pushers. The common two pushers are located at 2 and 4 o’clock and a third on the left-hand side of the case at 10 o’clock. The third button controls the split-seconds function.
When using the split-seconds function, you’ll notice that the dial also has a second chronograph hand. It’s tucked away under the other hand until needed.
This chronograph allows you to track two racers. You start your timer as usual with the top pusher. When, say, one racer finishes their lap or the race, by pressing the split-second button at 10 o’clock, you stop the first hand and the hidden additional hand keeps timing.
Most Popular Chronographs
You’ll find chronographs in all price ranges, from affordable to luxury. These watches are often called “tool watches,” because they were originally designed for use by pilots and divers. That said, it is a complication that you can use every day, for various purposes – whether you’re timing a motor race or simply extracting an espresso shot.
Here are the most popular and well-known chronograph watches that are considered must-haves for any watch collection.
Rolex Daytona Rose Gold Everose Diamond Dial Mens Watch 116515
Rolex Cosmograph Daytona
Rolex began experimenting with mechanical chronographs back in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until 1963 that they introduced their own collection of chronograph watches. Initially called the Cosmograph, the “Daytona” name would be added to Rolex’s official literature two years after. It is a tribute to Daytona, Florida, where the passion for racing developed in the mid-20th century.
Today’s Rolex Cosmograph Daytona has a 40mm case that is available in a wide range of metals and colors. The dial features three subdials: a 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock; a 12-hour counter at 9 o’clock; a one hour counter at 6 o’clock. The most notable developments to the Daytona in recent years are the addition of Rolex’s patented Cerachrom ceramic bezel and specialized rubber bracelet, the Oysterflex.
Omega Speedmaster Hesalite Sapphire Sandwich MoonWatch 3572.50.00
Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch
The Omega Speedmaster was introduced in 1957 as a watch for professional racers. In 1969, it would reach the mythical status it has today, by being NASA’s official timekeeper for its lunar missions – and the first watch ever to land on the moon. The classic Speedmaster Moonwatch features a tachymeter scale, chronograph registers measuring 30-minute, 12-hour, and small seconds sub-dials, housed in a 42mm stainless steel case and a matching bracelet.
The Speedmaster has been produced in various forms since 1957, and the family has grown to include smaller cases (39mm for the Speedmaster Reduced) and models in precious metals and ceramic. The MoonWatch is still considered the flagship of the collection, well-loved not only for its history but also for its timeless aesthetic.
Tag Heuer Monaco Gulf 2018 Chronograph Steel Mens Watch CAW211R and Tag Heuer Monaco Limited Production Steel Mens Watch CAW211C
TAG Heuer Monaco
The TAG Heuer Monaco is a beautiful watch, with its unique square case setting it apart from the sea of round chronograph timepieces. Designed by Jack Heuer in 1969, it became the first water resistant automatic chronograph in a square case, powered by its impressive Caliber 11.
It reached mainstream fame when Steve McQueen himself chose to wear the timepiece in the 1971 racing movie Le Mans. Despite being on his wrist for just a quick cameo, this movie perpetually linked the Monaco to motor racing.
Today’s Tag Heuer Monaco collection still has the iconic blue dial donned by McQueen, in a vastly improved in-house Heuer 02 movement. There are also special editions within the range, such as models in DLC-coated titanium and collaborations with Formula 1 and Gulf Oil.
Breitling Navitimer 01 Black Brown Dial Limited Edition Mens Watch AB0127
Breitling Navitimer Chronograph
The Breitling Navitimer Chronograph is a watch that has been around for over 70 years. With Pilots already knowing the name Breitling since it flashed across their instruments in the cockpit, it was a no brainer for them to adopt the chronograph wristwatch by the same company when it was released in 1952.
The Breitling Navitimer Chronograph is the wristwatch for pilots and aviation enthusiasts. This watch is equipped with the same slide rule that pilots use. The addition of this scale made it easier for pilots to conduct their in-flight calculations. While it is no longer a necessity today, the slide rule remains a hallmark of the Navitimer.
Zenith Chronomaster Sport 41mm Steel Mens Watch 03.3100.3600
Zenith El Primero
A list of chronograph watches will not be complete without an El Primero-powered timepiece.
The Zenith El Primero is a high-end chronograph with a movement based on a single central oscillator. The movement is designed to run at 36,000 vibrations per hour, which results in an extremely accurate and reliable watch.
The El Primero moniker is highly argued, however. Developed in 1969, Zenith declared their watch the first in releasing a chronograph with an automatic movement. Despite this contention, you can’t argue the finesse and capability under the hood.
The most popular edition of the Zenith El Primero chronograph is the ref A386, whose iconic tri-color dial was brilliantly modernized by Zenith with the Chronomaster Sport.
Chronograph Watches: Final Thoughts
Chronographs are one of the most sought-after complications, and now we know why. Even something as simple as a timer can have different variations and functions, not to mention a ruggedly handsome aesthetic that suits every wrist.
Find your chronograph watch today from our vast selection at SwissWatchExpo.com.