The chronograph was once a groundbreaking innovation. The revolutionary complication was used for many practical activities. In this day and age, digital devices replaced the utility of chronograph function due to practicality. However, chronograph watches are among collector’s favourites and here is why.
Turn to any watch connoisseur and ask them to name a complication. Most of the time, you’ll probably get “chronograph” as the answer. It’s a beloved complication among the watch community, and one of the few remaining complications with practical application. You don’t really need a moon phase; A perpetual calendar basically serves the same purpose as the date on the lock screen of your phone. Let’s not even discuss the practicality of a tourbillon…
Don’t get me wrong. All complications on luxury watches are fascinating and beautiful. However, to have an accessible stopwatch on your wrist is a tool that comes in handy.
What is a Chronograph?
A Chronograph is a watch that marries the function of a stopwatch with a time display. Chronographs have separate buttons to stop, start, and reset the stopwatch complication.
Most Chronographs usually feature three push buttons on the side of the face, which are used to control the stopwatch. The ‘start/stop’ button is usually located adjacent to two 0’clock on the watch dial and is pushed once to begin and stop the chronograph function. When the start button is pushed, it allows the recording of time elapsed until the button is pushed to stop the movement.
Brief History of Chronograph Wristwatches
The world’s first chronograph in a wristwatch was introduced in 1913. Longines built a monopusher chronograph using their in-house 13.33Z calibre movement. Accurate to a fifth of a second, it spawned numerous chronographs from competitors over the next decade. Patek Philippe later spent 20 years to manufacture the “earliest known” split chronograph in existence.
Many watchmakers now include a fixed bezel on chronographs in order to be able to operate as a Tachymeter, a scale that allows users to compute a speed based on travel time or measure distance based on speed. Heuer (better known as Tag Heuer now) was the first brand to introduce the rotating bezel tachymeter.
As watch collectors demand innovation, the watch industry began to produce a variety of chronographs such as the Flyback, Rattrapante as well as grand complications that combine chronographs with other complications. A.lange & Sohne is also the first-ever watchmaker that produce a triple split-seconds chronograph.
Why are chronographs so desirable?
Chronograph watches serve different purposes, from calculating speed to keeping track of two events at the same time or even measuring how long it takes to cook your pasta al dente. Most of the chronographs in the market have a telemeter/tachymeters and regular watch functions in one. The accuracy and craftsmanship of mechanical luxury chronograph reflect on the high price tag attached.
Ask any luxury watch aficionado what is the best part of owning a well-made chronograph and the answer will probably be the “sound”. The unmistakable rhythm when pressing your ear against a mechanical timepiece. The well-appreciated crisp “click” when you press down the pusher. The Rolex Daytona is known to be the benchmark for chronograph pushers, just like how the Rolex Submariner is known to have one of the best sounding rotating bezels.
Chronographs are often affiliated with racing, embodying the recklessness and daring nature connected to racing car drivers. It doesn’t matter who you are. A chronograph speaks to everyone who loves to have a little “speed” in life.
Although the groundwork was laid over a couple of decades ago, there have been a number of chronographs that have gone down as icons in the hall of fame.
If you have never heard of the Rolex Daytona, we can’t be friends. Probably the second most iconic and the most desirable chronograph in the market right now, the Daytona is the watch equivalent of the Porsche 911. Timeless, classic, and the benchmark of luxury. From the first reference dated back in 1963 to the latest Cosmograph Daytona, they will always be appreciated by watch lovers. Find out more about Rolex in this article.
If the Daytona is the second most iconic chronograph, the throne goes to “The First Watch Worn On The Moon. Known as the “moon watch”, the Omega Speedmaster has a rich and long history dated back in 1957. My personal favourite Speedmaster movement is the Calibre 321, one of the best examples of lateral clutch and column wheel controlled chronograph. Although the existing Speedmaster line-up does not use the Calibre 321 anymore (except for special editions such as the platinum model), Omega recently introduced the Speedmaster 321 “Ed White” in steel and smaller case size. (Excited! However, it will cost twice as much as the standard professional model and only 2000 will be produced every year.)
If you love the Daytona, you should know that Zenith used to manufacture the movement for Rolex Chronograph from 1988 to 2000. Zenith earned a reputation as the manufacturer of some of the most precise timepieces. The Zenith El Primero was the first high frequency, fully integrated, automatic chronograph as well as the first with a running seconds hand. The fact that it was only 6.5 mm thick, slimmer than traditional chronographs, makes it even better! If the Daytona is out of your budget, the El Primero will be a good alternative to add into your collection.
“The best dress chronograph ever.” It is a bold statement considering that its main competitors are Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin. However, if master watchmaker Philipe Dufour says that the A.Lange & Sohne Datograph is the best chronograph ever made, we should all agree, shouldn’t we? After all, it is rare for a Swiss watchmaker to admit that the Germans did better.
Why is A.Lange & Sohne so special? Turn over the watch to view the case back. Trust me, you would want to wear it on the reverse side. All Lange watches are proudly equipped with their in-house movement. Every single component in the movement is either hand-finished, engraved and black polished. Unlike their Geneva counterparts with the Geneva stripes, A.Lange & Sohne movements are made with German silver adorned with the signature Glashütte ribbing. The movement is a beautiful maze that you don’t wish to take your eyes off.
Since I covered some of the best chronographs at every price point, it will be fair to conclude the list with the best high-end chronograph money can buy. Richard Mille has always been about automotive inspiration, and the RM 11 is like a Formula 1 automobile ready for some action. Long the top seller amongst Richard Mille‘s timepieces, the RM11 retains the brand’s signature tonneau shape with a skeleton dial and sunken sub-dials with bevelled edges. Richard Mille produces a lot of other timepieces at a higher price point. However, if you are looking for one super-expensive chronograph, the RM11 should be high on your list. Click here to find out more about Richard Mille.
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