The Chronograph Watch

The term chronograph comes from the Greek words chronos and graph, meaning “time writing,” or the recording of time. From split-seconds to “standard” chronographs, these mechanical timepieces have historically served many needs of their owners. The earliest chronographs were used to time horse races and other contests. Today, chronographs measuring elapsed time are used to measure speed, distance, heart rate and more.

How the chronograph complication works

Chronographs measure specific intervals of elapsed time on command, much as a stopwatch or timer would. However, unlike stopwatches and timers, they can be started, stopped and reset while the watch keeps running in real time. For example, a chronograph could time a run around the track and simultaneously display the current time. A chronograph usually has one or two pushers (buttons) on the right side of the watch case for each function of Start, Stop and Reset. When the pusher is depressed, the chronograph begins to measure elapsed time. Depending on the type of chronograph, the time will be measured in increments of a second, tenth of a second or even 1/100 of a second in some cases. When the pusher is pressed again, the chronograph stops, displaying the elapsed time. A second button resets the chronograph back to zero.

History of the chronograph

While for many years, it was believed that Nicholas Rieussac invented the chronograph in 1821, that record changed when Louis Moinet was declared the inventor in 2013, having created his watch in 1816. He invented his timing watch to aid in charting the movements of the planets and stars across the sky, essential to sailors for determining their longitudinal position.

Reussiac did, however, produce the first commercially available chronograph. He was commissioned by King Louis XVIII, who loved horse racing, to create an instrument that could record the exact time of a race.

Variations on a theme

While the majority of modern-day chronograph wristwatches have the easily-recognizable sub dials to show elapsed time, others have been adapted to serve specific timing needs, with measuring scales on the watch bezel serving as an additional time-measuring tool.

Tag Heuer Formula-1 black dial chronograph watchA Tachymeter scale on the bezel of the watch can be used to measure speed. This is especially useful in car racing, and Tag Heuer has been producing exceptional chronographs with Tachymeter scales for decades. One of their most famous customers was Steve McQueen, who wore the Monaco while driving his own race cars and in the movie Le Mans.

Patek Philippe Pulsation ChronographA Pulsation scale on the bezel of a watch can measure a patient’s heart rate. Often called a doctor’s watch, many of the finest examples are made by Patek Philippe.

A Telemeter scale measures the approximate distance between the wearer and an event that can be both heard and seen. While this may not have many practical uses in today’s world, it can measure the distance from a thunderstorm. When the lightning is seen, the wearer presses the pusher to start the timing. When the lightening is heard, the chronograph timer is stopped and the distance is read on the bezel. Baume & Mercier’s Capeland Chronograph is an excellent example of a modern mechanical Telemeter.Baume Mercier Capeland chronograph with telemeter

By any measure, whether your purpose is competitive or playful, your chronograph is bound to provide useful information and a great masculine look.