Top Five Chronograph Watches
The humble chronograph. First invented at the beginning of the 19th century, it’s one of the most useful—and one of the most common—complications you’ll find on a watch. The chronograph has been put to work on land, sea and sky, measuring everything from lap times at racetracks to heartbeats in hospitals. With so many models to choose from, what is it that makes a chrono stand the test of time and become an icon? In answer to this, we’ve picked five of our favourite contenders—but it was a close call at the finishing line.
The Daytona is an example of Rolex’s uncanny ability to turn everything it touches to gold, even apparent disaster. The famous chronograph’s original purpose is hinted at in its full name—the Daytona Cosmograph. Destined for the stars, the watch was developed as a space watch—but after it lost the horological space race to the Omega Speedmaster, Rolex deftly repurposed its iconic chrono as a racing watch, named after the Daytona International Speedway.
Readily adopted by race car drivers (and Paul Newman, the bad boy actor famous for his role in the sleeper hit Le Mans), the Daytona soon became one of Rolex’s most popular, and collectible, pieces. New Daytona releases are always eagerly anticipated; the 116500LN pictured above was the most recent Daytona to make headlines, combining a classic stainless steel case with a smart black ceramic bezel.
Imagine the scene. You’re stuck in the vast blackness of space in a stricken ship, swiftly running out of fuel and oxygen. Every action you take is crucial to determining your survival. You’ve got one shot to time a course-correcting fuel burn that will get you back on route to Earth. That’s the position that astronauts Fred Haise, Jack Swigert, and Jim Lovell found themselves in on 16 April 1970.
Okay, so you don’t need to imagine it—the event was dramatically recreated in the 1995 Apollo 13 film. Jack Swigert, played by Kevin Bacon, was the man who timed those crucial 14 seconds—and on his wrist of both actor and real life astronaut? The Omega Speedmaster. The Speedie had already been worn into space by astronauts for several previous Apollo missions—including Neil Armstrong when he took his first steps on the moon—but the life-saving role it played in bringing the Apollo 13 crew back home confirmed its place in history as the Moonwatch.
Zenith el Primero
The 1960s: decade of the Vietnam War, The Beatles, massive social change—and the now-famous (in the world of horology, anyway) race to develop the world’s first automatic chronograph movement. Three teams of illustrious watchmakers were vying shoulder to shoulder for the title: Seiko, Zenith, and a collaboration of manufacturers including Breitling, Hamilton, Heuer.
Zenith had been working out the finer details of its creation, a fully-integrated chronograph calibre, since 1962 and on 10th January 1969, the El Primero was born. Beating at a remarkable ten ticks per second—or 36,000vph—the El Primero was to become one of the most influential movements in the world.
TAG Heuer Mikrograph
Most watches beat at 28,800 times per minute. The above mentioned El Primero takes things a step further, beating at a highly precise 36,000vph. But even this impressive feat pales in comparison to the Mikrograph, which has a beat rate of a whopping 360,000 vibrations per hour—yes, you read that right. So how does the manufacture do it? As the old adage goes, a problem shared is a problem halved; the watch separates the chronograph from the timekeeping mechanism, giving it its own power source entirely.
The history of the Mikrograph in fact dates all the way back to 1916, when Heuer was the first manufacturer to create a mechanical stopwatch capable of measuring to 1/100th of a second. TAG Heuer revisited this momentous part of its history in 2011, releasing the Mikrograph in vintage-inspired wristwatch format.
A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Perpetual
This piece makes the top five list for the sheer number of complications it boasts: regular time, big date, day, day/night, month, leap year, moonphase, and a flyback chronograph as the cherry on top. You might expect a watch that records this much data might be a tad cluttered, but the dial of the Datograph Perpetual is as clear as crystal, with each indicator arranged in a smart and efficient manner (as you might expect from a German manufacturer.)
Despite equipping the watch with a number of highly esteemed complications, the chronograph is anything but an afterthought, and no stone has gone unturned in its creation. The flyback chronograph is finely crafted and beautifully finished, with a column wheel and a jumping minutes complication.