Article By: Logan Hannen
What is up, watchfam?! Today, we’re going to take a look at one of my personal favorite complications: the chronograph.
It took me a really long time to wrap my head around just what makes chronographs so damn special, and it all came down to seeing a mechanical one in the flesh for the first time. Before we discuss the history and function, it’s probably worth noting that there are some chronographs which are considered a “hybrid” movement; that is to say, they’re neither entirely quartz nor completely mechanical. For a more in depth look at these mecha-quartz watches, check out the Gear Patrol article on the subject here.
So what exactly is a chronograph? In short, think of a chronograph as a complication that adds an extra feature to your timepiece: a stop watch. That’s basically all it is; it exists to give you a way to track elapsed time, whether you’re baking a cake or driving the Indy 500 and need to keep track of lap times. It’s a complication that isn’t all that, well, complicated. Mechanically, there’s an awful lot going on, and most mechanical chronograph movements are stunning to behold if you’re into movement porn like I am, but there isn’t much in the way of crazy functionality going on aside from that. Hey guys, maybe drop in a photo of the Speedy’s movement – a super sexy one.
The chronograph wrist watch’s history is a far more complex and interesting concept than the complication itself, to be entirely honest. No one seems to be in 100% agreement about who designed the first automatic chronograph, though the big three contenders are Seiko, Heuer, and Zenith. All three movements debuted in the same year, 1969, though all at different times throughout said year. The question remains to this day which was designed first, rather than which was released first (since that is far easier to determine). When it comes to regular, hand-winding chronographs, though, that credit goes to two different individuals: the first, Louis Moinet, is credited with the first chronograph movement ever (this one in a pocket watch), which was built in 1815, and the second, Longines, for developing a chronograph wristwatch (a mono-pusher, no less), in 1913. Breitling also gets credit for developing the first chronograph wristwatch with separate function pushers in 1915. If you want even more history on the chronograph, definitely check out this super in-depth article by the guys over at Crown & Caliber.
Hopefully that little appetizer round has managed to whet your appetite for chronographs, both in history and in execution. While they can seem simple, especially when you consider some super complicated watches like the Lange Datograph, which features a chronograph alongside a calendar complication and moonphase, they are still charming enough on their own, and have been among some of the most important contributions to horological history. Till next time, keep it classy, watchfam.