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25 Jan

Chronograph Watches Explained

Breitling B-1 Chronograph SuperQuartz on a fighter bracelet

Chronograph watches are, without question, one of the most enduringly popular timepieces the world over and with good reason. They are found throughout the gamut of luxury watchmakers out there and they boast some extraordinary features going on beneath the surface that you may not even be aware of and it's all the little nuances of chronograph watches that is the reason we love them so much here at Manhattan Time Service.

Titanium Bulova Curv Chrono 98A162

A chronograph watch is something that even those with just a passing interest in watches will have heard of but it is probably the case that only those with a slightly more intimate knowledge of horology will know how this type of timepiece operates. But that's OK because that's what we're here for!

Everything You Were Afraid To Ask About Chronograph Watches

The chronograph, whilst one of the most common watch complications but it is actually also amongst the most complex in terms of its construction and movements. Anyone that has had the pleasure of seeing a chronograph up-close and personal (as we're lucky enough to do on a daily basis here at Manhattan Time Service) it is impossible not to be bowled over by just how intricate it is and the sheer breathtaking skill that has gone into its construction.

Breitling Chronograph dial  1884

Chronograph movements are nothing new, of course, and can be traced back centuries to some of the oldest forms of watches out there but the way in which they are implemented within a timepiece changes all the time and it is the level of versatility that they offer watchmakers the world over that really sets this type of movement apart.

Sinn Fulda Challenge 958 Chronograph movement

The word "Chronograph" can be tracked back to ancient Greek and translates as "writes time" so it is certainly an applicable moniker for one of the world's most cherished forms of timepiece. The first chronograph timepiece as we know them today is thought to be a piece that was discovered back in 2013 but made around 1815-16 and goes by the name of Louis Moinet ‘compteur de tierces’ pocket watch. This truly was a remarkable find and one that goes to show just how innovative watchmakers have been for over 200 years now.

Colossal Chronograph

As with most watches, the way in which the movement works remains the same for long periods of time before there is often a revolution in manufacturing techniques that facilitates change. With chronograph timepieces, their operation remained largely the same up until the 1930s when they featured a what is known as a single pusher, which is used to fire the start-stop-reset actions of the watch and always within the same sequence – a device which is known as Mono-Pusher. It wasn't until the introduction of a second pusher that it became possible to stop and start the chronograph movement without the need of resetting first.

Chronograph watches have progressed considerably as the years moved by and at the beginning of the 20th century, the size of chronograph movements were made small enough to be used in wristwatches which is, of course, how we see them most commonly today. This combined with less-expensive means of putting chronograph movements together through the emergence of new materials which helped ensure the proliferation of chronograph watches and making them one of the most common and accurate forms of timepiece on the market today.

Breitling Emergency Mission Chronograph

Automatic chronographs, of the sort we're most familiar today, perhaps surprisingly didn't properly emerge onto the market until the late 1960s when three of the leading luxury watchmakers of the time (and now) began to make use of them - Seiko, Zenith and a Heuer-Breitling collaboration - and this paved the way for the use of chronographs in so many of the timepieces that we see today from the world's leading luxury watchmakers.

Scaling Up

When speaking of chronograph watches, one of the most commonly heard terms you will typically encounter is that of "scales". Typically these can take various different forms but, for the most part, the ones you're most likely to see with today's luxury watches are tachymeters, pulsometers and telemeters. We'll explain these in a little more detail below:

breitling chronometre movement

Pulsometers - Probably best known as a doctor's watch (for obvious reasons), a Pulsometer chronograph watch has a mechanism that allows for the accurate and extremely simple reading of heart-rate. You just need to start the chronograph and then count a set amount of pulsations and then stop the chronograph - this can then be used to accurately determine the heart-beats per minute.

how to work a chronograph watch explained

Telemeters - Another useful purpose of a chronograph can be found through telemeter varieties which allows for the accuratement measurement of distance to something that can be either seen or heard. For example, they were regularly used for military purposes such as measuring the distance of artillery fire. This works by starting the chronograph movement when the event is witnessed and then stopping it again when it is actually heard. This makes it possible to gauge the distance from the event.

Wakmann Incabloc Chronograph telemetre Vintage movement

Tachymeters - Probably the most commonly heard of form of chronograph watch, the tachymeter is used for the measurement of speed. This is extremely simple to do - it merely requires the wearer to start and stop the chronograph at a specific distance e.g. a mile and the chronograph second hand can then be used to tell you the speed at which the distance has been travelled.

Franck Muller Master Banker Chronograph

So, as you can see chronograph watches don't just look great, they are also amongst the most versatile and useful watches to have even been created. We love this type of mechanism at Manhattan Time Service and it goes without saying that we've seen a lot of different types in our time repairing watches from all over New York and further afield.

Corum Admirals Cup 44 Chronograph  nautical pennants

The meticulous levels of detail that goes into crafting all watch mechanisms deserves respect but it's fair to say that we've got a particular affinity for chronograph watches at Manhattan Time Service and when you consider how far they've come over the years, it really is hard not to be impressed.


ABOUT THE EDITORIAL STAFF

Practiced horology since the age of 15, successfully took apart, cleaned and assembled a Rolex Submariner Cal. 3135 at the age of 19, further improved his watchmaking skills with NAWCC School of Horology. “It has been 15 years since I took apart my first watch, my goal is to repair every timepiece ever produced”.

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Manhattan Time Service
2 W 46th St #308 New York, NY 10036
(212) 840-0441
Manhattan Time Servic
2 W 46th St #308 New York, NY 10036
(212) 840-0441
our hours: Monday - Friday, 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM