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What is a Chronograph Watch? The Functions and How It Works
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What is a Chronograph Watch? The Functions and How It Works

A timepiece equipped with a stopwatch function to measure time
Jan 21, 2024

Talking about watch complications, chronograph watches are one of the most sophisticated complications. But, what is a chronograph watch? For an experienced watch enthusiast, the term chronograph might be simple enough to understand – yet, it could be quite difficult for a newcomer.

A chronograph is a fancy stopwatch built into a wristwatch or a pocket watch. It's like having a timer that can measure how long something lasts or how fast something goes. The highlight is that you can have this timer on your watch which is basically a time-telling device.

Therefore, many consider a chronograph watch a cool feature that adds a lot of functionality to a watch. In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at the captivating features of a chronograph. From their origins rooted in necessity to their modern embodiment of precision and style, discover the craftsmanship and allure behind these iconic watches.

What Is a Chronograph Watch?

A chronograph watch is a timepiece that incorporates an additional stopwatch function alongside its regular timekeeping features. The word "chronograph" is derived from the Greek words "chronos" meaning time, and "grapho" meaning to write. 

This type of watch allows its wearer to measure elapsed time intervals with precision, making it a valuable tool in various activities such as sports, aviation, and everyday tasks that require timing.

They are also popular as fashionable accessories due to their intricate designs and technical appeal. The mechanical complexity of chronograph movements adds to their allure, making them sought-after items for watch enthusiasts and collectors.

Key Features of Chronograph Watches

Several key features make a timepiece a chronograph. Below are some of them:

Sub-Dials

Chronograph watches typically feature one or more smaller dials on the watch face, known as subdials. These subdials serve various functions, such as measuring elapsed seconds, minutes, and sometimes hours.

Pushers

Located on the side of the watch case, pushers are buttons that control the chronograph functions. Usually, there are two pushers – one to start and stop the chronograph, and another to reset the function to zero. Some watches may have additional pushers for more complex chronograph functions.

Tachymeter and Telemeter Scale

Many chronograph watches feature additional scales on the outer edge of the dial. A tachymeter scale allows users to calculate speed over a known distance while a telemeter scale helps measure the distance between the observer and a certain event.

How Do Chronograph Watches Work?

Chronograph watches are fascinating timepieces that integrate intricate mechanisms to measure and record elapsed time intervals accurately. 

The functionality of a chronograph involves a combination of mechanical, electrical, and sometimes electronic components. Here's a general overview of how chronograph watches work:

1. Basic Components

The primary movement of the watch is responsible for keeping time, displaying hours, minutes, and seconds. This movement is independent of the chronograph function. Meanwhile, the additional complication responsible for the chronograph functions is integrated into the main movement.

2. Start and Stop Mechanism

When the wearer presses the start/stop pusher, a series of mechanical actions are set into motion. A column wheel or cam system, integral to the chronograph module, is engaged. The column wheel is a more sophisticated and traditional mechanism, while a cam system is simpler but equally effective.

3. Engaging the Chronograph

The engagement of the chronograph involves a clutch mechanism. This mechanism connects the main timekeeping gear train with the chronograph mechanism, allowing the chronograph hands to start moving.

4. Elapsed Time Measurement

The central seconds hand begins to move, indicating the elapsed seconds. Simultaneously, any associated subdials, like minute and hour counters, start tracking the corresponding elapsed time.

5. Stop and Reset Mechanism

To stop the chronograph, the wearer presses the stop pusher. This action disengages the clutch, halting the movement of the chronograph hands. Meanwhile, pressing the reset pusher initiates the reset mechanism.

Read also: What is a Rattrapante Chronograph and How Does it Work?

Top Picks: Reliable and Appealing Chronograph Watches

Ready to look for some appealing chronograph watches for your next purchase? Let’s take a look at our curated section below!

Seiko Prospex Speedtimer Chronograph White Ref. SBDL085

Seiko Prospex Speedtimer Chronograph White Ref. SBDL085

Movement

Caliber V192

Dimension

39mm in diameter, 45.5mm lug to lug, 13.3mm thick.

Water resistance

100m


Seiko has always been a prominent brand for almost every type of watch, including a chronograph. Let's take the Seiko Prospex Speedtimer Chronograph White as an example. Its white dial, adorned with black subdials and red accents, exudes a classic aesthetic reminiscent of vintage racing watches.

Powered by the innovative in-house Cal. 6139 automatic chronograph movement, this watch not only delivers precision but also embraces the convenience of self-winding. Along with its sporty design, the watch features 200-meter water resistance and Hardlex crystal to ensure durability.

Price: $475.00 USD

Hamilton Intra-Matic Chronograph White - Bracelet Ref. H38416111

Hamilton Intra-Matic Chronograph White - Bracelet Ref. H38416111

Movement

H-31 automatic movement

Dimension

40mm in diameter, 49.2mm lug to lug, 14.6mm thick.

Water resistance

100m


The Hamilton Intra-Matic Chronograph White comes as a captivating and sophisticated chronograph timepiece. Featuring a classic white dial with black subdials, its aesthetic pays homage to mid-20th-century design. 

The stainless steel bracelet complements the clean lines of the watch, creating a timeless and versatile look suitable for various occasions. With a 40mm case size and a sapphire crystal, the watch strikes a harmonious balance between vintage charm and modern durability.

Price: $2,130.00 USD

Steinhart Marine Chronograph 44mm

Steinhart Marine Chronograph 44mm

Movement

ETA Valjoux 7750 Elaboré

Dimension

44mm in diameter, 16mm thick, 52mm lug to lug.

Water resistance

30m


Next on the list is the Steinhart Marine Chronograph 44mm with its nautical-inspired design and exceptional functionality. The maritime theme is evident in the blue dial adorned with contrasting white subdials and red accents, reminiscent of classic marine chronometers.

Powered by a reliable Swiss automatic movement, the watch not only offers precise timekeeping but also features a chronograph function for measuring elapsed time. With a substantial 44mm stainless steel case, the watch exudes a commanding presence on the wrist.

Price: $1,050.00 USD

Read also: Gnomon and Steinhart Watches: A Collaboration of Innovation

Aristo Flieger Vintage Chronograph 3H229VIN - Sapphire

Aristo Flieger Vintage Chronograph 3H229VIN - Sapphire

Movement 

Sellita SW500

Dimension

40mm in diameter, 48mm lug to lug, 14mm thick.


Paying homage to classic aviator watches with a modern twist, the Aristo Flieger Vintage Chronograph 3H229VIN features a black dial with contrasting white numerals and hands. The chronograph function is both precise and practical, offering the ability to measure elapsed time with ease for pilots and every watch enthusiast. 

The use of a sapphire crystal enhances durability and scratch resistance, ensuring a clear view of the dial over time. With its nod to aviation history and reliable chronograph performance, the Aristo Flieger Vintage Chronograph 3H229VIN stands out as a compelling choice for enthusiasts seeking a blend of vintage charm and contemporary functionality in a chronograph watch.

Price: $980.00 USD

Le Jour Roadster Chronograph White Ref. LJ-RD-006

Le Jour Roadster Chronograph White Ref. LJ-RD-006

Movement 

SW500 Swiss Automatic - Chronograph Movement

Dimension

42mm in diameter, 49mm lug to lug, 15.5mm thick.

Water resistance

200m


Last but not least is the Le Jour Roadster Chronograph White with a striking design that effortlessly combines elegance and precision. With its clean white dial, contrasting black subdials, and tasteful red accents, this chronograph exudes a sporty and sophisticated vibe. 

The watch features a dependable Swiss Sellita SW500 automatic chronograph movement, ensuring accurate timekeeping and convenient usability. The stainless steel case is well-crafted and complements the overall design, while the tachymeter scale on the bezel adds a touch of functionality for speed enthusiasts.

Price: $1,380.00 USD

Final Thought

So, what do chronograph watches do? The chronograph watch is presented as an enduring allure of timepieces, blending technical prowess with refined design. Its ability to accurately measure intervals of time while exuding sophistication has solidified its place as a coveted accessory. 

Chronograph watches remain an icon in the world of watchmaking for their practicality and as a statement of style, capturing the essence of precision and elegance in a single device.

Read also: The Chic and Lasting Appeal of 7 Best Chronograph Watches

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