Home Continuing Series Historical Horology Historical Horology: What Is A Chronograph?

Historical Horology: What Is A Chronograph?




In past articles in this series, we’ve given some basic overviews of how watches have changed over time, as well as done a survey of some of the more common movement complications. Today, we’ll focus in on a single one that was first patented in 1821 – the chronograph.

Omega Seamaster Diver ETNZ LE (24)

If you were to translate chronograph from Greek, you’d end up with something along the lines of “time writer” – and that’s exactly what a chronograph is doing. Via the large seconds hand (generally mounted on the central arbor) and a few subdials, you’re recording the passage of time for a particular event, whether it be, say, a countdown to a race start (such as on this Omega) or just seeing how long it takes for your burgers to get done on the grill.

Graham Chronofighter Oversize Black Sahara (9)

Starting and stopping these is most commonly done via a set of pushers that flank the crown, with start/stop controlled by the upper one, and the reset controlled by the lower pusher. There are other variations on this theme, with things like monopushers (which is just as it sounds, a single pusher controlling start-stop-reset), or interesting configurations with a pusher set in the crown like we saw earlier this week in the Chronofighter review (link).


And those are just the external variations – inside the movement, you have a few different things that could be going on as well. Some movements will include a second seconds hand (thereby making it a split-seconds chronograph) which allows you to time two separate events that start at the same time that would have different finishes – say, like two runners sprinting down a track. You might think this is similar to the match race watch we showed you from Louis Vuitton (link), but that relied on two separate subdials (and movements), whereas this is two seconds hands on a single movement.


And speaking of the movement, there are two main ways a chronograph can be built. The more common (and affordable) version relies on a series of cams that get added onto the base movement. For some higher-end (and more accurate) applications, there’s the column-wheel chronograph. Rather than being tacked onto the movement, the column-wheel is actually integrated within the movement (instead of adding on top), and works via notches into which the levers slide.


If you want a bit more information on the chronograph, take a look at this article from Roberta Naas over here.

Via ATimelyPerspective

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