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Your complete guide to Chronograph Watches by Extropian

Strond Timepieces
Baltic Watches
Detroit Watch Co
Alcadus Watch Co
Oak & Oscar
Echo Neutra
Your complete guide to Chronograph Watches by Extropian

What is a chronograph watch?

If we go for the simplest description, and it’s probably best to start simply before going into more detail, a chronograph is a type of watch that combines a display watch with a stopwatch. A basic chronograph has an independent sweep second hand and a minute subdial. It can be started, stopped and returned to zero by exerting successive pressure on the stem. More complex chronographs can have multiple sub-dials to measure seconds, minutes, hours and even fractions of a second! As if that weren’t enough, many modern chronographs use moveable bezels as tachymeters for rapid calculations of speed or distance. 

A modern chronograph tells the time traditionally and can also record seconds, minutes, and hours (usually) in a stopwatch-style function. Most chronographs today feature dual pushers, which are both useful for starting and stopping the chronograph mechanism and also look cool! 

A brief history of the chronograph watch

Until fairly recently, the first chronograph was thought to have been created at the behest of King Louis XVIII who was a bit of a horse racing fanatic. To satisfy the monarch, Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec created his chronograph mechanism in 1821. However this was hardly something you could simply pop in your pocket, as men did with watches back in those days, as it was actually a box filled with clockwork driving two ink styluses which recorded elapsed time. Useful, yes. Practical, not so much…

In actual fact a guy named Louis Moinet had come up with a pocket watch design back in 1816 and this is now considered to be the first chronograph. However Moinet’s creation was only a stopwatch - you see, it’s much easier to develop a stopwatch than to integrate the function with a movement that also keeps the time of day, so we shouldn't be too hard on the guy. 

In any case, watchmakers being watchmakers, they continued to innovate. In 1844, Adolphe Nicole introduced the reset feature, allowing different times to be taken in succession.

By the early twentieth century the pocket watch made its way onto the wrist with Longines creating what is considered to be the first wrist-worn chronograph watch, the 13.33Z, in 1913. 

At first, chronographs had only one button (what we refer to now as mono-pushers) which was co-axial (i.e on the same axis of rotation) to the winding crown itself. Pushing the button in succession started, stopped and reset the chronograph. But in 1923 Gaston Breitling produced the first chronograph with two pushers, a configuration which soon became standard and the industry hasn’t looked back since.

By the late 1960s watch companies were racing to create the world’s first automatic chronograph. Although automatic winding watches were totally ubiquitous at that point chronographs still had to be wound by hand as creating an automatic chronograph was super complex. 

Three competing groups finished virtually neck and neck in 1969 and the outright winner is still hotly debated. A consortium of Hamilton, Buren, Breitling and Heuer were responsible for the development of the Caliber 11, an automatic chronograph movement that used a small oscillating weight called a micro-rotor. Meanwhile, Zenith came up with the somewhat cheekily named El Primero, literally ‘the first’ which used a full-sized winding rotor. However, in Japan Seiko had come with their own automatic, the 6139, and were the first to sell it to the public, if only in that country. 

Whoever the winner was, another development in that very same year had a much greater impact - the invention of the battery-powered quartz movement.

What does a modern chronograph watch do?

It’s good to know the history but we’re guessing you’re going to be even more interested in contemporary chronograph watches - what they are used for, how they work, and why you want one (you know you do!). So let’s tell you! 

What are they used for?

Mechanical chronograph watches are highly complex pieces of machinery that can be used for measuring elapsed time, telling distances, average speeds and even pulse rates. Which is why we tend to associate them with pilots, doctors, racing car drivers and even referees. Pilots use them to make speed and distance calculations while healthcare workers use them to measure patient heartbeats using the pulsometer scale. But don’t worry if your profession isn’t quite so dashing. You can also use your chronograph watch for more humble pursuits such as keeping track of how long your pizza has been cooking!

How do they work?

To use a chronograph, you depress one of the pushers on the side of the case, engaging the function to get the second hand moving. Once the event you’re monitoring has finished, you press that same pusher again and take note of the time. You then press a second pusher to reset the mechanism to zero. 

Sure you could ask Alexa to do it for you but that lovely tactile experience is part of the joy of a chronograph watch.

Now let’s have a little look at the scales printed around the bezel or on the inner chapter ring. There are usually three different types which can be used to tell distances, pulse rate and average speeds. OK, you might not need to use them all unless you’re some super Renaissance person who combines racing with medicine, but you don’t want to be caught out if some guy in a bar asks how they work and you haven’t a clue! 

The tachymeter scale

The tachymeter scale is used to tell average speed over a set distance. It’s pretty simple to operate so long as you have a way to accurately measure distance. If you want to measure driving speed and you’re in the U.S. the easiest way is to use it with mile markers on Interstate highways. Start the chronograph when the car passes one of the markers. Stop it when you pass the next marker. The number on the tachymeter scale that corresponds with the sweep hand is your average speed across the distance. Although in all honesty it’s probably safer to do this if you’re a passenger. We don’t want you to risk hurting yourself! 

RZE - Valour Chronograph

Capture D’écran 2022 12 14 À 11.37.53

❤️ Great aesthetics, a super reliable meca quartz movement, and a great price! OK, Extropian is totally seduced!

The telemeter scale

The telemeter scale was originally created to help soldiers know how far away artillery fire was. We hope you’re never going to be in a position to need it for that! But it can also be used for tracking thunderstorms - useful if you want to know when to get the washing in! Start the chronograph when you see a flash of lightening and stop it when you hear the thunder. The number on the bezel where the sweep hand is stopped will tell you how far away it is. The telemeter scale uses the known average speed of sound at a given temperature, 10 degrees C, and will vary, but they’re accurate enough and it’s kinda fun to use.

Echo Neutra - Cortina - 1956 hand-wound Chronograph

5 H Black 02 Square Opt

❤️ Extropian is seriously crushing on the retro 50s vibe of this model!

The pulsometer scale

Watches with pulsometer scales are sometimes called doctor’s chronographs because, yup, you’ve guessed it, they can be used to measure the pulse. To use this scale - maybe you’re a doctor, maybe you just like playing doctors and nurses, we’re not gonna judge - find a pulse, start the chronograph and stop it after counting the number of heartbeats designated on the scale. The bezel reading is the heartbeat. 

Farer - Monopusher Chronograph Cobb

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❤️ Extropian loves the design details on this one - check out the gorgeous blue luminous numerals!

Why do I want one?!

Isn’t it obvious by now?! Sure, modern, digital-timing systems mean we don’t actually need mechanical chronographs anymore, but their retro associations with sports, racing and aviation still make them seem super cool. And let's face it, mechanical chronographs are incredibly beautiful, complex pieces of machinery. Expensive? Well, yeah, can be. But a watch connoisseur (that’s you!) has gotta have one!

The different types of chronograph watches

Well now you’ve decided you want one (you have, haven’t you?) let’s have a look at the different types of chronographs to help you make a decision on which one you’re going to go for. 

Flyback chronograph

The flyback chronograph is the more common type of chronograph that enables the rapid restarting of the timer function while the chronograph is running. When the pusher is pressed the chronograph will stop, reset to zero and restart. 

Oak & Oscar - The Jackson

Navy 02 Centered Optimized 1000x1000

❤️ Extropian loves the clever little details on this one - just look at the alternating five minute color blocks on the subdial!

Rattrapante /
Split Second chronograph

The rattrapante, which roughly translates from French to ‘catch up’, is a chronograph movement with an additional seconds hand for the chronograph function superimposed over the normal seconds hand and an additional pusher. This allows the user to record multiple time intervals that start at the same time but do not end together, for example different lap times in a race. The rattrapante chronograph is also sometimes referred to as a double chronograph or split-second chronograph.

It’s difficult to manufacture, and therefore rare, which adds to its collector appeal. In 1999 the first rattrapante wristwatch, made by Patek Philippe in 1922, sold for a whopping $1.9 million at auction! They’re not all so eye wateringly expensive but, yeah, maybe rattrapantes are ones to admire from a distance.

Alcadus Watch Co - Velos (never marketed)
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❤️ That gorgeous dial really hits the sweet spot for us here at Extropian!

Mono pushers 

You could argue that the monopusher chronograph is a deliberate anachronism. It is widely considered the most elegant of chronograph watches, stripped back to the original, pure function and form. We like to think it’s the kind of watch worn by people who are never going to be dictated to by the fickle world of fashion! With a single, refined pusher that controls the timing - start, stop and reset - it’s everything you need and absolutely nothing you don’t. 

Farer - Seagrave Monopusher

Farer Segrave Monopusher Chronograph 1 1140x752

❤️ At Extropian we love the playful, asymmetric ‘big eye’ sub-dial on this cool black Farer model.

Bi compax

A bi compax chronograph has, as the name suggests, two sub dial counters. They’ve been around since the 20th century and their old school, pleasingly symmetrical design means they have plenty of 21st century appeal! 

Baltic Watches - Bicompax 002

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❤️ It’s the pure, minimalist aesthetics that Extropian loves here.

Tri compax

Ah, the Tri compax chronograph. This piece of watchmaking history was released by Universal Genève in 1944. The Tri-Compax was the pinnacle of the Compax collection and is named after its three functions of calendar, chronograph, and moonphase. It was a technical marvel upon its release and a hugely successful watch for the brand. However watch production ended at the end of the 20th century so if you want to pick up one of these beauties you will need to go for pre owned models, which, let’s face it, will all come with their own little bit of history.

Thankfully some contemporary brands such as Baltic are now making their own versions of the Tricompax. These are chronographs with 3 subdials. 

Baltic Watches - Tricompax x Peter Auto


❤️ A super cool retro vibe and a 60 hour power reserve has Extropian hooked


Mechanical chronograph

Mechanical automatic

If you would like a particularly personal relationship with your chronograph watch, then an automatic is the one to go for! An automatic chronograph watch is powered by the swinging motion of your arm which causes a semicircular rotor to pivot within the watch. The rotor is attached to a ratchet that winds the mainspring in the watch and keeps the watching going. So clever and so cool!

Detroit Watch Co  - 1701 - 42mm - Chrono Moonphase Exhibition


Mechanical hand-wound

As the name suggests, you’re going to need to wind this type of chronograph yourself to power it! A mainspring stores the energy and keeps things going.

Baltic Watches - Bicompax 002

Capture D’écran 2022 12 15 À 17.02.49

Quartz and Meca-quartz chronograph

A meca-quartz movement is a chronograph watch movement that uses quartz technology for the main functions of the watch, and a mechanical module for operating the chronograph. That is why these are often called hybrid movements. The great thing about meca-quartz chronographs is that they provide the accuracy and overall dependability of a quartz movement and are much slimmer than a traditional mechanical movement. Some of you aren’t going to like the fact that they’re battery powered - and there is no hidden feature to reset the stopwatch hand to zero. However, they are usually much cheaper, generally coming in at under $500, which is a major advantage! 

Meca-quartz Chronograph : Neminus - Gallardo - Matador Bullhead Chronograph 300

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❤️ At Extropian we simply can’t stop gazing at that gorgeous ruby red dial! 

The different features of a chronograph watch


OK, so now we know all the different types of chronograph watches, but they can come with a whole variety of different features according to their function too! Dive chronographs will often have screwed pushers to prevent them inadvertently being used underwater for instance. Pilot chronograph watches will allow you to switch from telling the time to calculating distance and speed with the addition of a tachymeter and telemeter while a racing chronometer will use the chronograph function like a stopwatch. 

Dive Chronograph : MMI - Turret Marine Chronograph

Mmi Turret 3 1200x

❤️ Extropian loves the quirky square sub dials on the funky dive chronograph

Pilot’s Chronograph :
Strond DC3 Mkll
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❤️ We love the 40s inspired design of this pilot chronograph at Extropian.

Rally Chronograph : Straton VDC - MKII Automatic


❤️ Extropian loves the seriously bold colorway on this racing chronograph. It’s taking us right back to the 70s!

Is a chronograph watch an automatic watch?


While some automatic watches are chronographs, not all chronographs are automatic. A chronograph references the functional dials on the watch. The movements can be automatic or hand wound, quartz, or meca quartz. For meca quartz movements, the primary movement is quartz and the secondary (chronograph) movement is automatic. 

What is the difference between a chronograph watch and a chronometer?


As a watch connoisseur, and of course that is what you are, you do not want to confuse a chronograph with a chronometer! The latter is really nothing more than a certification of accuracy which was originally intended to deem a timepiece worthy for use as a navigational device. If a watch is referred to as a chronometer, it has passed intense precision tests over a 15-day period and has obtained an official rate certificate from the COSC, which is the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute. 

A watch can be both a chronometer and have a chronograph function. However, they can also be separate. Just because a watch is a chronometer does not mean it has a chronograph and vice versa. So, now you know!

Created the 2022-12-15

Modified the 2023-11-30

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