Automatic chronograph watches are usually considered to be one of the more respected types of wristwatch.
‘Chronograph’ comes from the Greek for ‘time’ (chronos), and ‘writing’ (graph). The chronograph watch was originally invented in 1821 by a French inventor called Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec. He gained a patent for his creation a year later.
It was in 1910 that the chronograph wristwatch was created, and it quickly became very popular. Swatch began producing trendy and affordable chronographs in 1990 which had tremendously high sales. Now all the major watch companies produce chronograph watches.
In 1969 the first automatic chronograph watches were introduced by a few companies competing with each other. Swiss chronograph watches are generally held to be the best ones in the world.
Chronographs measure time in various ways, and so a good quality one is usually more expensive. They have the usual timekeeping with the main dial on the watch face, but they also have extra dials that use various different scales, and this allows them to be used for extremely specific measurements of time.
Different designs of chronographs have different amounts of dials. They can have up to four dials, and each dial has a unique function. The most common of these is in the middle of the main face, close to the number nine. This is the continuous seconds dial.
The other subdials tend to have functions that measure fractions of seconds, minutes and hours. Sometimes they have a dial called a tachymeter which measures speed, and sometimes even a telemeter that measures distance.
If a button is pushed on the side chronograph watches can function as a stopwatch. A miniature dial starts recording passing seconds. The other subdials therefore start measuring the minutes and hours that pass with the stopwatch. With a few of their watches the Swiss have combined the mechanical and quartz technologies. This allows the best of both watch types – the authenticity of one and the ease of use of the other.
Chronographs are fashion statements, and so they tend to be worn for taste these days rather than for practicality, although they can of course be used for their accuracy, such as timing races at sports events, or for boiling eggs.
Automatic chronograph watches tend to be valuable and expensive. They tend to cost more than normal and automatic watches, mainly because of the complexity of their manufacture and their fantastic craftsmanship.
Some well-known Swiss brands selling men’s chronograph watches are Breitling and Tag Heuer.