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Chronograph watches are one of the most popular types of watches around today, although they have been around since the beginning of the 20th century. Because they have an additional function, they’re useful for more than just telling the time; they are highly intricate and mesmerising - to horological fanatics and the everyday person alike. There are also many variations of chronograph watches, which we’ll explore in this article.
What is a chronograph?
A chronograph is essentially a stopwatch. It acts as a separate function to the main watch element via two pushers on the side of the watch, and two or three dials on the watch face. A chronograph watch is used to measure a period of elapsed time, which can be stopped and reset.
The length of time a chronograph can record varies from brand to brand. Most watches will record at least 30 minutes, with some of the more expensive chronograph watches lasting several hours.
Chronograph watches are very detailed and so as much as they are designed for function, the classic triple dials are an aesthetic feature too.
How to reset the second hand on a chronograph
Although this may vary with different brands, it’s a simple fix to reset the second hand back to zero. It doesn’t mean your watch is broken if it needs to be reset; it can often happen after changing a battery or after a strong impact on the watch. Here’s a step by step guide on how to reset it:
- To begin, pull out the crown as far as it will go (this is the dial on the right hand side of the watch)
- Press down on the upper pusher, which sits on the right hand side of the watch. Each time you press it, the second hand will advance clockwise 0.2 seconds - repeat until the second hand returns to the zero position
- Push the crown back in
- Press the lower pusher to confirm that both the second and minute hands are both reset to zero
It’s always best to consult the manual that comes with your chronograph watch to cover any variations.
What is a split-second chronograph?
There are many different names for a split-second chronograph, including doppelchronograph and rattrapante, but they all refer to the same idea. Split-time is for when you need to record the time of events that begin together but do not end together - for example, when recording the times of each lap in a race.
It involves multiple second hands that can be started and stopped independently, or a second hand that can be reset rapidly. They became so accurate that they were used, and still are, for records of Olympic races, deep sea diving and how fast you can run on the couch to 5k programme.
These highly accurate timepieces, such as the Hawker Harrier leather matador chronograph, which is able to display 1/20 of a second split time measurement, are also perfectly affordable for everyday wear.
What is a solar chronograph watch?
Looking for an eco-friendly alternative watch? The humble solar chronograph is the answer. This type of watch works by converting light energy into electrical energy via the solar cell that sits beneath the watch face. The energy generated is stored in the rechargeable battery and discharged to move the components of the watch. This can be done repeatedly which prevents the need for constant replacement of the watch battery.
To recharge the solar chronograph watch, it will need to be exposed to light. It will recharge faster if you leave the solar chronograph watch battery near a window facing the sun.
What is a tachymeter?
As chronograph watches became more popular, a further development was added to them: a tachymeter. This is the outer ring of the watch where a fixed bezel sits, etched with a scale. The scale allows the user to determine speed or distance based on the travel time.
What is an automatic chronograph watch?
After the rise of chronograph watches there was a race to create the first automatic one. In 1969, the first self-winding chronograph was made. Now often referred to as quartz, these are electrical watches that use a battery to operate the parts of the watch. Automatic chronographs are praised for their accuracy: they surpass even the most expensive manual chronographs.
It was thanks to an automatic chronograph that, in 1970, three astronauts survived an exploration in space that went wrong. An explosion happened on Apollo 13, causing all of the computers aboard to fail. It seemed impossible for the three to return to Earth but they were able to use their trusty chronographs to time the critical engine burn to recalculate their safe entry back to Earth.
What seemed like ‘just a watch’ managed to save their lives with the chronograph function. Yet it is these very same watches that are used everyday to make sure we get the bus on time! It was then made a requirement for everyone in the Army, Navy, NASA and other similar government organisations to wear them - so you could be wearing matching watches with someone in space right at this very moment.
What is a dual time watch?
Dual time watches can exist separately as a simpler version of a chronograph, but nowadays it is usually seen as an additional feature to a chronograph.
It allows you to display the time in two different time zones with separate hour hands - a feature that’s perfect for travellers as they’re able to keep track of the time back home.
An example of a watch that neatly compacts both dual display and chronograph is the Men’s Sekonda chronograph watch 1698. Neatly displaying the three dials and even a date window, it manages to include so many features without being too clustered and compromising the legibility.
You may not have realised many watches were in fact chronographs as they are so popular today. It’s a surprisingly useful feature all compacted into the space of a watch. Although there are some high end chronographs available with many additional features, there are some incredible chronographs from as little as £79.99.