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You’ve heard of the chronograph watch but aren’t quite sure what it is – or why anyone would need one, for that matter. Not to worry. We’re experts on chronographs. Let’s take a deep-dive into this fantastic type of timepiece that many have adorned on their wrists for generations.

History of the Chronograph

The term chronograph comes from the Greek word for time, “chronos”, plus the Greek word for writing, “graph.” Essentially, a chronograph is a “time-writer.” Today we know it as a stopwatch. It is worth nothing that early versions of the chronograph are the only ones that actually did any “writing” – marking the dial with a small pen attached to the index so that the length of the pen mark would indicate how much time has elapsed.

The first modern chronograph was invented by Louis Moinet in 1816, solely for the purpose of working with astronomical equipment. The first marketed chronograph was developed in 1821 by Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec for King Louis XVIII. It seems the King greatly enjoyed watching horse races and wanted to know exactly how quickly each race was run.

TachymeterFast forward to 1915, Gaston Breitling produced the first chronograph with a central seconds hand and a 30-minute counter. Then, in 1923, he introduced the first chronograph with a separate pusher at the 2 o’clock position. In 1934 Breitling’s son further developed the concept of the chronograph with the addition of the second pusher at the 4 o’clock position. Since then, the 3-pusher chronograph design has been adopted by the entire industry.

What is a Tachymeter?

In the early part of the 20th century, many chronographs were sold in order to also function as a tachymeter. A tachymeter is a scale used to compute an average speed based on travel time or measure distance based on speed. The scale is typically marked on the bezel of the chronograph. To measure speed with the tachymeter, the wearer starts the chronograph at some visual marker. At the next visual marker, the chronograph is stopped. The point on the scale adjacent to the second hand indicates the speed of travel between the two markers, assuming you know the distance between the markers: one mile or one kilometer, for example.

Uses for Chronograph Watches Over Time

At the dawn of the 20th century, chronographs began to take the watch world by storm. After the Wright Brother’s successful flight introduced aviation to the world, the demand for chronographs rose considerably. Aviators relied on the precision time measurements of a chronograph for navigation. Just as a chronograph is useful in aviation,  the automobile racing, Olympic sports, and naval and submarine navigation also utilize a chronograph watch.

Prominent Chronograph Watches Today

TAG Heuer CarreraMost of the world’s elite watch brands build a chronograph watch. Let’s take a look at some examples.

This is the TAG Heuer Carrera, the classic yet contemporary sports watch inspired by car racing. This timeless classic is the perfect chronograph watch for car enthusiasts, with a large opening face for excellent readability, special luminescent hand, markers to light the way and a folding clasp with a built-in security system. Price: $5,150.

Jaeger LeCoultreJaeger-LeCoultre has an excellent offering if you desire a chronograph: the Master Chronograph. Elegant and efficient, the Master Chronograph stainless steel piece is an iconic model in the best watch-making tradition. Its rigorous performance standards and refined design will delight lovers of fine chronograph watches. Price: $9,000.

PaneraiPanerai presents the Luminor 1950 3 DAYS Chrono Flyback, a new chronograph with a flyback function and an automatic movement with a power reserve of three days. The flyback function, controlled by a push-button at the eight o’clock position, instantly returns the chronograph hands to zero. For readability, the chronograph minutes and seconds hands are both positioned centrally on the main dial and distinguished by being different colors. Price: $11,200.

[Related: Who Still Builds a Fantastic Handmade Luxury Watch?]

So, if you’re a racing, aviation, or diving enthusiast – or just dig the multi-dial design – a chronograph watch should be in your future. Stop by one of our store locations in Winston-Salem or Charlotte and talk to one of our timepiece specialists. We’ll help you select the perfect chronograph for your personality and lifestyle. If you know what you’re interested in, check our web site for which brands are available at which location.