There are many forms of chronographs in the sometimes-overwhelming world of horology. The Chronograph has been around for many centuries, so I’ll not go into the minutiae of who created the chronograph complication or how many different forms existed centuries ago. There is a range of different chronographs on offer today, which I will try to breakdown for you.
Looking at modern-day and vintage chronographs, you of course have the mono-pusher or single-button, which you can probably guess from the name, features just one push piece to activate, stop and reset the chronograph timepiece. Though there are two variations of this kind of chronograph. You have one that notably displays the push piece, which is usually located at the 2 o’clock position but you also have the other; where the push piece is integrated into the crown. This allows the wearer to perform the basic function of, start, stop and reset – in that order only. A perfect example of this type of chronograph, is the new Vacheron Constantin Constantin Harmony Mono-pusher Chronograph introduced earlier this year at SIHH. It features a very bold but historic cushion case design and a trait of chronographs that I haven’t yet mentioned.
You see, the true use of a chronograph complication is to measure something but what that thing is, is predominately seen outside the minute track or on the bezel – this is referred to as a scale and there are a few different types. You have a pulsations scale, which is also referred to as a doctor’s watch; this is used to read the pulse rate of a patient. You also have the telemeter scale that is used for measuring the speed of sound in the air, i.e. the distance between the observer of a particular situation and that situation observable both visually and audibly.
Then there is the tachymeter, which is generally the most common scale seen, which is used for calculating speed over said distance, i.e. a car. And probably one you are less likely to see is the decimal scale, which is used to basically measure industrial timing, statistical analysis and for calculating average cost prices with the use of decimal division.
But moving away from the scale and back to the different types of chronographs. The most common chronograph complication layout is the two-push piece chronograph that was first seen on a Breitling in 1934. This features the same functions as the mono-pusher but with a second push piece that is usually located at 4 o’clock. This allows the wearer to reset the chronograph but more importantly allows you to use the start push piece to continue where you left off, without going through the motion of having to reset the chronograph. The prime example of such a piece is the iconic Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch that is still unbelievably great value for money till this day. During its early years, Omega actually allowed the wearer to chose the bezel, so they could select different measurement scales depending on their need. There are also similar chronographs that feature a countdown function – such as the Rolex Yacht-Master II, which features a regatta chronograph, allowing the wearer to see when the regatta race is about to start.
Adding to this standard chronograph function is the flyback mechanism, which is activated by actuating the stop push piece that inherently allows you to reset the chronograph without stopping it first. This function was mainly used to measure time consecutively, without the need of having to stop the chronograph before use again. Pilots mainly used timepieces like these, as it saved time and was much easier to operate to instantly restart the chronograph via one push, instead of three. Probably the most iconic timepiece that best fits this function description is the Longines 13ZN flyback chronograph.
Last but certainly not least is the rattrapante chronograph, or for those of you who do not speak French, split-seconds or double chronograph. The most useful purpose of this chronograph complication is to be able to compare just that, a split-second timing of say a lap or something. Now this comes in a few forms. One of my favourites has to be the mono-pusher rattrapante like the Patek Philippe 5950A, which is controlled via a push piece placed at 2 o’clock that of course features just the start, stop and reset function but then there is another push piece integrated into the crown, allowing you to control the split-seconds function. Another type of rattrapante is one that not only features split-seconds but also split-minutes and not many brands have produced such a piece but one that comes to mind is the A. Lange & Soehne Double-Split Flyback – which in my humble opinion is one serious chronograph.