In a world where time is kept accurately nearly everywhere, it can be easy to forget how significant precise watches once were. The ability to accurately track the passing of time, more than just ensuring wearers that they’d get to their appointments on time, allowed astrologists to track the passing of the stars more closely, helped generals conduct military operations, and ensured racers honest results on the track.
We’ve gone about trying to put together what we think are some of the best chronographs out there. A few are more gaudy and fun, others classics that helped astronauts sail through the stars and race-car drivers track their speed over land. Whether you’re a daredevil and explorer yourself or you simply have an affinity for the romantic associations and craftsmanship that these timepieces have – we’re sure you’ll appreciate this list of the best Chronographs out there.
Development of the Chronograph
A Quick Look Back in Time
For a long time it was thought that the first chronograph was made by a French watchmaker by the name of Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec in 1821. He was, after all, the man who coined the term ‘chronograph’ (literal translation: ‘to write time’). This common knowledge was turned on its head, however, when it was discovered in 2013 that a man by the name of Louis Moinet had created a chronograph stopwatch 6 years earlier in 1815. Moinet, also a French watchmaker, had built a stopwatch that could record time up to 1/60th of a second, and was intended to help astronomers accurately track heavenly movements. Amazingly, this same instrument is still functioning over 200 years later.
The first wristwatch chronograph wouldn’t be released until nearly 100 years after Moinet’s stopwatch.The first wristwatch chronograph wouldn’t be released until nearly 100 years after Moinet’s stopwatch. In 1913 Longines introduced a single push piece 29mm watch with a 30 minute instantaneous counter driven by a 13.33 hZ movement. Other big watch makers like Breitling and Universal Geneve would follow up with similar wristwatch chronographs in the next few years, but it wouldn’t be until 1969 that the next big development in chronography would come to pass.
All chronographs up until this year had been hand-wound movements. It was this year that the autmoatic mechanical Calibre 11 movement was released after being developed on by team made up of heavyweight watchmakers like like Dubois-Deprez, Buren, Breitling, Hamilton, and Heuer. On the other side of the world, Seiko was readying the release of their own 6139 family of automatic chronographs. Seiko’s movement is often remembered as being only second to the Calibre 11, but another technology they developed in 1969 would shake the watch world to its core – the Quartz watch.
The one main movement that was able to weather that storm (though barely) was the Valjoux 7750, another automatic mechanical movement that was introduced in the mid 1970s. A more robust chronograph movement was produced by Japanese brand Seiko and called the 7a28. It effectively married the two styles of watch making – providing the accuracy and power supply Quartz was known for with the classic stylings and look of a mechanical watch.
Nowadays, you’ll find a healthy mix of automatic mechanical chronographs and Quartz powered chronos. For the most part, the latter choice will sit on the more affordable end of the spectrum, while the former holds steady at the top. While Quartz movements may have dominated in the decades after they were first developed and still make up most of the market today, mechanical movements have a much more dedicated group of enthusiasts. They are, after all, the machine with a heartbeat.
Seiko SNDC33 Classic Black
The Japanese based watch maker played an important roll in moving chronographs from primarily automatic movements to chronographs powered by Quartz movements. While you can really only get your hands on those original ones through second hand retailers, the brand still offers up a dizzying array of newer options. One striking offering is their SNDC33.
Leather Timex Weekender Chronograph
Just because this watch is built to take a licking and keep on ticking doesn’t mean that it won’t look good on your wrist. Quite the opposite. This classic chronograph powered by a Quartz movement and paired with a Horween leather strap stands out from the crowd and is an easy add-on to any guy’s wrist.
Braun Classic Men’s Chronograph
Braun’s chronograph is a literal award winner. Featuring a date window and three sub-dials tracking seconds, minutes, and hours in the sleek 40mm case, it will provide all of the utility you could ask for along with that distinct bauhaus style you crave.
Armogan Spirit of St. Louis Chronograph
A lot of chronographs really embrace a more utilitarian and hefty look to them. And for good reason. They can be used as scientific instruments or even navigational tools. Armogan’s Spirit of St. Louis, however, has a bit more of a refined look. Featuring a day-date window, a silvered white face, and almost delicate Arabic indexes – it is as capable as it is elegant.
Jack Mason A102 Aviator Chronograph
If you think that Jack Mason’s chronograph reminds you bit of the dials you’d find in an aircraft, you’d be right on the money. The Texas based watch maker drew heavily on the look and feel of old flight instruments to assemble the face on this 42mm watch. The angular handles are adorned with a Super-Luminova paint, as are the markings located near the Arabic indexes around the dial.
Tsovet JPT-CC38 Chrono
One of the reasons we love Tsovet is because they embrace a kind of distinct minimalist style that can often be muddled by watchmakers not quite on the super high end of the market. For instance, their black faced JPT-CC38 watch manages to fit both a date window and two sub-dials tracking minutes and seconds while still feeling totally sparse.
Lum-Tec M71-S Chronograph
For a more hefty look and feel, Lum-Tec’s M71-S is an ideal pick. Powered by a Japanese Miyota fS20J movement set in a substantial 40mm case, it has a powerful look to it matched by its capability. For this limited offering, the family run watch company applied their proprietary MDV tech along all the markings on the dial save for the date window – making it easy to read even in the lowest light situations.
Tissot Tradition Quartz Chronograph
If you are a fan of more simple colorings on your watch case and face, then Tissot’s Tradition chronograph could be a good look. It boasts three subdials and a date window right in the center of the 42mm watch case and angular indexes in place of numerals. A kind of aggresive watch with a professional vibe to it.
Luminox 3081 Evo Navy SEAL Chronograph
A lot of chronographs have their heritage strongly planted in flying or racing traditions, Luminox’s Evo Navy SEAL is more at home on the water. Featuring a 44mm plastic case, a busy high contrast dial with three sub-dials, and a date window – it’s loud, capable, and rugged enough to take on almost any water-based task.
Autodromo Prototipo Chronograph
This special edition of Autodromo’s Prototipo chronograph is an homage to race car diver Brian Redman. For well over a decade Brian was among one of the best drivers on the circuit – racing cars from automakers like Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, BMW, Porsches, and Ford. This watch embraces that old-school racing aesthetic in its unique 48mm case and striking bright white watch face punctuated by three black sub-dials, redline around the indexes, and bright neon green second hand.
Hamilton Jazzmaster Thinline Chronograph
This watch has a cold metallic look to it contrasted only by the black indexed sub-dials and second markers along the exterior diameter of the watch face. All things said, a very attractive wristwatch with a mid-century vibe.
Shinola Runwell Contrast Chrono 47mm
A masculine and attractive chronograph from Detroit-based purveyor of old school American made cool, Shinola. This watch features a striking Navy blue and face with Super-Luminova indexes around the face and on the hands, as well as three sub-dials with orange hands. A stand-out piece to be sure.
Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch
You’d be hard pressed to find a more storied chronograph that Omega’s Speedster Moonwatch. Not only was this watch worn by the crew that first landed on the moon, but it was one of the instruments that the stranded crew on Apollo 13 used to pilot their crippled spacecraft back to earth. A wearable piece of history.
Tudor Heritage Black Bay Chrono
Introduced at Baselworld in 2017, this handsome chronographic iteration on Tudor’s Black Bay dive watch family features two sub-dials and an engraved tachymetric scale. This combination of the two styles is kind of interesting. Tudor, known in large part for their stunning Black Bay divers, has thrown on a couple of sub-dials as well as a the scale along the bezel – joining two heritage lines they’ve worked on since 1970 and 1954 respectively.
Tag Heuer Carrera
If you are going to pay the big bucks for a mechanical movement, why not – well – show it off a bit? This chronograph from the same watchmakers that helped develop the first automatic mechanical movement has three sub-dials that sit over a see-through face in which you can watch the whirring work of all the watch’s complications.
This chronograph has a design that it firmly planted in the world of aeronautics and, as result, has a much more technical and utilitarian design and intended use. The watch boasts a 70 hour power reserve and sub-dials that measure 1.4th of a second, 30 minutes, and 12 hours.
Rolex Cosmograph Daytona
Built for race car drivers in the early 1960s, the Rolex Comosgraph Daytona has endured as a piece of old school cool in part because of its adoption by racing enthusiasts like Paul Newman. As high performance as the race cars they were and are driven in, this chronograph has the ability to measure speeds of up to 250 miles per hour and sub-dials that can measure 1/8th of a second, 30 minutes, and 12 hours.
Officine Panerai Luminor 1950 Regatta Chronograph
The official watch of Oracle Team USA, Officine Panerai’s Laminar 1950 Regatta has a unique Regatta Countdown function, as well as a main dial and two sub-dials that can record hours, minutes, and small seconds. To top it off, this beast of a watch has a 3 day power reserve and an attractive colorway.
IWC Schaffhausen Portugieser Chronograph
A classic chronograph from a well respected watch maker, the Portugeiser features a 44 hour power reserve and two sub-dials located at the 6 and 12 indexes. Coming in a wide array of different styles, it is no wonder this timepiece is so sought after.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Grande Complication
If you are richer than God, then this might be the right chronograph for you. This impressive and commanding watch from Audemars Piguet boasts some amazing complications. Not only does it track time, but it follows the moon phase, day, date, and month. Yeah, sure, your phone can do that – but everyone has one of those.
15 Watch Brands You Should Know
If you were unfamiliar with the vast majority of these names here, but would like to get to know a little more – do yourself a favor and check out our list of the best watch brands out there.