A chronograph is a watch that also records time intervals like a stopwatch. The earliest chronograph wristwatches appeared at the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1902, Patek Philippe was awarded a patent for a “split-seconds chronograph” and in 1916 the watchmaker introduced its first complicated ladies’ wristwatch—it had a five-minute repeater. By 1923, Patek Philippe had created the first split-seconds chronograph wristwatch—its chronographs with tachometers from the late 1930s are among the most prized wristwatches available.

Another Swiss watchmaker, Heuer, introduced chronographic functions to its wristwatches around 1913—such capabilities were already present in Heuer pocket watches and its dashboard chronographs. Like Patek Philippe, the earliest Heuer chronograph wristwatches were made for women. Men’s chronograph wristwatches followed in the late 1910s and throughout the 1920s. These watches typically had round stainless-steel cases, gold numerals on white dials, and hands that suggested an Art Nouveau influence. A button set within the crown controlled the watch’s chronographic functions.

During this period, in 1916, Heuer made the first timer to record tenths of a second. That led to Heuer’s selection as the official timekeeper for the Olympic Games of 1920, 1924, and 1928. In 1930, Heuer introduced a flyback mechanism for its chronographs and patented a waterproof case. Soon it was producing steel Flieger chronographs for the German air force.

By the 1940s, triple-calendar Heuer chronographs began to appear. Cases came in steel or gold, with dials ranging from black to copper to white. These are among the most collectible vintage Heuers. After the war, auto-themed wristwatches were added, including the 1962 Autavia, which took its named from Heuer’s dashboard timers from the late 1950s. The elegant Carrera chronograph line was introduced the following year—both it and the Autavia featured movements manufactured by Valjoux.

One of Heuer’s biggest chronograph competitors was Breitling, which, in 1923, had developed the first chronograph with an independent pushpiece, making start and return-to-zero functions simpler and more intuitive. By 1934, Breitling had devised a wristwatch with a second return-to-zero pushpiece. This made it possible to measure several successive short times, improving the wristwatch’s functionality for pilots.

Advances like these and Breitling’s consistent focus on the needs of aviators led the Royal Air Force to make Breitling its official supplier in 1936. Innovations continued throu...

Breitling was not the first watchmaker to go after the aviation market. In 1926, Vacheron Constantin gave one of its George V Royal Presentation Aviator’s Chronographs from 1926 to Admiral Byrd to mark his flight that year to the North Pole. In the 1930s, Doxa was one of the leading makers of chronographs, some of which were housed in 14-karat yellow-gold cases. And Doxa continued to make watches for the military throughout World War II, particularly for aviators.

Another aviation player was Longines, which introduced a wrist chronograph for pilots in 1936. When Howard Hughes broke the speed record for a flight around the world in 1938, he was wearing a Longines chronograph.

After World War II, chronographs were the norm for sports watches, even from luxury manufacturers. During the 1950s, Girard-Perregaux produced hard-working chronographs with 30-minute and 12-hour counters along with fancier models such as the Mysterieuse, a minimalist creation whose hour and minute “hands” were fixed on smaller discs that rotated within the wristwatch’s round face.

Mid-level companies were also slugging it out. In the 1960s, Zenith sports models such as the Pilot were designed to compete with the Rolex Explorer, but the biggest news of that decade was the 1969 launch of Zenith’s El Primero chronograph movement.

And then there was Omega, whose Speedmaster chronograph from 1956 was selected a decade later by NASA for all of the space agency’s manned missions. The Speedmaster withstood a grueling battery of tests, including performing at zero gravity, in proximity to magnetic fields, and at temperatures ranging from -18 to +93 degrees Celsius.

The crew of Gemini 3 was the first to wear Speedmaster Professionals, as they were now known. But the watch gained its greatest acclaim on July 21, 1969 when it was strapped to the wrist of Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon—according to his watch, the time was 02:56 GMT. Thereafter, the Speedmaster Professional was called the Moon Watch.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Watch and Clock Museum

National Watch and Clock Museum

This virtual museum, created by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, lets you stroll through tim… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

**new**seiko Solar Powered Alarm Chronograph Air Divers 660f/200m Watch Ssc015p1**new**seiko Solar Powered Alarm Chronograph Air Divers 660f/200m Watch Ssc015p1New Hamilton Jazzmaster Valjoux 25jewels Auto Chronograph 330ft Watch H32616533**new**seiko Solar Powered Alarm Chronograph Air Divers 660f/200m Watch Ssc015p1Seiko Solar Gents Chronograph Air Divers 660ft Water Resistant Watch Ssc019p1Seiko Solar Gents Chronograph Air Divers 660ft Water Resistant Watch Ssc019p1Seiko Sky Blue Rugged Navigator Chronograph 330ft Water Resistant Watch Snd255p1Seiko Sky Blue Rugged Navigator Chronograph 330ft Water Resistant Watch Snd255p1Seiko Sky Blue Rugged Navigator Chronograph 330ft Water Resistant Watch Snd255p1Vintage Sicura Bullhead Chronograph Valjoux 7734 Deep Blue Dial No ReserZenith De Luca Black El Primero Automatic 400 Chronograph 1997 02.2310.400 WatchFortis Ltd Grenchen Chronograph Day Date Automatic Swiss Made Mens Wrist WatchVtg '71 Zenith El Primero A788 Automatic Chronograph Cal.3019phc-31j-men's WatchVintage Bucherer Chronograph 3 Reg. Lemania 1873 No ReserveRare Vintage Seiko 6138-8020 Chronograph Panda Automatic ExcellentRare Vintage Seiko 6138-0040 Bullhead Chronograph Automatic WatchGorgeous Gents Vintage Seiko 1980s Quartz Chronograph Split Day/date Watch.Bulova 666 Feet Vintage Ss Chronograph Men's Diving WatchVtg Seiko Bullhead Chronograph 6138-0040 Ss Mens Watch In Box Rare Vintage Seiko 6138-3002 Chronograph Automatic ExcellentRare Vintage Seiko 6138-0040 Bullhead Chronograph Automatic ExcellentH1547 Breitling Professional Series B-2 Chronograph Automatic Ss Bracelet A42362Vintage Heuer 2 Register Vertical Dials Chronograph Triple SignedIwc Fliegeruhr Spitfire Chronograph 42mm Ref.3717Longines 30ch Chronograph Vintage Watch 750/18k. Solid Gold Oris Williams F1 ChronographBell & Ross 300.a-s00189 Professional Chronograph WristwatchBreitling Professional B-2 Chronograph Automatic A42362 No ReserveVintage Rare Breitling Navitimer Chronograph Good Condition Men WatchBreitling Navitimer Avi A13023 Blue B13 41mm Automatic Chronograph Rare ModelFortis Flieger Valjoux 7750 Chronograph Watch In Mint Condition R. 597.22.141.11Rare Vintage Tissot Navigator Lemania 1343 Automatic Chronograph Men's WatchSeiko 6139-6002 Pepsi Auto Chronograph Spares RepairAmazing S/s Wwii Doxa Vintage Military Doctor Chronograph Venus 140 From 1943! Junghans Chronoscope 41/4883-original Bauhaus Max Bill Chronograph Watch GermanyVintage Gent's Stainless Baylor Manual-wind Chronograph Valjoux Cal. 72 Inv#488Rare Vintage Seiko 6138-0030 Chronograph Automatic ExcellentBreitling Vintage Wrist Chronograph - Great Timepiece For Collectors!!!!!Breitling Navitimer Aviastar A13024 Blue 41mm B13 Automatic Chronograph Rare 30mHamilton Khaki X-wind Chronograph Automatic Valjoux 7750 Swiss MadeGents Swiss Bulova Chronograph Automatic Divers Style Wrist Watch Valjoux 7750Fortis B-42 Chronograph Official Cosmonauts Ref 638.10.141.3 No ReservePorsche Design Chronograph Titanium Auto Black Men’s Watch 6612.11.44.1143Piaget Classic Wrist Chronograph For MenVintage C2000 Swiss Army Victorinox Gents Divers Chronograph Wristwatch Nr MintOmega Louis Brandt 18k Gold Chronograph 38mmBreitling Avenger Chronograph Titanium Automatic E13360 Excellent No ReserveBreitling B2 Chronograph Automatic A42362 Stainless Steel Mens WatchVintage Universal GenBreitling Navitimer Aviastar A13024 Black 41mm B13 Automatic Chronograph RareWittnauer Vintage Professional Chronograph S/s Ref.7004 A-14a 239t Original Dial77' Seiko Bullhead 6138 Mens Chronograph Kanji Maroon #795858 Watch $1Oris Artelier Chronograph Stainless Steel Automatic Watch 7547Vintage Hamilton Fontainebleau Chronograph Automatic WatchVintage Seiko Pepsi 6139-6002 Chronograph Original WatchOmega Speedmaster Solar Impulse Hb-sia Co-axial Gmt Chronograph Special EditionIwc Aquatimer Mens Automatic Chronograph 120m WatchBreguet Classic Wrist Chronograph For MenOris Frank Sinatra Chronograph Stainless Steel Watch 7574Men's Seiko Quartz Chronograph Watch 7a48 7030 With Tan Leather Strap