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    

Enicar Sherpa Chronograph Valjoux 72Omega Speedmaster Professional Chronograph Cal 321 Age 67Heuer Chronograph Hand Winding Vintage Mans Watch 7733Rare Vintage Seiko 6138-8020 Panda Chronograph Automatic ExcellentVintage Oriosa Chronograph. 17 Jewels Valjoux 7733 Manual Gents Watch 70'sHuge Breitling Bentley Chronograph Gmt A473862 Mens Watch Box PapersVintage Omega Speedmaster Professional Chronograph145022-69st Cal 861 MoonwatchChopard 1000 Mille Miglia 8915 Chronograph Titanium Swiss Automatic Mens WatchOmega Chronograph Speedmaster 321 St 105.003 65 Or 105003 1965 Straight Lug Rare Vintage Seiko Bullhead 6138-0040 21j Chronograph Automatic Watch Working Rare Vintage Seiko 7016-8001 Chronograph Automatic Aka 5 Hands ExcellentVintage Hamilton Chrono-matic Chronograph Watch Cal 11 Panda Dial 11002-3No Reserve Auction- Baume&mercier No Reclassima 65542 Automatic Dual ChronographMontblanc Summit Xl Chronograph Mens Wrist Watch Box PapersUniversal Geneve Uni-compax 12439 Cal. 285 Chronograph 18k Gold 34.5mm Vintage Vintage Omega Seamaster Chronostop Manual Chronograph 145.008 Cal. 865 Men WatchRare Vintage Seiko 6139-7100 Helmet Chronograph Automatic ExcellentUnique Patek Philippe & Co Geneva Solid 14k Gold Chronograph - 1887 !!!Vintage Citizen Bullhead Chronograph Fly Back Automatic Ref 67-9356 Excellent.Estate ~ Vintage 1970 Movado Datron Sub Sea Hs 360 El Primero Chronograph ~wowRare Vintage Seiko 6139-6020 Pulsations Chronograph Automatic ExcellentVint Ulysse Nardin Chronograph Ca 40 Swiss No Reserve Price@@@Vintage Hamilton Panda Dial Chronograph W/valjoux MvmtRare Vintage Le Jour Chronograph Automatic Excellent. Valjoux 7750Mens Military Style 1930's Longines Factory Vintage Watch Chronograph FunctionVintage Tissot Chronograph Wrist Watch Winds And Runs With Works PhotosOversized Vintage Vulcain Fly-back Chronograph Mechanical Watch - Valjoux 7733Valjoux 7734 (venus 188) Chronograph Vintage 1970 17 Jewel Movement Serviced NosVtge Rare Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster. Lollipop Fine Valjoux 23 Chronograph .60Rare Vintage Seiko 6139-8002 Chronograph Automatic ExcellentRolex Tudor Monte Carlo Heritage Chronograph 70330n With Certificate No Reserve70s Movado Zenith Datron Hs360 Pilot Three Registers Automatic Diver ChronographBrand New Muhle Glashutte Antaria Chronograph Mens Watch Box PapersVintage Tissot Chronograph Wrist Watch Winds And RunsNice & Rare Vintage Seiko Speedmaster Chronograph 7a28-701a Quartz Japan WatchVintage Heuer 2 Reg Chronograph Valjoux Movement Original Dial Men WatchVintage Wakmann Panda Dial Chronograph W/valjoux MvmtVintage And Interesting Chronograph Landeron 47Vintage Gallet Swiss Chronograph Watch Black And White Dial Stainless Wristwatch18 Kt Solid Gold Rare Early Heuer Chronograph Men's 17 Jewel Wristwatch W/ BoxHeuer Chronograph Valjoux 77 Watch Vintage Swiss Made Hand Winding 1970 Zenith El Primero Chronograph Red Vignette Dial VintageVintage Longines Chronograph70s Heuer Carrera Three Registers Tachymetre Stainless Steel Racing ChronographArmand Nicolet Tramelan 18k Rose Gold Automatic Chronograph Men's Watch W/ B & PNew - Zenith Captain El Primero Automatic Chronograph 18k Rose Gold - 42 MmVintage 37mm Musette Resist Cal 7733 Chronograph Manual Winding WatchSeiko Chronograph 6139 6002Vintage Omega 145.01267 Speedmaster Chronograph Cal 321Iwc Aquatimer Day Date Automatic Chronograph WatchTissot Mens T0244171105100 Chronograph Sport WatchOmega Speedmaster Triple Day Date Automatic Chronometer Chronograph 3221.30 40mmBaume & Mercier Capeland Mv045216 Ss Automatic Chronograph Men's WatchRare Bulova Oceanographer Double Chronograph Winding Men's Watch, Valjoux 7733 71' Seiko 6139-6010 Men's 17j Stainless Blue Dial Automatic Chronograph Day DateFortis Watch Classic Cosmonauts Ceramic chronograph Day Date Automatic Black Vintage Silver Super Squale Vintage Divers Chronograph Landeron 248 MovementBedat & Co No. 7 Heavy Platinum Automatic Chronograph Mens Watch Ref 768Vintage Eterna Daytona Valjoux 72 Chronograph W/ Bracelet SsVintage Vacheron&constantin Winding Chronograph Moonphase Full Calendar S/ Steel