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    

Rare Beautiful Ref 222101-1 Vintage Universal Geneve 281 Compax ChronographWittnauer Longines Rare Vintage Professional Chronograph Crimson Bezel 7004Rare Vintage Seiko 6138-0040 Bullhead Chronograph Automatic Excellent50's Heuer Clamshell Waterproof Chronograph Working Shape Pat. 189190 36mm Vintage Mens Wittnauer By Longines Chronograph Two Register Watch Rare Vintage Ulysse Nardin Chronograph Winding Men Watch Stunning 1965 Omega Speedmaster Ed White Straight Lugs 321 Chronograph WatchVintage Hamilton Automatic Chronograph Military Watch. Valjoux Cal 7750Vintage Gallet Chronograph Gilt Dial Ss Men Wrist WatchRaymond Weil Freelancer Chronograph Automatic Mens Watch 7730Vintage 1970's Breitling 809 Cosmonaute Navitimer Pilot's Chronograph Orig. BandTag Heuer Pilot 530.806k 1/10 Chronograph Quartz Men's Watch W/ DateIwc Portofino Chronograph Iw391008 Wrist Watch For MenVintage Omega Speedmaster Mark V Chronograph Tv Screen Ref. 176.0014 No ReserveIwc Portuguese Iw371401 Steel Chronograph Leather Automatic WristwatchRare Heuer Autavia Gmt 3 Register Chronograph Stainless Running Men's WristwatchLarge Cyma Chronograph Valjoux 71 Or 72 1950 18k Gold 38mm OversizedZenith El Primero 36000 Vph Automatic Chronograph New Without Tags Mens WatchVintage Breitling C.1950's Manual Chronograph Men's Wristwatch Cal. Venus 188Vintage Original Universal Geneve Steel Tri-compax Chronograph Ref. 22279-2Rare Tudor Monte Carlo By Rolex Ref 7159 /0 1972 Oysterdate ChronographTag Heuer Carrera Cv2a10 Ss Calibre 16 Day/date Automatic Chronograph Mens WatchTag Heuer Carrera Chronograph Re-edition Ref. Cs3113 Mens WatchBreitling Tricompax 9757 Chronograph Gold Tone Rare Mens WatchOmega Men's Speedmaster Automatic Chronograph Schumacher Model !!Vintage 1972 Heuer Autavia Chronograph, As-is.Pre-owned Omega Ref#175.0032 Speedmaster Automatic Chronograph Men's Watch N/r.Classy~philip Watch Valjoux 7750 Chronograph~cool Speedmaster Style LugsMontblanc Star 7104 4810-501 Ss High Fashion Automatic Chronograph Men's WatchMen’s Vintage Wittnauer Swiss Chronograph Wristwatch W/24 Hour Hand – Watch NeedRare Vintage Seiko 6139-6010 Chronograph Automatic 99p Start BidOmega Speedmaster 175.0033 Ss/18k Gold Automatic Chronograph Men's WatchHamilton Chronograph Automatic Valjoux 7750 Reference 9941Breitling Navitimer Chronograph Chronometre Mens Watch W/ Gold Sub Dials & BezelVintage Seiko 6139-6002 Steel Pepsi Bezel Auto Diver Chronograph / Orange Dial Girard Perregaux Richeville Men's Automatic Chronograph, Ref. 2765, With Date!..Rare Roamer Stingray Jt Chrono Chronograph - Valjoux 7734 Case Ref 734-9120.901Omega Speedmaster Reduced Chronograph Automatic 3539.50Vintage Retro 1960's Enicar 232-01-01 Man's Chronograph Wind-up WristwatchVintage Lemania Military Chronograph Saaf Lot 3Omega Speedmaster Man On Moon High Fashion Ss Chronograph Mechanical Men's WatchMens Cartier Santos Chronograph Titanium 100 Xl Omega Flightmaster Chronograph WatchVintage Haste-leonidas Chronograph Triple Date Tropical Brown Dial Valjoux 72cC 1971 Seiko "pogue" Automatic Chronograph 6139-6005 Stainless Steel Sport WatchSeiko Black Bullhead Chronograph Automatic Men's Watch 6138-0040, Jan 1977Marvin 18k Solid Gold Gents Vintage Chronograph Valjoux 22 40mm No Reserve!Vintage Leonidas (heuer) Chronograph Big Date Manual Winding WatchMovado Datron Hs 360 By Zenith Triple Register Chronograph El Primero Sub-seaVintage Dorex 2 Register Chronograph Landeron 34mm Men's Pilot Watch L8Casio Men's Edifice Chronograph Watch Ef-558d-1avef Corum Admirals Cup Chronograph Titanium 52mm Men's Watch 133.5 Grams NrRare Vintage Tag Heuer Automatic Chronograph Watch With Lwo-283 MovementRare Vintage Tourneau Triple Register Chronograph.Graham Silverstone Vintage 44 Chronograph Watch 2sabs-b05a.l18s Msrp: $7,600Tag Heuer Monaco Re-edition Automatic Chronograph WatchSeiko Men's Alarm Chronograph Watch Snaf09p1 Patek Philippe Calatrava Chronograph Men's Platinum Watch 5960p Mens Mint Seiko Ananta Automatic Chronograph 42.8 Mm Watch Srq011jMen's Vintage 1950's Swiss "chronographe Suisse" 18k Gold Chronograph Wristwatch