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 Odd Shape Cwc Cabot Military Pilot Chronograph Valjoux 7765 Vintage Watch Patek Philippe Grand Complication Perpetual Calendar Chronograph W/moonphaseZenith 96.0528.4000/21.r642 Defy Xtreme El Primero Chronograph / No ReserveMint Rolex Daytona Cosmograph 116523 18k Ss Slate Chronograph Full Set B&p - NrCartier Watch Calibre W7100044 18k Rose Gold Chronograph Automatic Super Sale!Hublot Big Bang Stainless Carbon Ceramic Chronograph 301. Sb. 131 Rx *no ReserveOmega Vintage Bullhead ChronographCalibre De Cartier Chronograph Rose Gold Steel Automatic Men's Watch W7100042Iwc Pilots Double Chronograph Top Gun Iw3799-01 Auto 46mm Ceramic Watch Full KitBlancpain 18k Gold Leman Chronograph Mens WatchCartier Pasha 2111 18k Gold 38mm Automatic Chronograph Men's Watch W/ SapphiresIwc Pilot Blue Chronograph Top Gun Iw388003 Boutique Edition Ceramic & TitaniumCartier 2618 Roadster Xl Stainless Steel Solid Gold Automatic Chronograph 43mmLeman Flyback Blancpain Chronograph Watch, Beautiful ConditionRare Vintage S.steel Heuer Autavia Gmt Automatic Chronograph Watch Rf 11630 C.14Hublot Super B Classic Steel & 18k Gold Chronograph Automatic Men's Watch $9,400Cartier Roadster Chronograph Xl 2618Breitling Avenger Chronograph Black Steel 1000 Limited Model M13380Boucheron Chronograph El Primero Automatic 18k Yellow Gold WatchOmega Deville Co-axial Chronograph Model Nr. 431. 148.002 345 0022 861 Omega Speedmaster Mint Chronograph Mens WatchLouis Vuitton Tambour In Black Lv277 Xl Chronograph Q114k Men's Watch Stunning! Breitling 765 Vintage Chronograph Avi Pilot "project Watch" $1nr!!!Excellent Steel Vintage 1967 Breitling Twin Jet 806 Navitimer ChronographVintage Angelus Chronograph WatchBreitling For Bentley Barnato 42 Midnight Carbon Chronograph W/all DocumentsOmega Speedmaster Professional 1040 Mark Iv Vintage 1973 Serviced ChronographVintage Omega Speedmaster Mark V Tv Screen Chronograph Ref 176.0014 ExcellentOmega Seamaster Professional Chronograph Ref. 2296.80 In Titanium And Rose GoldMint Breitling Ltd Ed Ab0451 Massive Chronometer Chronograph 47j Box Tag PapersBreitling Windrider Crosswind Chronograph Diamond A13355 White 43mm BraceletTag Heuer Men's Swiss Automatic Chronograph Monaco Blue -must Look *usa*Cuervo Y Sobrinos Robusto (ref: 2859) - Chronograph, Calendar, Moon, Limited Ed.Breitling Navitimer Chronograph 42mm Silver Dial Automatic Steel Watch A23322Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch 1861 Professional Chronograph 42 Mm.Breitling Skyracer A27362 Chronograph Slate Gray Dial WristwatchVintage Omega Pilots Flightmaster 910 Chronograph Ref 145.013 Tropical DialCartier Roadster Xl 2618 Ss High Fashion Automatic Chronograph Men's WatchVintage Heuer Chronograph Mens Wristwatch ~ As-is ~ Needs RestorationRare 1940's Serviced Longines 13zn Chronograph Solid 18k Rose Gold Original DialUlysse Nardin Maxi Marine Chronograph Ref#263-33 Steel & Titanium WristwatchFranck Muller 18k Wg 5850cc Dual Register Chronograph Manual Winding. Rare!Iwc Portuguese Automatic Chronograph 41mm Mens Wrist Watch Iw3948026Tag Heuer Grand Carrera Chronograph Calibre 17 Rs Cav511aTudor Fastrider Blackshield 42000cn Alcantara Chronograph 42mm Watch! New! $1 NrUltra Cool Breitling Bentley Massive A41390 Chronograph Box Papers Tag Mint Sinn 6000 Frankfurt Chronograph Men's Wristwatch Ref 6000.010Vintage Gallet Flying Officer Multichron Chronograph Watch For Parts Or RepairVintage Omega Seamaster Chronograph Wristwatch Rare Gallet Mens Chronograph Multichron Clamshell Waterproof 30m Wrist WatchVintage Wakmann Triple Date Calendar Chronograph Panda Dial Watch 72.1309.70Mens S/s Breitling Navitimer 806 Chronograph 40mm Manual Wind Wrist WatchBreitling A13380 Avenger Skyland Stainless Steel Chronograph Automatic WatchBaylor Gmt 3 Register Chronograph-valjoux 724 Wind Up-red/blue Bezel-rare-runs!Breitling Super Avenger Silver Link Stainless Steel ChronographLongines Master Collection Moonphase Chronograph Watch L2.673.4Vintage Omega Speedmaster Mark 4.5 Chronograph Ref 176.0012 Excellent ConditionGenuine Montblanc Time Walker Automatic Chronograph Date Watch W Box Papers Tag Heuer Monaco Chronograph Acm Automobile Club De Monaco Men’s Watch Caw211mCartier Xl 2618 Roadster Chronograph Automatic Steel Watch For Big Man W Box