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    

Chopard 1000 Miglia 8915 Titanium Automatic Chronograph Men's WatchLanco Chronograph Valjoux 7734 Vintage Black Dial Pvd Running 4 Spares Repairs Vintage Yema Valjoux 7730 Cushion Chronograph Circa 1970sVintage Yema Valjoux 7733 Blue Chronograph Circa 1970sOmega Speedmaster 321 Pre-moon 105.003-63 Chronograph 1963 Vintage Wristwatch Vintage 1960s Valjoux 7733 17j Swiss Emperor Chronograph GwoRolex Chronograph Anti-magnetic Pre-daytona Ref 6034 Vintage Watch Circa 1950sVintage Gold 18ct Superb Swiss Chronograph Watch Gentleman’s Wristwatch Working Abercrombie Seafarer Chronograph Tag Heuer Mens Watch 2446cVintage Omega Speedmaster Mark 4.5 Chronograph Cal.1045 Automatic Ref.176.0012"iwc Chronograph Rattrapante Schaffhausen " Tribute Watch ? Nice Condition Vintage Gallet Clamshell Chronograph Watch Flight OfficerVintage Tourneau Triple Date Moonphase Chronograph Wrist Watch Valjoux 88-1950Rare Vintage Seiko 6138-0030 Chronograph Automatic ExcellentSuper Rare 1965 Omega Speedmaster *ed White* 105.003 Black Chronograph Dial!321!Girard Perregaux Vintage Chronograph Ref #2599 18k Yellow Gold WristwatchVintage Rare Omega Speedmaster 321 Chronograph Don Bezel 2998, 105.002 Original Wwii Military German Glashutte Tutima Pilots Chronograph Wrist Watch For RepairVintage Helbros Chronograph Watch Landeron 248 No ReserveMens Casio Edifice Wave Ceptor Tough Solar Alarm Chronograph Wrist Watch Chopard 1000 Miglia 8331 Ss Automatic Chronograph Men's Watch W/ DateVintage Croton Nivada Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver Mens Chronograph Valjoux 23Sekonda Russian Pilot / Cosmonaut Chronograph C1964, Strela Poljot Cal 3017Original Vintage Breitling Top Time Chronograph, Squared Case PandaVintage Omega Speedmaster 861 Chronograph Moon Watch Ref 145.022-78 Ollech Wajs Selectron 1960ies Vintage Diver Chronograph Handwind Valjoux 7730Iwc Schaffhausen Portuguese Rattrapante Chronograph 18k Yellow Gold WristwatchVintage Orfina Porsche Design Chronograph Military Swiss Watch Pvd Valjoux 7750Rare Vintage Buler "split Seconds" Chronograph Reverse Panda Dial Circa 1970sGentleman's Breitling Navitimer Cosmonaute Chronograph Wrist WatchOmega Speedmaster Professional Chronograph Moon Landing Watch All Original 861Rare 30s Zenith Chronograph, Early Valjoux 23 Single Pusher Mvmt, Enamel Dial Breitling Co-pilot 765 Cp Vintage Chronograph Cal. Venus 178 41 Mm CopilotRare Vintage Seiko 6138-0040 Bullhead Chronograph Automatic ExcellentSeiko Sportura Men's Sports Chronograph Watch (mint Condition) ServicedRare Vintage Citizen Diver Style Chronograph Automatic Excellent Vintage Oversize Minerva 37mm Rose Gold Plaque Chronograph Cal 20 Rare WatchTissot Tachymetre Prs-516 Ref J562/662 Chronograph Leather Strap S/s Men's WatchVintage Seiko Chronograph 7a28-703a Dive Watch All Original.Omega Chronograph Watch Ref 2404 38mm 1944 Rare VintageFrederique Constant Swiss Made Men's Xl Chronograph Luxury C2000 Watch C340Rare Swiss Made Burberry Man's Chronograph 50m Diver Watch NrVintage 39mm Heuer Carrera 3-reg. Chronograph Valjoux 7736 Caliber From 1960'sMens Helbros Invincible Chronograph Valjoux 7733 Panda Dial Wristwatch Oris Tt3 Chronograph Black Rubber Strap Men's Automatic Watch 674-7611-7764rsWakmann Chronograph Panda Valjoux Swiss Made Citizen Red Arrows Royal Air Force World Time Chronograph Military Pilot VgcBreitling Windrider B53011 Ss/18k Gold Chronograph Quartz Men's Watch W/ DateVintage Tag Heuer Chronograph Mans Watch Boxed No ReserveRare All Original Jumbo Tissot 1853 Men's Chronograph Ss 200m Diver Watch NrVintage Omega Seamaster Anakin Skywalker Chronograph Ref 145.023 Box Iwc Da Vinci Sl Chronograph Gents Watch Ref 3728-002 Box & PapersTissot Men's Black Polished Prs200 Chronograph Watch T17148655 Heuer Camaro 73643 T Valjoux 72 Vintage Chronograph Watch Exotic Racing DialPiaget Chronograph Hand Winding Mans Watch Two Tone DialInvicta Men's 53mm Sea Base Titanium Swiss Quartz Chronograph Bracelet WatchHeuer Chronograph Manual Wind Vintage Mans Watch Valjoux 77 Fancy LugsBaume & Mercier Capeland Chronograph Ref#mv045216 WristwatchVintage Levrette Automatic Chronograph Mens Swiss Made Watch Valjoux 7750Vintage Nicolet Watch Super Waterproof Silver & Blue Chronograph Circa 1970