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 Hamilton Jazzmaster Valjoux 25jewels Auto Chronograph 330ft Watch H32616533Seiko Solar Gents Chronograph Air Divers 660ft Water Resistant Watch Ssc017p1Superb Seiko Sportura Alarm Chronograph100m Watch Snae91p1Superb Seiko Sportura Tachymeter Alarm Chronograph100m Watch Snaf37p1Seiko Velatura Chronograph Alarm 100m/330ft Water Resistant Watch Snaf41p1Seiko Velatura Tachymeter Chronograph Alarm 330ft Water Resistant Watch Snae17p1Seiko Velatura Chronograph Alarm 100m/330ft Water Resistant Watch Snaf39p2Vintage Chronosport Chronograph Watch. Divers. Submarine CaseLemania Chronograph,military,ss,one Pusher Rare, 50's !!!!!!Omega Speedmaster Pre-moon Cal. 321 Chronograph St 105 012 65 WatchTag Heuer Pilot Chronograph AutomaticVintage Hamilton Chronograph Chrono British Military Aviator Broad ArrowOld E Terna Triple Date Chronograph Valjoux 71 Watch C/w Vintage Leather Band Tissot Prc 200 Chronograph T461 Black Face Dial Watch Sapphire Crystal Glass VgcH1208 Omega Speedmaster Automatic Chronograph Most Sold Omega Model In The WorldVintage Omega Chronograph 27 Cal ,ref 2271-1 Steel Very Rare Fancy Case Oldwatch1969 Omega Speedmaster Mark Ii Ss Chronograph Ref 145.014 Cal 861 As FoundHeuer Carrera 1153n Automatic Chronograph Wristwatch W/ Gay Freres Rice BraceletTag Heuer Monaco Automatic Chronograph Cw2111-0. Stainless Steel Men's Watch.Vintage Breitling Cadette Chronograph Valjoux 7730 // In Eu - No ReserveVintage Omega Speedmaster Chronograph Steel Matt Black Dial Runs WellRare Vintage Marvin Valjoux 72c Triple Calendar Ss Chronograph Dato CompaxGen Jaeger Lecoultre Master Control 1000 Hr Ss Chronograph Mens Watch Box PaperIwc Authentic Portuguese Automatic Chronograph Breitling Chronospace A56012.1 Ss Analog/digital Chronograph Quartz Men's WatchVintage Hamilton Stainless Steel Wrist Watch Chronograph Khaki AutomaticRare Vintage Seiko 6139-6002 Chronograph Pogue Automatic ExcellentMen's Vintage Lejour J.p. Pingouin 7736 Valjoux Chronograph Steel Watch #3000Vintage 60s Favre Leuba Sea Sky 40mm Diver's Chronograph Valjoux 72 For RepairH1210 Omega Speedmaster Automatic Chronograph Most Sold Omega Model In The WorldVintage Ulysse Nardin Chronograph Stainless Large Side 40 Widding Men's WatchVintage Heuer Daytona Chronograph Ss Near Mint 39mm Blue Dial 110.203bBreitling Navitimer Gold Plated Steel Chronograph 7740 Valjoux Ref 7806 #2892Breitling.-chronograph-manual Wind-ca1950-valjoux 77.-nice Men Watch!H1277 Omega Speedmaster Automatic Chronograph Triple Calendar Mark 40 Day DateVtge Minerva Military Chronograph Ref. 1335. "waterproof" Very Rare 40's1960s Vintage Wakmann (breitling Assoc. Company) Chronograph - Valjoux 7733. NrVintage Pierce Chronograph Pilot Watch, Oversize 37mm X 46mm.serviced.Omega Speedmaster Triple Date - 3520.50 Sapphire Chronograph Watch Men'sRare Lecoultre Shark-vogue Chronograph Diver's Watch Ref E2643 Valjoux 72Breitling Professional Skyracer Raven Red Automatic Chronograph 44mm A27363Vintage Omega Speedmaster Professional Mark Ii Chronograph Mens Watch 1970Enicar Vintage Chronograph W/original Box. Very Clean All Original Men's WatchHeuer €Kelek Vintage Watch,chronograph Micro-rotor Caliber 15,chronomatic Excellent Vintage 60's Breitling Stainless Chronomat 808 Chronograph WatchChopard Black Out Dlc/pvd Mille Miglia Chronograph 8331 "mint"1960s Vtg. Fortis Marinemaster Stainless Steel Military Chronograph Valjoux 72Longines Master Collection Automatic Chronograph L2.629.4 Avigation SpecialTag Heuer Slr Mercedes Benz Limited Edition Chronograph Cag2110 Box & Papers.Vintage Ultramar Chronograph Triple Date Moon Phase No Reserve Frederique Constant Geneve Fc-292x4p4 Chronograph Very Nice Full Original SteelRare Seiko Chronograph Diver 200m Caesar Watch # Snda13p2 Excellent ConditionBreitling Swiss Made Ab0110 Chronomat B01 Automatic Chronograph Mens WatchCuervo Y Sobrinos Historiador Chronograph Automatic Black Men’s Watch 3199.1nMen's Vintage Wittnauer Chronograph Stainless Steel Manual Venus 188 Watch #2999Rare Vintage Citizen Bullhead Chronograph Automatic Excellent Jaeger Lecoultre Reverso Squadra Chronograph Gmt 18k Rose Gold Watch Q7012420 Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronograph 353-22 WristwatchBreitling Navitimer 1461/52 Automatic Chronograph 42mm Stainless Steel A38022