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**seiko Solar Powered Alarm Chronograph Air Divers 660f/200m Watch Ssc015p1New Hamilton Jazzmaster Valjoux 25jewels Auto Chronograph 330ft Watch H32616533**new**seiko Solar Powered Alarm Chronograph Air Divers 660f/200m Watch Ssc015p1**new**seiko Solar Powered Alarm Chronograph Air Divers 660f/200m Watch Ssc015p1Seiko Solar Gents Chronograph Air Divers 660ft Water Resistant Watch Ssc019p1Seiko Solar Gents Chronograph Air Divers 660ft Water Resistant Watch Ssc019p1Seiko Sky Blue Rugged Navigator Chronograph 330ft Water Resistant Watch Snd255p1Seiko Sky Blue Rugged Navigator Chronograph 330ft Water Resistant Watch Snd255p1Seiko Sky Blue Rugged Navigator Chronograph 330ft Water Resistant Watch Snd255p1Vintage Rare Zenith El Primero Automatic Chronograph Watch Swiss MadeVintage Buren Chronomatic Chronograph Hamilton Cal 11 17j Hamilton Ss CaseMint Used GlashOmega Seamaster Planet Ocean Chronograph 2210.51 Black Orange Full Set 45.5 600mRare Vintage Zodiac 2-register Chronograph, Men Watch Valjoux 7733 MovementSinn G-93019 Chronograph Moonphase WristwatchTissot Le Locle Day Date Automatic Chronograph Mens Watch Valjoux 7750 Mind RareVintage Omega Speedmaster 321 ChronographVintage Wakmann Triple Date Chronograph Valjoux 730 Breitling Buckle GigandetRare Vintage Seiko 6138-0040 Chronograph Bullhead Automatic ExcellentMichael Kors Swarovski Crystals Rose Gold Chronograph Women's Watch Mk5692 NewCartier Chronoscaph 21 2996 Ss Chronograph White Quartz Ladies Watch W/b&pVintage Seiko Pogue Aka Seiko Pepsi Chronograph Automatic Watch Very Retro SeikoBreitling 1960s-70s Navitimer Chronograph Mens Steel Wristwatch Ref.806 + BooksHamilton Lord Hamilton $2000 Automatic 7750 Swiss Chronograph Watch CompleteRare Vintage Rotary Aquaplunge Divers Chronograph Landeron 154. Beautiful.Vintage Tissot Navigator Chronograph Automatic No ReserveOmega Seamaster Planet Ocean Chronograph Ceramic Bezel H1349 (h1439) Omega Speedmaster Chronograph Triple Calender Cosmos Am/pm 3520.53Omega Mens Speedmaster Chronograph, Hand Wind.Iwc Aquatimer Mens Automatic Chronograph 120m WatchMichael Kors Swarovski Crystals Rose Gold Chronograph Women's Watch Mk5692 NewCartier Tank Francaise 2653 High Fashion Ss Chronograph Men's Watch W/ DateRare Vintage Seiko 6139-6002 Chronograph Pogue Automatic ExcellentVintage Large Wittnauer Chronograph Valjoux 7733 - Stainless Steel - 40mmVery Stylish Old Longines Chronograph Gents Watch - Speedmaster - Valjoux 7750Tudor Tiger Chronograph 79270p Oyster Bracelet Reverse Panda Rare Black BezelTag Heuer Carrera Cv2015 Auto Date Chronograph Stainless Steel Men's Watch H1440 Omega Speedmaster Professional Chronograph Moon Watch Moonwatch 3590.50Iwc 3701 Porsche Design Automatic Chronograph No ReserveLongines Grande Vitesse Chronograph Automatic L3.636.4 Box No ReserveMichael Kors Swarovski Crystals Rose Gold Chronograph Women's Watch Mk5692 NewMassive Monaco Tag Heuer Chronograph Cw2113-0 Gt2552 Mens WatchMichael Kors Rose Gold Mk5636 Women's Camille Chronograph Watch Retail $295 NewTag Heuer Monaco Steve Mcquenn Chronograph WristwatchH1357 Omega Speedmaster Automatic Chronograph Triple Calendar Mark 40 Day DateH1343 (h1433) Omega Speedmaster Automatic Chronograph Reduced Size Black 3510.50Cartier Tank Francaise 2303 High Fashion Ss Chronograph Quartz Men's WatchPre-owned Omega Speedmaster Automatic Chronograph Watch - 176.0012 - Cal. 1045Breitling Chrono Avenger M1 E73360 Titanium Chronograph Men's Watch W/black DialMems Omega Speedmaster Reduced Chronograph St.steel Black Dial AutomaticMichael Kors Rose Gold Mk5636 Women's Camille Chronograph Watch Retail $295 New5411 Omega Speedmaster Automatic Chronograph Most Sold Omega Model In The WorldNew Tag Heuer F1 Mclaren West Daytona Chronograph Sea Master Watch Cg1117.ba0423Maurice Lacroix Pontos Men's Automatic Chronograph Watch Pt6188 Swiss MadeSwiss Made Vintage Angelus 7734 Chronograph Manual Wind Men WatchSeiko Vintage Chronograph Automatic 17 Jewel 6139-6005 Pepsi Bezel Gold DialMichael Kors Rose Gold Mk5636 Women's Camille Chronograph Watch Retail $295 NewVintage Gallet Chronograph Excelsior Park 40 Movement Working Wristwatch NrLemania Vintage 18k Gold Gents Chronograph Watch No ReserveRare 1964 Seiko First Model Seahorse Single Button Chronograph 5717-8990 No Res