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    

Vintage Zenith El Primero Chronograph Calibre 3019 With Military ProvenanceVintage Minerva Chronograph Chrono Two RegisterVintage Movado Sub Sea Chronograph Panda Dial 95 Caliber Manual #3797Omega Speedmaster Professional Reduced Automatic Chronograph 3510.50.00Good Mens Tag Heuer Carrera S Steel Chronograph Automatic Wrist Watch Cv2111-0Rolex Vintage Chronograph 1930s Vintage Heuer Camaro Valjoux 72 Chronograph Case Movement Parts. Hands And Dial.Rare Vintage Angelus Chronodato Chronograph Men Watch Triple Date Cal. 217 1940Rare Oversized Gallet Ep40 Chronograph Fantastic All Original ConditionVintage 18k Breitling 178 ChronographUs Diver Aqualung Abyssal Schild Chronograph Vintage Deep Divers Swiss Made Breitling Navitimer Chronograph Chronometer Stainless Steel Men’s Watch A23322Iwc Aquatimer Chronograph Rubber StrapMens Vintage Creton Nivada Grenchen Chronograph Aviator Diver's Windup WatchGruen Chronograph Cal 12 Swiss Made Automatic Panda Dial Off To The Races Vintage Titus Solid 18k Gold Manual Chronograph Men's WristwatchSeiko Vintage 6139-7100 'helmet' Men's Chronograph Watch -for Parts Or RepairMens Mint Cartier Pasha Seatimer Automatic Chronograph Xl Watch W31088u2 42mmVintage Heuer Turler Chronograph - Gorgeous Original Condition + No Reserve!Mens Ulysse Nardin Maxi Marine Diver Chronograph 200m Steel Watch 8003-102Very Rare Vintage Citizen Chronograph Automatic Excellent Omega Seamaster Professional 300m Chronograph Electric Blue 18k Gold & TitaniumBreitling Navitimer Heritage Chronograph Watch 2008 With Bakelite CaseVintage 1970s Dugena Chronograph Valjoux 7734. Panda Dial. No Reserve!!!Uniform Wares 300 Series 302/rg 01 Chronograph Wrist WatchGallet Multichron Regulator Chronograph All Stainless Case Original Dial C.40'sVintage Heuer 18 Karat Gold Doctors Single Button Chronograph WristwatchNivada Grenchen Chronograph - Chronomaster, Aviator, Seadiver - Valjoux Cal 23Radiomir Rattrapante Panerai Pam-214 Automatic Split Second Chronograph Op6642Vintage Seiko Ufo Men's Chronograph Day Date Automatic Watch Ref 6138-0011Omega Speedmaster Chronograph Triple Calendar Stainless Steel Men's Wrist WatchMens Tag Heuer Carrera Day Date Automatic Chronograph Calibre 16 Watch Cv2a11Vintage Running Ed. Heuer Stainless 3-register Mens Chronograph For Restoration!Breitling Navitimer Patrulla Aguila Chronograph A30022 Rare 1000 Pcs Blue SpainVintage Swiss Ita Solid 18k Gold Manual Chronograph Men's WristwatchCartier Tank Francaise 2531 Elegant Ss Chronograph Quartz Men's Watch W/ DateRare Seiko Speedtimer Brown Bullhead Chronograph Men's Watch 6138-0040 (dec 1976Rare Vintage Seiko 6138-001 Ufo Chronograph Automatic ExcellentRare Vintage Seiko 6139-8020 Chronograph Automatic ExcellentEdox Grand Ocean Chronograph Big Date Men's Luxury Watch 10022-3-ainRare Longines Swissair Exclusive Limited Edition Automatic Chronograph 31 JewelsGlycine Chronograph Valjoux 72 Movement Rare Vintage Divers Watch No ReserveGents Tag Heuer F1 Chronograph. White Dial. New Movement/battery Just FittedChopard Mille Miglia Chronograph Watch Mens Seiko Sports Chronograph Watch Sndf87p1 - Mint Condition - No ReserveIwc Schaffhausen Pilot Chronograph Ref#iw3706 WristwatchLongines Conquest Heritage 18k Rose Gold Chronograph L1.641.8.72.4 Watch 38.5mmVintage 1976 Omega Speedmaster Chronograph Moon 145.022 76 Manual Winding WatchRare Vintage Seiko 6139-7080 Chronograph Automatic ExcellentOris Pro Diver Titanium Chronograph Black Dial 1000m/3281ft Diver Watch Rare Vintage Seiko 6138-8020 Panda Chronograph Automatic ExcellentWakmann Breitling Chronograph 3 Register 730 Valoux Watch (project) No ReserveRare 1940’s Vintage Globa Military Diver Style Chronograph Lapanouse Retro WatchVintage Gallet 60s Stainless Chronograph Men's Watch With Silver/turquoise BandVintage Heuer Autavia Stainless Steel Man's Chronograph Watch For Parts / RepairRare Vintage Seiko 6138-3002 Chronograph Automatic ExcellentVintage Seiko Quartz Chronograph Sports 100 WatchPatek Philippe Calatrava Chronograph Men's Platinum Watch 5960p50's Vintage Gallet Chronograph S/steel Oval Case & Excelsior Park 42 Caliber Vintage Chronograph Seiko 6139 Pepsi Pogue Classic 1970s Watch