What is a chronograph watch?

At Techzle, the chronograph is the most popular type of men’s watch, next to diving watches and smartwatches. But what exactly is a chronograph and how does it work? In short, a chronograph watch is a watch with a stopwatch function. But you can do much more with it. We explain it exactly in this blog.

When is a chronograph watch useful?

The first chronograph available to the general public was a pocket watch designed to time horse races. At the beginning of the 20th century, the chronograph function was added to wristwatches to enable drivers and pilots, among other things, to time themselves and each other. Astronauts also used the chronograph function in the 1960s.

But the function is also useful if you do not use a chronograph professionally; Runners can measure how long it takes them to cover a certain distance. For racing fans and swimmers, a chronograph is useful for recording split times. And the chronograph has even more functional applications; For example, they are also used for heart rate measurements by doctors (pulse meter) and divers use a chronograph to time actions during a dive.

Hamilton Khaki H77616533 pilot's chronograph
▴ Hamilton Khaki H77616533 pilot’s chronograph

Seiko Prospex PADI SSC795J1 solar diving chronograph
▴ Seiko Prospex PADI SSC795J1 solar diving chronograph

In this blog we only discuss the ‘traditional’ analogue chronograph. If you want to take very detailed time measurements and save measurements, it is advisable to choose a digital chronograph with memory, such as a laptimer or Bluetooth connected watch.

Casio Collection LW-203-8AVEF sports watch with lap timer
▴ Casio Collection LW-203-8AVEF sports watch with lap timer

G-Shock GBD-100SM-4A1ER Bluetooth Connected sports watch
▴ G-Shock GBD-100SM-4A1ER Bluetooth Connected sports watch

How does a chronograph work?

Using a chronograph is very simple. You just need to press the top start/stop button on the side of the watch to start or stop the timekeeping. The bottom button on the side of the watch resets the stopwatch and returns it to zero, ready for the next measurement.

start chronograph
▴ starts

reset chronograph
▴ Reset to zero

How do you read the time on a chronograph?

A chronograph works just like all other watches with an hour, minute and second hand.

Most watches with a chronograph function also have three sub-dials (also referred to as ‘subdials’) containing a second hand, minute hand and hour hand that separately indicate the elapsed time.

There are also chronographs with an extra seconds hand that stops at 12 o’clock. In this case, the long second hand measures whole seconds. This second hand is activated when the stopwatch is started.

Maserati Sfida R8873640012 chronograph with 3 subdials
▴ Maserati Sfida R8873640012 chronograph with 3 subdials

Seiko Prospex SSC703P1 chronograph with central seconds hand
▴ Seiko Prospex SSC703P1 chronograph with central seconds hand

Are there other types of chronograph watches?

In addition to the ‘normal’ chronograph, there are three other variants of this type of timepiece:

  1. The flyback chronograph; Originally designed for military pilots to save time, the flyback mechanism allows the timer to be started and restarted with a single press of a button.
  2. The ‘jumping seconds’ chronograph is a hand that can stop at fractions of a second (quarter, one-fifth, one-eighth, and tenths of a second) to measure extremely precise time.
  3. The split-second or double chronograph: these are intended to measure time averages by using a second second hand, which rotates together with the first second hand. When the button is pressed, the second second hand stops while the first second hand continues to run. When the time has been noted, pressing a button causes the stopped hand to automatically ‘catch up’ with the other hand. This function is especially useful for recording split times or lap times.

Casio Edifice Flyback Chronograph EQB-1100D-1AER
▴ Casio Edifice Flyback chronograph EQB-1100D-1AER

Citizen AV0070-57L Promaster Tsuno Flyback Chronograph Racer
▴ Citizen AV0070-57L Promaster Tsuno Flyback Chronograph Racer

A jumping seconds or split seconds chronograph is rare and can generally be found in the top segment of Swiss watches.

Measure distance and speed using a tachymeter scale

So using a chronograph is quite simple. Basically it is just a stopwatch, but in combination with the tachymeter ring that is printed on the bezel of the watch in many chronographs, your chronograph becomes an instrument with which you can measure distance and speed.

Before the cockpit was full of digital gadgets, the tachymeter was widely used by pilots, for example to check how much fuel they had left for the distance traveled. Soldiers used a tachymeter to calculate how far they were from enemy guns. That’s why you often find a tachymeter scale on pilot watches and military watches.

BN4049-11E - Citizen - Promaster Altichron professional pilot's watch with tachymeter and compass ring
▴ Citizen Promaster Altichron BN4049-11E professional pilot’s watch with tachymeter and compass ring

241826 - Victorinox Swiss Army – Alliance military watch with tachymeter
▴ Victorinox Swiss Army 241826 Alliance military chrono with tachymeter

Using the tachymeter to measure speed

The speed can be calculated by the formula T = 3600/t where ‘T’ is the number on the tachymeter, 3600 is the number of seconds per hour and ‘t’ is the time in seconds measured by the chronograph. Once you measure the time it takes you to travel one kilometer and divide 3600 by this number, the corresponding number on the tachymeter will show the speed you are traveling in kilometers per hour.

To measure the average speed of an “object” such as a passing cyclist using a tachymeter, you need to know the set distance between two points. Suppose you are standing along the road and know that the distance between two lampposts is 500 meters (0.5 km). As soon as the bike passes post 1, press the start button. When the bike passes post 2, stop the chronograph.

When the second hand on the tachymeter scale shows 80, this means that the cyclist has traveled an average of 40 km per hour.

tachymeter scale
▴ 80 x 0.5 km = 40 km/hour

tachymeter scale
▴ 1 km driven at 100 km/h

Using the tachymeter to measure distance

To measure distance traveled, you first need to know the cruising speed and it must remain constant. When you drive on the highway at a constant speed of 100 kilometers per hour, you start the second hand of the chronograph. When the second hand shows 100 on the tachymeter scale, you have traveled 1 kilometer.

With the chronograph you can also measure, for example, how far lightning is away from you. Start the chronograph when you see the flash of light and stop it when you hear the bang. Sound travels about one kilometer every three seconds. So, if you want to know how far you are from lightning, divide the number of seconds measured by 3.

There are many more calculations you can perform using a tachymeter scale. More about that in a next blog.

Chronograph or chronometer watch?

The terms chronograph and chronometer are often confused with each other. A chronograph is a watch with a stopwatch function. A chronometer is a very precise analog watch with an inspection certificate issued by the COSC (Official Swiss Testing Institute). With this certification, the organization declares that the timepiece meets a series of extremely strict requirements, after a series of 7 technical tests carried out in a laboratory.

A chronograph can therefore be a chronometer, but a chronometer is not always a chronograph.

In Certina’s watch collection you will find several chronometer chronographs for women and men.

Certina Urban C0332342208800 DS-8 Chronometer chronograph for women
▴ Certina Urban C0332342208800 DS-8 Chronometer chronograph for women

T1084081105800 - Tissot – Ballade Chronometer watch
▴ Tissot Ballade T1084081105800 Chronometer watch

Which chronograph suits me?

Many gentlemen choose a chronograph because of the unique appearance of this type of watch. Sporty or very classic. Wearing comfort and size also play a role in the choice.

If you really want to use the chronograph for time measurements, it is important that you determine in advance which specifications the watch must meet. For example, pay attention to the maximum time to be measured. Most traditional chronographs measure up to 24 hours, 60 minutes and 60 seconds. Also check whether you can easily read the subdials and how easy the push buttons are to use.

Other useful features include luminous markers so you can read the watch in the dark, water and shock resistance if you’ll be using the chronograph underwater or outdoors, and a tachymeter if you plan to measure distances and speeds.

On our chronographs page you will find all chronographs in our range. Need help choosing? Our store employees are always ready to help you. If you choose a few watches in advance and indicate in your order that you will collect them, we will keep the products separate for you and you can view and compare them at your leisure.

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