The A-Z of Watches: C is for... Chronograph

By Jessica Diamond

O ne of the most requested and commonplace complications, the chronograph is a stop watch function able to record a duration of time, most frequently associated with sporting events. Operated with push buttons on the side of the watch case, and displayed in smaller sub-dial(s), an additional tachymeter scale on the bezel also allows the ability to calculate speed.

Rolex, Daytona Paul Newman, Reference 6262 Stainless Steel Chronograph Wristwatch with Bracelet circa 1970. Sold for £200,000.

The chronograph was invented in 1816, but only became part of the modern watch landscape in the late 1960s when Hamilton, Breitling, Heuer, Zenith and Seiko raced to create the first automatic chronograph. In 1969 Seiko also released the first quartz watch, throwing the traditional mechanical watch industry into crisis.

Seiko, Stainless-Steel Automatic Chronograph Dual Time Wristwatch with Date, 24 Hours Indication, Registers and Bracelet, circa 2010, Grand Seiko Spring Drive. Sold for HK$37,500.

But a near-catastrophe on board the Apollo 13 space shuttle in 1970 would prove pivotal. An explosion on 15 April 1970, less than 1 hour after the shuttle launched, would irreparably damage the spacecraft’s computers – the 3 astronauts could no longer depend on their electronic, digital equipment to re-time their entry.

Omega, Speedmaster, Reference 2998-6 Stainless Steel Chronograph Wristwatch, Made in 1962. Lot sold for £21,250.

But equipped with mechanical chronographs – the Omega Speedmaster – gifted to the three astronauts by President Eisenhower, they were able to calculate the duration of critical engine burn needed to return safely to earth. The mechanical chronograph’s place in history (and popularity) would be forever-more assured.

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