What Is a Chronograph, and Why Do You Need One?

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A much-misunderstood feature, chronographs are one of the countless Swiss watchmaking innovations that can now be found in watches all over the world. Plenty of people have them, but many don’t even know that their humble wristwatch contains a chronograph, let alone what to use it for. In this article, we’ll explain a little about the history of chronographs, as well as the enormous benefits they can bring to your daily life.

So Just What is a Chronograph?

In short, a chronograph is a watch with a built-in stopwatch, that comes in the form of an extra second hand that you can activate with a button. The name “chronograph” literally means “time writer” in Greek. Why writer? Very early chronographs, invented in 1815 by Louis Moinet, used a tiny pen attached to the index to mark how much time had elapsed. They were originally intended just for use in making astronomical readings. A couple of years later, Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec- a favorite of King Louis XVII of France- realized their commercial potential, and produced the first chronograph watch.


A Sporting Invention

Chronographs caught on mainly because of their enormous potential in the world of sport. King Louis was crazy about horseracing, and Rieussec’s chronometer allowed him to precisely time how fast his horses were. Before this point, racing was all about which horse broke through the finishing tape first. Now, though, it was possible to record their exact times, and hence the idea of “world records” was born. Any kind of race could now be timed, and without the chronograph, events like the Olympics just wouldn’t be the same.

In the twentieth century, chronographs found a whole new purpose in the world of aviation, since they allowed for very precise time measurements to be made accurately. What’s more, they were also crucial to naval navigation at this time, especially in submarines. One particularly notable time that chronographs helped save lives was in the Apollo 13 shuttle, where astronauts used their Omega Speedmasters to carefully time an engine burn vital for their survival. When all other technology has failed, chronographs keep on working, and that’s one of the main reasons they remain popular today.

Put Your Chronograph to Good Use Today

How many times in your daily life do you need to time something? From keeping track of how much you have to pay at the parking meter, to cooking food, to sticking to that 30-minute run you’ve promised yourself you’ll do, there are so many different ways that a chronograph can enhance your life, and make things a little easier for you. Want to try out a new commute route? A chronograph will help you work out whether it’s worth your time. It’s true that most phones have a stopwatch built-in, but have you ever actually used it? The truth is, a chronograph is much easier to use- all you have to do is press the button, and you’re all set.


There are plenty of more professional uses for chronographs, too. Professionals who charge by the hour, such as lawyers and consultants, can easily keep track of how long they have been at work on a task, so that they can give their clients an accurate bill, and ensure that they are paid what they are due.

The great thing about chronographs is that they come fitted in all manner of watches. Whether you want a chronograph that will work underwater to help you keep track of time on a diving expedition, or just a watch that will look great on your wrist while also having an additional, practical use, chronographs are a great choice for everyone.

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