Chronographs are the badasses of the watch world. They are instantly recognizable, scream sophistication, and add functionality to a watch — even if you never use it. But, if you’re unfamiliar with what a chronograph is and how to use one, we’re here to turn up the dials on your watch know-how. So let’s first answer the question, “What is a chronograph watch?”

What is a Chronograph?

“Chronograph” literally translates as “time writer,” but it essentially means a stopwatch. The first chronographs used a pen to mark the time elapsed, but modern ones combine a stopwatch and standard display watch.

What are Chronograph Watches Used For?

The first chronograph was invented in the early 17th century by Louis Moinet, which he used for tracking astronomical movements. King Louis XVIII commissioned a chronograph in 1821 to measure the length of horse races. However, it wasn’t until the 1930’s that Breitling introduced the classic “three-pusher style”, and the modern chronograph was born.

Some common uses of chronograph watches today include precision timekeeping and speed or distance computations. Pilots commonly wear chronographs, as it offers them a way to make speed and distance calculations on the, ahem, fly, while healthcare workers use them to measure patient heartbeats.

While it might not be as noble an endeavor as flying or treating someone in the hospital, you can also use your chronograph watch to keep track of how long your pizza has been cooking.

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How Do Chronograph Watches Work?

Chronographs use specific mechanics to operate. Because they are analog timers, a chronograph watch’s movement is more complicated than a standard display watch.

Chronograph watches use three train wheels to measure seconds, minutes, and hours (the three standard chronograph measurements). The top pusher is usually the “start” and “stop” button, and the bottom pusher resets the timer.

Chronograph Watches vs. Automatic Movement

While some automatic watches are chronographs, not all chronographs are automatic. A chronograph references the functional dials on the watch, which can use automatic OR quartz movements, with the watch’s primary movement is automatic.

Chronographs Watches and Quartz Movement

When a chronograph has quartz movement, its mechanics are battery-powered, not self-winding. Watch purists may prefer a mechanical movement, but the increased complexity of an automatic chronograph leads to a higher price tag, which steers many people into chronographs that are quartz watches.

How to Use a Chronograph Watch

Using a chronograph watch is extremely easy. Anyone who has ever used a mechanical stopwatch has all the skills needed to work chronograph watches.

As we discussed earlier, the top pusher is the “start/stop” button, and the bottom pusher is the “reset” button. You push the top pusher to start your timer and again when you wish to stop it. To reset the stopwatch to zero, press the bottom pusher.

What is the Difference Between Chronometer and Chronograph?

These terms are sometimes (incorrectly) used interchangeably, but a chronometer and chronograph are two different things. A chronometer is a designation given to a watch that has passed a series of tests run by the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute. If a watch meets OSCTI accuracy standards over 15 days, it is awarded chronometer certification.

Do You Need a Chronograph Watch?

With modern technology like computers and smartphones, it’s probably safe to say you don’t need a chronograph. Now, whether you’re justified in wanting a chronograph is another story. You absolutely should have a chronograph watch in your rotation.

They are stylish and functional with a look that says, “I am a watch enthusiast.” Chronographs work well for an everyday watch but can also hold their own in a formal setting— they look just at home with a t-shirt and jeans as they do with a suit and tie.

Chronograph Watches in Conclusion

Whether you’re looking for your first watch or adding one to your collection, a chronograph watch is always a solid choice. Now that you know the history and details of this iconic style, you are well equipped to educate others when they complement you on your new chronograph.