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What is a Chronograph Watch and How Do You Use It? | Primer


You’ve in all probability owned one and will haven’t even realized it. We break down precisely what these dials in your watch are, find out how to use them, and the way Apollo astronauts used them to fly in house.

You’ve seen them: these little dials on a watch. What are they? What goal do they serve? 

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Earlier than I knew, I might see the sub-dials on a chronograph-style watch and assume: Exploration. Technical proficiency. Professionalism. 

Chronographs are downright evocative … they carry an indefinable sense of early plane and open-wheel V12 race vehicles. 

rolex chronograph watch

The query is, why are they so evocative? 

How – within the age of good watches – do chronographs proceed to talk to look at lovers world wide greater than 200 years after they had been first invented? 

Let’s uncover how chronographs work, what every of these little dials is for, and the stunning historical past that makes them so fashionable and practical. 

What’s a Chronograph?

If in case you have a watch with two to a few smaller dials on the face and a number of buttons extending from the case, you may assume you’re carrying a watch. The truth is, you’re carrying a chronograph.

“Chronograph” is a GRE phrase for a timer. Chronographs may be utilized as a stopwatch with out interfering with the timekeeping potential of the watch, they usually can do it on totally different time spans (like a minute, an hour, or a day – extra on that later). 

Chronographs Are A Sort Of “Complication”

In watch-speak, chronographs fall beneath the umbrella of problems – watches that carry out a couple of perform. 

Widespread problems embody date-keeping, alarms, and – after all – chronographs for preserving totally different intervals of time. 

Luxurious watches might add lunar phases and different, effectively, difficult stuff as thrives.

Taken collectively, the second hand and the sub-dials are a watch’s problems, and carry out the stopwatch perform that offers a chronograph its title.

The query is, the place did chronographs come from? And what can their historical past inform us about why – visually and functionally – they’ve turn into so fascinating?

The Wonderful Historical past Of Chronographs

Whereas the origins of chronographs stretch again to the 1800s, it was the daybreak of the aviation and car age that introduced chronographs to wider recognition.

Race automotive drivers used chronographs to time laps. Pilots used – and nonetheless use – chronographs to time their path over the bottom and decide airspeed, amongst different issues. For many years, the army has outfitted ship captains and submariners with chronographs to make use of in navigation. Chronographs are instruments for jobs that require measuring time, distance, and pace, just like how how divers use dive watches to trace time submerged.

The checklist of capabilities a navigator can carry out with a chronograph is outstanding, and feels rugged and self-reliant in an period of ubiquitous GPS: Rule-of-three and sq. root calculations, time, pace and distance calculations, gasoline consumption price, and switch price, to call a couple of.

Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert along with his chronograph previous to launch

The Most Well-known Chronograph Of All Time

Essentially the most superb story of chronographs in motion must be the ill-fated journey of Apollo 13 in 1970

With their onboard computer systems fried by an explosion, the astronauts used their chronographs to time an important booster burn and avert catastrophe. Upon their secure return, NASA awarded Omega their prestigious Silver Snoopy Award – given to NASA contractors and workers who make distinctive contributions to flight security. 

Astronaut Jim Lovell recounts the maneuver as written about in Forbes:

(It) was carried out with out our regular navigation tools. We used the earth as a backline. We may see the earth, we may see the daytime and darkness and that line in between we name it twilight or the terminator,” he stated. “We had a crosshair on the window of the lunar module so we may superimpose our crosshair on the earth’s terminator and that positioned the engine of our lunar module so we are able to make the right motion to get again into the correct course to make a secure touchdown again on earth.”

He continued, “We needed to burn the engine. Have it on just for a sure size of time: 14 seconds…. We used the (Omega) watch that Jack had on his wrist and I needed to management the spacecraft. Jack timed the burn on the engine to make that correction to get again house safely.”

How To Use A Chronograph

Chronographs might look difficult, however utilizing one is straightforward when you perceive how. 

Take this (very reasonably priced) Seiko SSB031 for instance: 


Miserable the higher button begins the timer perform.

The three problems – or sub-dials – activate as effectively, every preserving a unique time interval. The dial at 9 o’clock counts as much as 60 minutes. The dial at 6 o’clock counts seconds. The dial at Three o’clock counts as much as 24 hours. 

It’s price noting – on this chronograph (and any “actual” chronograph) the purple “second” hand isn’t for seconds. It’s the timer hand that you simply use for exact, second-by-second timing.

Depress the decrease button to snap the purple hand again to 12 o’clock, so you possibly can restart the timing perform whereas the sub-dials proceed to depend elapsed time. 

Nifty, huh? 

Remember that each chronograph might function somewhat otherwise or measure totally different models of time, however normally two push-buttons begin, cease, and reset the timing perform.

How one can Use a Tachymeter on a Watch

One characteristic of many chronographs you will have observed is the outermost ring on the bezel, known as a tachymeter. 

The tachymeter is a scale used to measure pace, distance, or each. Plus, it simply appears professional. 

How one can Measure Pace with a Watch Tachymeter

To measure pace with a tachymeter, that you must know the space you’re touring. 

Think about you’re in a automotive driving down the freeway and the speedometer fails, however freeway patrol is on the prowl and also you need to keep away from a dashing ticket. 

Be aware of the mile markers and the moment you move by one, press the beginning button in your chronograph. Once you move the following mile marker, press the cease button and be aware the quantity the timer hand is pointing to. 

how to use a tachymeter to measure speedhow to use a tachymeter to measure speed

If the timer hand has traveled one full revolution again to 12 o’clock it needs to be pointing to the “60” on the tachymeter, indicating you’re touring at 60 mph. If it is pointing to “80” on the 9 o’clock place, you’re doing a cool 80 mph and higher be aware of the freeway patrol. 

Notice that this perform works for each miles per hour and kilometers per hour – so long as your unit of distance, the tachymeter will let you know the speed of pace traveled.  

How one can Measure Distance with a Watch Tachymeter

You may measure distance with a tachymeter by urgent the beginning hand whenever you attain a relentless, recognized price of pace. When the timer hand reaches the quantity representing your pace on the tachymeter bezel, you’ve traveled one mile (or one kilometer, in the event you’re doing km/h) 

For instance, think about you’re driving at a relentless, recognized pace of 70 miles per hour. You move a recognized landmark and know that you must journey precisely 1 extra mile earlier than your turnoff. Press begin in your chronograph and be aware when the timing hand passes “70” since you’ve simply gone one mile.

Do You Want A Chronograph? 

When you’re not a racecar driver, horse coach, or pilot, why may you need such capabilities?

At any level in your day that you must mark time, a chronograph is useful. From resetting your wi-fi router to getting your peak coronary heart price to boiling pasta, it’s a useful gizmo to have in your wrist. Although, you seemingly have digital instruments already at hand that may carry out these frequent capabilities, additionally.

From a method perspective they evoke a legacy of discovery, pace, and technical achievement, and the visible complexity and timeless design that give chronographs their enduring attraction.

And, after all, you’ll have a cause to step ahead and say, “I can time that for you.”

When you’re not into the airplane instrument aesthetic, fortunately, digital watches have turn into modern for the primary time since…ever.

Greatest Chronograph Watch Picks

From Deal To Designer 

1. Seiko SSB031

Amazon, $138

The Seiko SSB031 is watch weblog well-known for being a feature-packed chronograph that appears and works like a premium watch at an eye catching worth. You could need to substitute the cheaper strap that comes customary.  On the lookout for a good-looking and top quality strap is straightforward with our Complete Information to Watch Straps.

2. Citizen AT0200-05E Eco-Drive

Amazon, $220

Styled with a rugged, discipline watch band however nonetheless a completely functioning chronograph, the clunkily named AT0200-05E is an Eco-Drive – that means it’s photo voltaic powered so that you’ll by no means have to exchange the battery.  There’s a cause Citizen earned its place in our greatest watch manufacturers by worth information.

3. Timex Fairfield Chrono

Amazon, $129


Not each event calls for a chunky, racy chronograph, and this dressier choice is an ideal instance. With a barely mod, vintage-inspired design the Timex Fairfield is a superb entry-level gown chrono.  

4. Tag Heuer Monaco

Amazon, $3,899.82 / Jomashop, $3,675

Intently linked with its most well-known wearer Steve McQueen (who raced at Monaco), the sq. case and two subdials are as iconic now as they had been within the 1960s. 

Learn Time Will Inform: What 6 Watches Talk About Film and TV Characters

5. Omega Speedmaster

Amazon, $4,113

Photograph Supply

Arguably THE chronograph, the Speedmaster is the very watch that saved the Apollo 13 astronauts throughout their mission important engine burn to get again to earth. 

After all, it is going to set you again the price of a half-decent used automotive, however hey – you worth precision and heritage, proper? 

What’s your prime chronograph choose? Tell us within the feedback beneath!

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