BQ Glossary - Chronograph Watches

If you’re learning about luxury watches, there are many terms, definitions, and features to understand. It can be a bit intimidating for the uninitiated. One term you may have heard before is ‘chronograph.’

But what is a chronograph watch? How does a chronograph work? You can find all the answers in the BQ Glossary. Today’s lesson is chronograph watches. Let’s dive in!

What Is a Chronograph Watch?

A chronograph watch is a watch that contains a chronograph complication. A complication is simply a mechanical function that the watch performs, in addition to keeping time. Other examples of common complications include day and date displays, such as those found on a Rolex Day-Date.

So, what does a chronograph do? Essentially, a chronograph is able to time short events while also keeping the time of day. Chronograph means ‘time writer’ when translated literally. In the past, chronographs were devices that recorded elapsed time with a pen that was held in place against moving paper. Thus tracking time by ‘writing’ it. 

Luxury watches, of course, can’t incorporate pen and paper, as impressive as some complications can be. Instead, a chronograph will have sub-dials on the main dial that show the elapsed time. Due to this distinction, some brands have switched to calling it a chronoscope. Regardless of the name, it’s still an interesting complication and a desirable one to have in your timepiece.

So, how exactly does this complication work?

OMEGA SEAMASTER 212.30.44.50.01.001
IWC PORTUGIESER PERPETUAL CALENDAR IW503404

How Does a Chronograph Complication Work?

The magic of how a chronograph complication works lies in how it’s able to track elapsed time while the watch itself continues to keep regular time. In order to start a chronograph, the watch will have a start/stop button. This start/button will engage the chronograph mechanism. Depending on how the watch manufacturer made the timepiece, the gearing for the chronograph will either move the primary timekeeping mechanism vertically or horizontally.

Furthermore, the chronograph gearing will either utilise a column wheel or a system of cams and levers. In the column wheel orientation, the wheel will rise on one side and engage the chronograph mechanism. The cam and lever orientation will control the chronograph with the heart-shaped cam.

Chronographs, put simply, act as stopwatches. You can measure seconds, minutes, and hours depending on the sub-dial.

How Do You Reset a Chronograph?

While it may be complicated to design a chronograph, actually using one is as simple as can be. To start or stop the chronograph, you use the start/stop button. If you want to zero out the chronograph, there is a separate button for resetting.

All of those complicated gearing mechanisms are working behind the scenes, but all you need to do is push the right buttons. It is good to keep in mind that you don’t want your chronographs to continually run, as it puts strain on your watch. Make sure to click the stop button after using your chronograph complication.

ROLEX DAYTONA 116503

Quintessential Examples

Now that you know what you can expect from a chronograph watch, you may want to add one to your collection. Of course, there are plenty of choices available. Let’s take a look at some popular watch models that have chronographs.

Omega Speedmaster

Omega is one of the best and most popular luxury watch brands. Out of all their offerings, the Speedmaster might be the fan-favourite. In addition to being a precise, beautiful timepiece, it also has the distinction of being the first watch to be worn on the Moon.

If you’re wanting a great all-around watch, that also comes with a chronograph feature, you certainly can’t go wrong with a classic Speedmaster.

ROLEX DAYTONA 116503

Rolex Daytona

Rolex is the most popular luxury watch brand in the world – for good reason. Each watch they release is a winner and the Rolex Daytona is no exception. Introduced in 1956 and named for the Daytona International Speedway in Florida, this watch combines sporty style with finesse and unique complications.

While chronographs are one of the great complications you get with a Daytona, you also get the tachymeter bezel that can measure average speed for racers zooming along the raceways. Plus, the watch looks great for just about any occasion. If you prefer a sportier watch, make sure to add this one to your collection.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore

Audemars Piguet is another well-respected luxury watch brand that makes some of the finest timepieces in the world. While the Royal Oak is undoubtedly their most popular wristwatch, make sure you don’t overlook the underrated Royal Oak Offshore.

The Royal Oak Offshore is a bit bigger than its cousin, with a 42mm case instead of a 41mm case. The Offshore also switches up the location of its chronograph sub-dials. While the Royal Oak Chronograph has sub-dials at the 3, 6, and 9-hour markers, the Offshore places them at the 6, 9, and 12. While it’s a subtle difference, it does give the watch face a distinct look. Of course, both the Royal Oak and the Royal Oak Offshore are great choices, so you can rest assured that you’re getting a fantastic timepiece either way.

AUDEMARS PIGUET ROYAL OAK OFFSHORE 26480TI.OO.A027CA.01
TUDOR BLACK BAY CHRONOGRAPH 79360N

Tudor Black Bay Chronograph

The Tudor Black Bay Chronograph is one of the newer watch models on this list. The Black Bay was released back in 2012, so this model is just now celebrating ten years of production. Still, the diving watch became a fast favourite, and it comes highly recommended by watch enthusiasts to this day.

If you want a chronograph along with some impressive water resistance, the Tudor Black Bay Chronograph might be the right choice for you. Later models have an in-house movement from Tudor, so make sure to look into those specs when shopping if that’s important to you.

Browse Our Collection of Luxury Watches

If you’re looking for an incredible selection of pre-owned chronograph watches, there’s no better place to go than BQ Watches. We have chronograph watches from every popular luxury brand that carries them.

If you have something particular in mind, make sure to ask about our sourcing services. We’d be happy to help you find your perfect watch. Once you know which of our services you need, simply fill out our contact form below. A member of our team will be in touch shortly.