Digitized systems have effectively made the mechanical chronograph outdated, but their connections with sports, motor racing, aircraft, and other thrilling aspects of life are partly the reason we adore chronographs. The other factor is that they are sophisticated pieces of machinery with hundreds of small elements that must work in perfect synchrony. As a result, they are often expensive and difficult to get. However, if you enjoy collecting timepieces, the complication is a must-have.
In 1816, Louis Moinet produced what is thought to be the first chronograph, a pocket watch with a single pusher. It was only in 2013 that it was revealed to be the first chronograph ever manufactured. Today, chronographs are rarely talked about, but they are ubiquitous among brands. To illustrate, here are a few of the best chronograph timepieces created by the world’s greatest companies.
1. Blancpain Air Command
The Blancpain Air Command is one of the twenty-first century’s most popular items. It’s an idealistic choice, and its mixture of history, looks, and the high degree of design, technical execution, and refinement makes the Blancpain tempting and unique. The Air Command, inspired by a pilot watch from the 1950s, is a modern reworking of a midcentury masterwork performed to perfection. This Blancpain watch has a starting price of $19,800.
2. IWC Pilot’s Chronograph Spitfire
The IWC Pilot’s Chronograph is a positive feature to the brand’s aviation range, as it is evocative of both IWC’s renowned Mark series pilot’s watches and a series of chronographs manufactured during the 1990s. The dial features the distinctive Fliger style of its forefathers, as well as a hearty scattering of lume on the numerals and hands. The IWC 69380 automatic movement with a column wheel for smooth chronograph articulation powers the timepiece. A soft-iron inner case protects it from magnets, evoking the famous Mark XI pilot’s wristwatch. The Pilot’s Chronograph Spitfire price is $5,950.
3. Farer Chronograph Sport
Farer has a delightfully vivid design sense that has never lasted longer than on its conventional collection of mechanical chronograph timepieces. Available in three distinct versions, each with its distinct personality but sharing the same basic specifications. The movement within is a manually wound Swiss caliber, which allows for a thinner case than an automatic model. It provides a variety of solid specifications and characteristics at a good price, as well as the different character of an aficionado independent company. The Farer Chronograph Sport watch price starts at $1,955.
4. Yema Speedgraf
The French brand Yema’s Speedgraf delivers an appealing package with its reverse-panda dial, vintage-inspired appearance, 39 mm size, and good features. Furthermore, it has an unusual Seiko movement that isn’t found in many watches other than those made by the Japanese company. It even has the vertical clutch and column wheel that purists prefer. On top of that, subtle details like a box-style domed sapphire crystal and applied indices add a polished touch. The Yema Speedgraf starting price is $1,499.
5. Longines Avigation Big Eye
The Longines Avigation earned the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie’s Best Revival prize in 2017, albeit it’s uncertain what timepiece was being resurrected. It relies entirely on a vintage Longines presented to the company by a collector, and it bears striking similarities to the Type 20 flight chronograph configuration. This was requested by the French government in the 1950s. In any case, it bears all the features of a traditional aviation watch, most noticeably the huge big eye sub-dial for the running seconds and the super-legible Arabic numerals. A column-wheel automatic chronograph built on an ETA design runs within the timepiece. The Avigation Big Eye price is $2,625.
6. Sinn 103
Helmut Sinn’s namesake watch company began by servicing Heuer chronographs for the German Air Force and manufacturing aviation chronographs. The Sinn 103 is a devout follower of that illustrious lineage. Sinn’s timepieces are usually crammed with insane overengineering, but this watch is surprisingly plain. It has an old-school acrylic dial, a simple display with large, lumed Arabic numerals, and a revolving countdown bezel. The Sinn 103 price starts at $1,890.
7. Seagull 1963
You would be unlikely to have a mechanical chronograph for less than the Seagull 1963, and you’re even less capable of finding one with the same kind of heritage. The Seagull 1963 is made by China’s largest watch manufacturer and features the Seagull ST19 movement, which was initially designed in the early 1960s for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force as a reproduction of the Venus 175 movement for use in their pilot’s chronograph. The price of this watch is as budget-friendly as $379.
8. TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 16
Heuer chronographs are among the most well-known clocks in motorsport. And, while the Carrera from 1963 had a neater design with a somewhat trendier allure, it was still a seminal racer’s timepiece. TAG gave the Carrera a considerably more blatantly racing-inspired facelift 55 years later, with a high-contrast dial brimming with colorful highlights and a tachymeter bezel. The TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 16 starting price is $4,450.
9. Tudor Heritage Chrono
The Heritage Chrono is an old classic in the Tudor range, but it is adored because it’s a great reproduction of the famous but short-lived Tudor Monte-Carlo chronograph from the early 1970s. It was favored with Porsche racers of the time. The black trapezoids that encircle the sub-dials and orange highlights are striking nods to an extremely strong period in motorsport. The price of Tudor Heritage Chrono starts at $4,525.
10. TAG Heuer Monaco Caliber 11
Monaco is another Heuer chronograph that will be eternally associated with motor racing, due to an appearance on Steve McQueen’s wrist in Le Mans. It was a daringly built vehicle for the Caliber 11, one of the earliest automatic chronographs ever manufactured, and the current incarnation even resurrects the initial movement’s unusual architecture. The TAG Heuer Monaco Caliber 11 price is $5,900.
Unlike dive watches, no one requirement distinguishes an “aviation” or motoring chronograph. However, there are a few common design aspects that have appeared on the timepieces described previously. Also, because one of the chronograph’s original applications was timing horse races, the complexity evolved naturally when horses give rise to horsepower. Early events were generally timed by stopwatches affixed to car dashboards, but as the intricacy shrank, they were more frequently seen on wrists, particularly during the F1 and durability racing era.