Chronograph Meaning and Features

What Is a Chronograph?

A chronograph is a type of watch that combines a traditional watch face with stopwatch capabilities. They tell time like other watches but also track elapsed time. Simple chronograph watches may implement an additional second hand that is independently controlled by the wearer, while more advanced chronographs may have multiple sub-registers, or miniature faces, with hands that keep track of hours, minutes, or seconds.

Not to be confused with chronometers, chronographs have historically been a watch style preferred by men, but today's chronographs are perfect for all those who appreciate a little more functionality from their timepiece, regardless of gender.

What Is a Chronograph?

A chronograph is a type of watch that combines a traditional watch face with stopwatch capabilities. They tell time like other watches but also track elapsed time. Simple chronograph watches may implement an additional second hand that is independently controlled by the wearer, while more advanced chronographs may have multiple sub-registers, or miniature faces, with hands that keep track of hours, minutes, or seconds.

Not to be confused with chronometers, chronographs have historically been a watch style preferred by men, but today's chronographs are perfect for all those who appreciate a little more functionality from their timepiece, regardless of gender.

Chronograph Watches: A Brief History

The chronograph was a French invention. The first marketable chronograph came about in 1821 when King Louis XVIII requested his watchmaker to create a timepiece that could easily time horse races. This invention quickly revolutionized the timing of sporting events and boosted demand for the new timepiece.

Small changes were introduced over the years by different contributors. These included the addition of a convenient re-setting feature, a central seconds hand, a 30-minute counter, and two additional pushers at the two and four o four o'-clock positions. This three-pusher design has endured and is found in the majority of chronographs today.

Chronographs were extremely useful to early aviators, which lent to its rapid rise in popularity in the first part of the 20th century. It was at this time that fixed-bezel tachymeters became a popular chronograph feature. A tachymeter is a scale found on the rim, or bezel, of a watch that can be used to calculate speed or distance traveled. Rotating tachymeters were later introduced, allowing for even more complex measurements. Perhaps one of the most significant innovations to the chronograph was the introduction of the automatic chronograph in 1969 which eliminated the need to wind the watch. Chronographs haven't changed much since then, with the exception of cosmetic and style choices popularized by various brands.

Chronograph Watches: A Brief History

The chronograph was a French invention. The first marketable chronograph came about in 1821 when King Louis XVIII requested his watchmaker to create a timepiece that could easily time horse races. This invention quickly revolutionized the timing of sporting events and boosted demand for the new timepiece.

Small changes were introduced over the years by different contributors. These included the addition of a convenient re-setting feature, a central seconds hand, a 30-minute counter, and two additional pushers at the two and four o four o'-clock positions. This three-pusher design has endured and is found in the majority of chronographs today.

Chronographs were extremely useful to early aviators, which lent to its rapid rise in popularity in the first part of the 20th century. It was at this time that fixed-bezel tachymeters became a popular chronograph feature. A tachymeter is a scale found on the rim, or bezel, of a watch that can be used to calculate speed or distance traveled. Rotating tachymeters were later introduced, allowing for even more complex measurements. Perhaps one of the most significant innovations to the chronograph was the introduction of the automatic chronograph in 1969 which eliminated the need to wind the watch. Chronographs haven't changed much since then, with the exception of cosmetic and style choices popularized by various brands.

Chronograph Features

An infograph of a chronograph watch pointing to the parts of a chronograph watch  An infograph of a chronograph watch pointing to the parts of a chronograph watch

Styles of Chronograph Watches

A white fashion chronograph watch

Fashion Chronograph

A fashion chronograph is a watch that is meant to impress. These stylish accessories come in a variety of looks and materials that look great with a business or semi-formal outfit. A bold statement chronograph in gold, sterling silver, or titanium is sure to be an eye-catching choice, while a minimalist watch face with a rich leather band is an exercise in understated class. No matter the color or metal you choose, a fashion chronograph will be a valuable addition to your wrist and your wardrobe.

Casual Chronograph

A casual chronograph works just as well with your golf polo as it does with your work attire. This style of chronograph watch is meant for everyday wear and use. Both attractive and affordable, casual chronographs can be found in resilient metals such as stainless steel and focus more on function than fashion. If you're looking for a watch that is distinctly stylish, useful, and still has a variety of finishes to choose from, then a casual chronograph is the perfect fit.

A casual chronograph watch
A casual chronograph watch

Casual Chronograph

A casual chronograph works just as well with your golf polo as it does with your work attire. This style of chronograph watch is meant for everyday wear and use. Both attractive and affordable, casual chronographs can be found in resilient metals such as stainless steel and focus more on function than fashion. If you're looking for a watch that is distinctly stylish, useful, and still has a variety of finishes to choose from, then a casual chronograph is the perfect fit.

A red sport chronograph watch

Sport Chronograph

Sport chronographs are here for the athlete, the coach, and the mom or dad doing their best to stay in shape. As the name implies, sport chronographs are built to withstand the rigors of athletic training or an active lifestyle. Many of these are made from resins or plastics that contribute to the durability and versatility of the watch. Sport chronographs are more likely to be water-resistant or waterproof, making them popular with those involved in aquatic sports or outdoor exploration. An analog chronograph will have a more traditional look, but digital chronographs can be quicker and easier to use. If function trumps fashion when you're searching for a watch, then a sport chronograph is likely to have the features you crave.

How to Use a Chronograph Watch

It's much simpler than it may look to use a chronograph watch. Chronographs typically have an upper and lower pusher on the right side to control the stopwatch function. The upper pusher starts and stops the timer, while the lower pusher resets it. There should also be two or three sub-dials, also known as complications, on the face of your chronograph that keep track of seconds, minutes, and hours. Look to these complications for tracking longer periods of elapsed time. If your chronograph watch has a tachymeter, then you have the additional luxury of being able to measure speed and distance by referring to the measurements marked on the outer bezel.

How to Use a Chronograph Watch

It's much simpler than it may look to use a chronograph watch. Chronographs typically have an upper and lower pusher on the right side to control the stopwatch function. The upper pusher starts and stops the timer, while the lower pusher resets it. There should also be two or three sub-dials, also known as complications, on the face of your chronograph that keep track of seconds, minutes, and hours. Look to these complications for tracking longer periods of elapsed time. If your chronograph watch has a tachymeter, then you have the additional luxury of being able to measure speed and distance by referring to the measurements marked on the outer bezel.

Tips for Buying a Chronograph Watch

  • 1. Keep it simple.


    You want a chronograph that's easy to read and operate. Restrict your search to chronograph watches with dials and features you'll actually use – it's the quickest way to narrow down your options. However, if you're buying a chronograph strictly for its fashion appeal, then a more complicated or ornate watch might be just what you're looking for.
  • 2. Prioritize convenience.


    A chronograph with two or three pushers will allow you to use its stopwatch function the most easily. Other convenient features to look out for are water resistance, a luminous watch face or markings, and automatic winding. Quartz chronographs are typically more accurate and easier to maintain than their mechanical counterparts, but if your heart is truly set on a classic mechanical chronograph, you'll want to make sure it has some kind of power reserve built in.
  • 3. Love the look.


    This is the watch you'll be wearing daily, so you should love the design, feel, and function of your chronograph. There is no shortage of styles and finishes to choose from, so take your time browsing and get an idea of what features you want and what aesthetic appeals to you the most. Do this and you're sure to be happy with your new chronograph.

Tips for Buying a Chronograph Watch

  • 1. Keep it simple.


    You want a chronograph that's easy to read and operate. Restrict your search to chronograph watches with dials and features you'll actually use – it's the quickest way to narrow down your options. However, if you're buying a chronograph strictly for its fashion appeal, then a more complicated or ornate watch might be just what you're looking for.
  • 2. Prioritize convenience.


    A chronograph with two or three pushers will allow you to use its stopwatch function the most easily. Other convenient features to look out for are water resistance, a luminous watch face or markings, and automatic winding. Quartz chronographs are typically more accurate and easier to maintain than their mechanical counterparts, but if your heart is truly set on a classic mechanical chronograph, you'll want to make sure it has some kind of power reserve built in.
  • 3. Love the look.


    This is the watch you'll be wearing daily, so you should love the design, feel, and function of your chronograph. There is no shortage of styles and finishes to choose from, so take your time browsing and get an idea of what features you want and what aesthetic appeals to you the most. Do this and you're sure to be happy with your new chronograph.