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Chronograph Watches – The History

Copyright (c) 2011 Joe Maldonado

Mechanical watches have been around the corner for a very long period of time. In fact, they have a long history. During the past, the mechanical watches were meant only for keeping them in pockets and they were occasionally pulled out for getting a glance of the time. Initially, these watches were capable of keeping only the time. There were no additional functions available.

The chronograph idea was born in the 18th century and the 19th century but they were separate from the watches. However, the idea of mixing a watch with a chronograph mechanism was first introduced in Marie Antoinette watch – the Breguet. However, at that time, the limited technology did not allow to actually build a watch with chronograph mechanism. The huge complications were actually overcome 34 years after the death of Marie Antoinette. It is because of this reason, the first ever chronograph watch was not just a chronograph watch – it was looked upon as an exceptional individual which was way beyond the abilities of any normal watch in the market.

The chronographs actually took off to the peak of popularity when they were added up to the wrist watches. The working mechanism was in three steps. A button was placed next to the crown. When the button was pressed for the first time, the chronograph timing would start. On the next press, the timing would stop and the third press would mean reset. However, this design had a serious flaw of accuracy. It is because of this, the idea of a second dial was introduced. It was inserted at the position of 9 o’ clock. Then came the concept of the function of split second. It was the next major function to be introduced after the introduction of the second dial. A rattrapante chronograph or a simply a chronograph with a function for split second has an additional hand for second which allows it to time two separate events at a time. The mechanism is as follows – “when the chronograph is started in a normal way, pressing the rattrapante button will make the two second hands separate and this stops one hand and the other second hand continues to move normally.”

Over time more and more developments were introduced. An hour dial was introduced for measuring higher time frames (generally sessions of 12 hours). Chronographs have come up with more complex functions like measuring sound speed, calculating speed, taking pulse accurately and more.

The chronographs have found extreme use in aviation industry and military needs. Military requirements actually led to the development of the flyback chronograph where the people can easily set the timer without compromising the actual timing. This gives precision which is required mostly in military exercises as well as aviation.

1969 was the year when the Automatic chronograph appeared. It was so complex that there was no single brand which could develop the automatic chronograph. It was because of this the rival watchmaker brands had to come together and form a conglomerate which together established the job. The conglomerate was formed between Breitling, Heuer-Leonidas, Hamilton-Buren and Dubois-Depraz.

Chronographs have now become increasingly popular and they can be found in watches of many leading brands in the market like the Rolex, Omega, Daytona and more.

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