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What is a Chronograph Watch is Just That Simple!

April 26, 2022 6 min read

What is a Chronograph Watch?  By Strapcode watch bands

People love chronograph watches, but most of these people do not know why they are named "chronographs," who invented them, or even how it works. This article will achieve all these and more for you if you are one of such people.

So, without further ado, let's talk about chronographs and what they are.


What is chronograph?

What are the three dials on a chronograph watch?

Chronograph watch diagram : Hour minute, second hands and its' sub dials

"Chronograph," meaning time recorder, is a function of wristwatches. The chronograph watch is just a glorified stopwatch that people wear on their wrists. If you own one, you will be able to time things and play with the timer. Maybe that's why chronographs are greatly loved.

As much as it is a stopwatch, it also functions as a proper wristwatch - telling time and date.

Chronographs were invented in 1816 by a French watchmaker, Louis Moinet, when they were incorporated as part of an astronomical stopwatch, then adapted to wear on the wrist during the 20th century. The adaptation came with notable milestones.

French watchmaker Louis Moinet first Chronograph at 1816 French watchmaker Louis Moinet first Chronograph at 1816, image credit : lacotedesmontres.com


How to use a chronograph watch?

Chronographs work just as regular wrist watches work, and the only difference is that the second-hand works independently of the timekeeping function. This means that if the second hand can be started, stopped, and reset, then it is a chronograph, and operating it is pretty simple.

It has two push-pieces located on the right side of the watch: one at 2 o'clock for stopping and starting and another at 4 o'clock to reset the function.

Two push buttons : 2 o'clock for stopping / starting, and 4 o'clock for reset Two push buttons : 2 o'clock for stopping / starting, and 4 o'clock for reset

The central second-hand displays the number of elapsed and fractional seconds in the timing function. As the name suggests, a small-second dial displays the "normal" seconds with a small second hand; be sure to stop the chronograph function whenever you aren't using the stopwatch.


Difference between chronograph watches and regular watches

The main difference between a chronograph watch and a regular watch is that the chronograph refers to the function of a watch.

Chronograph watches, just like standard watches, have two moving hands which indicate the current time and possibly other elements of that time such as the year, month, calendar date, day, and second.


What are the three dials on a chronograph watch?

Chronograph drawing define hands by Strapcode watch bandsChronograph watch diagram : Hour minute, second hands and its' sub dials

The three dials of the chronograph watch are a second dial or subdial for displaying the time elapsed, a minute dial, and an hour dial.

As you can already tell, the minute and hour dial tells the minute and hour of the day while the second dial tells the second and can also work as the stopwatch. As opposed to other watches, the second dial works independently of the minute and hour dial.


How to set a chronograph watch

As earlier stated, the chronograph is a watch that is easy to use but of course, a little difficult to set, especially if you haven't got the hang of it. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to set a chronograph watch below:

Step 1: Press the start/stop button on the side of the watch to set the timer. Ensure that you press it once if you intend to start the timer because pressing it the second time will stop the timer.

Step 2: When you are done using the chronograph, press the button again to stop the timer.

Step 3: Note the time on the timer and press the second button to reset the chronograph. If you do not reset the chronograph after each use, it will continue measuring time from where you stopped the next time it is used.

Two Chronograph watches Seiko Speedtimer SSC813P1 and Right SSC817P1Two latest Hit chronograph watches from Seiko Speedtimer series: Left SSC813P1 and Right SSC817P1 paired with nubuck leather watch strap


Is a chronograph a mechanical watch?

Yes, a chronograph watch can be mechanical, but it depends on the watch. Although there are far more quartz chronographs than mechanical ones.


Does a chronograph watch need a battery?

The chronograph function depends on the power of the watch, however if the chronograph is a mechanical watch then no battery is required.


Can I leave my chronograph running?

 You are more than welcome to leave your chronograph running. A chronograph works similarly to an engine; continuous usage will cause it to wear and tear. So, it is not advisable to constantly run the chronograph


Types of chronograph watches

There are different variations of the chronograph watches. Some chronographs make use of one pusher, some use two or more and they don't all measure time the same.

There are three main types of chronograph which we will cover next:


Simple Chronograph

All early chronographs feature only one button, most of today's timepieces utilise either one or two pushers. The same applies to the simple chronograph. It has one or two buttons that control it, allowing it to start, stop and reset.


Because of its wide range of uses, it is a common and highly desirable complication.


Flyback Chronograph

The flyback chronograph is an advanced chronograph that enables the rapid restarting of the timer function while the chronograph is running.

Flyback Chronograph from Panerai Luminor Flyback ChronographFlyback Chronograph from Panerai Luminor Flyback Chronograph, image credit : HYPEBEAST

It allows the user to restart the chronograph with a single push of the reset button. When the reset button is pushed, the chronograph will stop, reset to zero and restart.

This fast return feature is oftentimes needed for split second accuracy.


Rattrapante Chronograph

The "rattrapante" is a French word that describes the additional complication within a chronograph—split seconds. This chronograph features an additional second hand that is superimposed on the chronograph hand and enables the measurement of multiple events occurring simultaneously.

Rattrapante Chronograph watch from Patek PhilippeThe highest-grade Rattrapante Chronograph watch from Patek Philippe, image credit : Gear Patrol

The split-second complication overlays a second sweep hand that, with the push of a third button, can stop a second event while the first sweep hand continues to run. Resetting the split hand causes it to "catch up" with the first and continues to run in tandem until the split is activated once again.


Types of chronographs according to movements

Mechanical chronograph: watch is a watch powered by watch movement which has complicated components.

Up close look at the Patek Philippe Calibre 89, rattrapante chronograph function containing 1728 parts, image credit : watchesbysjx Up close look at the Patek Philippe Calibre 89, rattrapante chronograph function is one of the world's most complicated pocket watches, image credit : watchesbysjx

Example : The Calibre 89 made by Patek Philippe has a rattrapante chronograph function containing 1728 parts and is probably the most complex watch ever produced.

Meca-Quartz caliber 631 from Jaeger LeCoultre chronography watchMeca-Quartz caliber 631 from Jaeger LeCoultre chronograph watch, image credit: wornandwound

Mechanical-quartz hybrid chronograph: is a hybrid, with two distinct mechanisms working in partnership. Quartz movements control the timekeeping functions of a meca-quartz chronograph, while mechanical modules record the stopwatch functions. Also, the two functions are powered by the same battery.

Seiko Speedtimer Solar chronograph watchers: Left SSC813P1 and Right SSC817P1

Seiko Speedtimer Solar chronograph watchers: Left SSC813P1  and Right SSC817P1, both paired with Italian handcrafted Rally Racing leather watch bands

Quartz chronograph watch: is a watch powered by a battery or solar cell, and it is one of the affordable chronograph watches under $1000.


Introduce the Latest Chronograph Releases From Seiko

Belows are the one of the latest chronograph watch series from the Seiko Speedtimer solar watch collection.

Seiko Speedtimer Solar chronograph watchers SSC813P1 on rubber watch strap by StrapcodeSeiko Speedtimer Solar chronograph SSC813P1 nicely matched with vibrant color FKM rubber watch band

Seiko Speedtimer SSC817P1 on White rubber watch strap by StrapcodeSeiko Speedtimer SSC817P1 on White Tropical-Style Pro FKM rubber watch strap

The Solar watches are basically quartz watches powered by the light through solar cells and unlike mechanical watches which are powered by movements.

Seiko SPEEDTIMER Solar Chronographs with "Panda Dial" Two Seiko SPEEDTIMER Solar Chronographs with "Panda Dial"

The SSC813 and SSC817 are SPEEDTIMER Solar Chronographs with “Panda dial” — a chronograph watch which has 3 small sub-dials, often associated with “Speedy” design.

Seiko Speedtimer SSC813P1 with Alligator Watch Band by StrapcodeSeiko Speedtimer SSC813P1 on Alligator Watch Band

Seiko SSC813 is hard to get one because it looks like the chronograph of the RX crown but at a Seiko price. Chronograph watches are tagged as PANDA- Dial because they look like Panda. "Panda-dial"



If you're looking for a watch in budget price, with the functionality of a chronograph and the sustainability of a solar movement, then Seiko is your best bet. 


Written by Victor, images by Toni or others, as noted  

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