Who created the modern clock

The history of the chronograph

Chronographs are very popular today, especially for men's watches. However, the decisive technical basis for this type of clock was developed more than a century and a half ago. Each model not only offers its wearer an additional stop function, but also embodies an interesting piece of watch history.

A child with many fathers

It is interesting if only because it is ultimately disputed who actually invented the chronograph. Anyone who deals more intensively with this part of watch history quickly realizes that in the end it is probably a child with many fathers. Numerous technical innovations were necessary before watchmakers were able to build a “real” chronograph. This differs from other watches in that it has a stop function, but it is not just a stop watch, as the movement does not stop when it stops. This makes it possible to measure certain times while the current time continues to be displayed.

The ability to record certain times is therefore what gave the timepiece its name. Because this is made up of the Greek words chronos and grapho, which means "time" or "I write". The inventor is often called Adolphe Nicole, who developed the so-called zeroing heart in 1844 and applied for a patent for this invention. However, as early as 1720 the Englishman George Graham had actually found a technical solution that allowed times to be estimated with an accuracy of about one sixteenth of a second. He can therefore justifiably be counted among the inventors of the chronograph.

The first pocket watch with a chronograph function was presented to the public in 1862 by the French Henri Féréol Piguet. Although the first pocket watches with which the second hand could be stopped had existed around 60 years earlier, on these models the stopping process had led to the entire movement stopping. If you wanted to stop intermediate times with such a clock, you had to add the stopped time in each case.

“Fake” and “real” chronographs

Today, however, Piguet's pocket watch with a stopper second hand is also referred to as a “fake chronograph”. The credit for creating the first “real” chronograph goes to the Parisian watchmaker Nicolas-Mathieu Rieussec, even though its construction initially had little in common with today's wrist chronographs.

Rather, his model was a watch that was able to actually "write down" measured times. For this purpose, he had installed a small recorder on the dial that recorded the times measured by means of small and large lines while the hands were rotating. In 1822, Rieussec applied for a patent for his invention.

Another important step in development followed in 1831, when Joseph Thaddäus Winnerl developed a clock whose second hand could be stopped separately. Winnerl, an employee of the Breguet Manufactory from Austria, also invented a chronograph variant in which two superimposed second hands could be stopped one after the other so that the measured time span could be determined as the difference. Technically, this requires the installation of two separate but coupled stop mechanisms. Such a double-hand mechanism can still be found today in various high-quality mechanical watches and is known as a rattrapante, drag pointer or second second.

This look into watch history shows that it was a long road to today's quartz and automatic models, and there are a number of inventions that made this development possible.

Timepiece for the wrist

After a possibility had been found with the zero-setting heart to let the second hand return to the zero position at the push of a button, the chronographs already had an essential functional feature that is still typical of them today. In 1868 Auguste Baud started to build the additional mechanism for a stop hand as a cadrature on the clockwork side, which is still common today.

A few decades later, as a result of a development at Breitling, the wristwatches were given the characteristic appearance that most of them still have today: a wristwatch with two separate pushers. One pusher is used to start or stop, while the other is used to reset the stop pointer to zero.

Modern further developments with automatic or quartz movements

A modern mechanical wrist chronograph is usually an automatic model; there are also numerous quartz watches with a chronograph function. At first - parallel to the development of watches without a stop mechanism - they looked for ways to equip chronographs with an automatic winding mechanism. Albert Piguet had already developed a corresponding prototype together with Lémania in 1946. However, more than twenty years would pass before the first automatic chronograph was ready for series production.

In 1969, three manufacturers fought a close race for the first presentation of a series-produced automatic model. In the end, Zenith, with his work “El Primero”, was just able to prevail against Seiko with the caliber 6138/39 and against a cooperation between Heuer, Breitling, Dubois-Dépraz and Büren. With the advent of quartz watches in the seventies, however, the automatic timepieces almost threatened to be displaced again. After all, a quartz model is not only significantly cheaper to manufacture, but also offers a much more extensive range of functions than an automatic one. In the course of the general renaissance of high-quality mechanical watches, however, automatic chronographs have also enjoyed great popularity again since the mid-1980s and are much more valued by lovers of high-quality watches than quartz watches with a stop function.

So it is not surprising that almost all of the major watch manufacturers regularly bring new collections onto the market. Often these are wristwatches with a decidedly sporty design, but there are also numerous masterpieces that correspond in style to a classic dress watch.

An overview of some current watches with a stop function

A typical example of a modern, sporty automatic chronograph is the Breitling Avenger Bandit with a sturdy titanium case, template numbers typical for aviation and a bracelet made of military high-tech textile and rubber.

If you are looking for a high-quality quartz chronograph, you may choose the Tag Heuer Formula 1 quartz or the Tag Heuer Aquaracer 300M quartz.

And if you want a particularly luxurious version, then the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona in one of the new gold versions is certainly a promising favorite.

AquaracerAutomatic ChronographsAutomatic WatchesAvenger BanditBreitlingChronographsCosmograph DaytonaFormula 1Men's WatchesMontblancNavitimerQuarial WatchesRolexTag HeuerZenith2016-11-23