Chronographs

Before we hit it with our top 10 chronographs overview, a few words about this list. A chronograph is one of the most popular complications (besides a date), and it is actually a very complex mechanism. It is the reason why some brands still don’t have their own chronograph movement and use one from a third party.

Chronograph Module

You might have heard about a chronograph module or add-on module. This means that there’s a base movement for hh:mm:ss (and date), and a little additional movement module that is put on top of the base movement. A well-known module manufacturer is Dubois Depraz. A brand like Audemars Piguet for example, uses their own in-house manufactured caliber 3120 movement as a basis and an add-on chronograph module for their Royal Oak Offshore watches. A lot of complications are offered as an add-on module, like a calendar or moonphases complication. You can recognize the use of add-on modules by looking at the watch from the side. The crown and pushers are not aligned.

Top 10 Chronographs - AP movement

Chronograph Movement

A real chronograph movement is one that is actually one integrated piece. A movement that was designed from the start to be a chronograph. It is a costly operation for a brand to create a chronograph movement. For a long time, even a brand like Patek Philippe used Lemania chronograph movements. For brands with a high production number, like Rolex and Omega for example, the production process of chronograph movements is often industrialized. A costly operation, but only by doing so, they are able to produce many of them.

Top 10 Chronographs Movement

Top 10 Chronographs Overview

We love chronograph watches. Not only because they look cool, it actually a pretty useful complication. You time all sorts of things, for your own pleasure but many people also need to time certain tasks and routines for their profession.

What’s Important

A chronograph should be easy to operate and easy to read. Especially when there’s little time for a read-out, the elapsed time needs to be clearly displayed. Some watches have cool looks and funky colors, but this doesn’t always guarantee readability. Another important aspect is reliability. A chronograph should start the moment you push the start button. No delays. A chronograph also should stop and reset flawlessly.

Our List

We could go on and on about chronographs, but we also want to show you our favorite top 10 chronographs. So how did they end up in this list? First of all, we have our preferences when it comes to chronograph watches. Completely subjective, but that’s what taste is about. Furthermore, readability is important but so is a bit of heritage and a story behind a watch. An add-on module chronograph can still be cool, but we prefer a true chronograph movement. However, we also think pricing is important. So we included a couple of affordable chronographs that we like. We only list watches that are currently in production. But feel free to have a look at our #TBT section where vintage-expert Michael Stockton covered many chronographs of the past.

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One Model Per Brand

To keep it a bit diverse, we chose to pick just one model per brand. Although you can debate whether that’s true to a real Top 10 chronographs overview, we also don’t want to have only 3 different brands in a Top 10 overview.

10. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Diver Chronograph

Admitted, a piggy-backing movement to enter the Top 10 chronographs list but it is a very cool one. This Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Diver Chronograph reference 26703ST.OO.A027CA.01  has a list price just below $28,000.- USD. It is a 42mm stainless steel watch with caliber 3124/3841 movement. Despite having an add-on module, the movement has a high grade of finish and looks beautiful. However, we think that most people who buy this watch aren’t very concerned about the movement (or diving) but just love the aesthetics of the watch. A valid reason. More about this AP ROO Diver Chronograph here.Top 10 Chronographs - AP ROO Chronograph Diver

9. Sinn 140 St S

There used to be a Sinn 142 in the past, with the legendary (discontinued in 2003) Lemania 5100 movement. The Sinn 140 has been there before, but Sinn decided to release a modern version with their SZ01 movement. One the cool features of the Lemania 5100 movement was, besides its functional dial lay-out, the centralized minute hand. You could wonder why not more chronograph watches have a central minute hand, as it makes reading the elapsed time so easy. Anyway, Sinn constructed this movement in a way that it has a dial lay-out similar to the old 140/142 models with Lemania movement. We did an in-depth review here. Priced at €3890 Euro. Also available in steel.

Top 10 Chronographs - Sinn 140 St

8. TAG Heuer Monza

TAG Heuer is often considered a chronograph brand, with a lot of racing history. They made so many models we could name actually a few, but the recently introduced Monza has been amongst our favorites. Michael Stockton covered it in-depth in this article. Inside this € 4950 Euro chronograph there is an add-on chronograph module, namely TAG Heuer’s caliber 17 movement. Based on the ETA 2894-2, there is a module that shows a two-register dial lay-out. This 42mm titanium with PVD-coated case looks familiar to its 40 year old predecessor.

Top 10 Chronographs - TAG Heuer Monza

7. Seiko Presage Chronograph

Seiko surprised us this year with the Presage Chronograph with in-house caliber 8R48, a column-wheel chronograph. Not only that, but the enamel white dial and Seiko Laurel-like hands made us go wow. Important to state is that this watch is a watch to celebrate the 60th anniversary of their first automatic watch. Seiko used to be among the first brand to introduce an automatic chronograph by the way, in 1969 with their caliber 6139 movement. This watch retails for €2500 Euro. One of the other reasons that it is in this top 10 chronographs overview. More information here. We only pity the fact that Seiko made this a limited edition of 1000 pieces only (there are also 1000 pieces with a black lacquered dial).

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Top 10 Chronographs - Seiko Presage

6. Patek Philippe 5170R-001

A grail brand for many, Patek Philippe. This year they showed us a stunning rose gold chronograph dress watch with a diameter of ‘only’ 39.4mm. Beautiful Breguet numerals on a silvery opaline dial with two sub dials make it a timeless elegant chronograph. If it weren’t for the 39.4mm size, it could have easily been a watch from their collection of +60 years ago. This watch, with manual wound caliber CH 29-535 PS, has a retail price around $80,000.- USD.

Top 10 Chronographs Patek Philippe 5170R

5. Breitling Navitimer

To be honest, a Top 10 chronographs overview without a Breitling Navitimer can’t be taken very seriously. A watch that was introduced in 1952 and still in production with models that are very close to the original. Below, an image of a current Breitling Navitimer as well as one of the 1950s models. The current Breitling Navitimer 01 increased its diameter to a whopping 43mm, but trust us, there are even bigger Navtimers out there. It uses an in-house manufactured chronograph movement, caliber B01. Retails for € 7370 Euro.

Top 10 Chronographs Overview - Breitling Navitimer

4. Zenith El Primero

Zenith’s El Primero (means “First”) is an automatic chronograph that has been in the collection since 1969. It was – together with Seiko’s 6139 and the Chronomatic caliber (designed by Heuer/Buren and Breitling) – among the first self-winding chronograph movements in the world. Nothing much changed in essence, and it is said that some parts can still be exchanged between those very first El Primero movements and the current ones. In the meanwhile, it is also being used as a base movement for complications, including tourbillons. The downside is that Zenith uses the name El Primero not only for their movements, but also collections. It has become a bit confusing. We show you the “El Primero 36’000 VPH Classic Cars” model. This 42mm watch retails for €6900 Euro.

Top 10 Chronographs - Zenith El Primero

3. A. Lange & Söhne Datograph

According to many, the most beautiful chronograph in the world. The version we show below, is their Perpetual Calendar Tourbillon. Oh, and chronograph. A stunning watch that is amongst the most desirable chronographs around. Even when it doesn’t include a perpetual calendar and / or tourbillon complication. This platinum beast is around € 300.000 Euro. The Datograph Up/Down in gold has a much friendlier price tag, but still around €70.000 Euro. Although still totally out of our own wallets, we give it a solid third position.

Top 10 Chronographs A. Lange & Söhne Datograph

2. Rolex Daytona

One of the most iconic chronographs in the world. Named after the Daytona International Speedway and seen on the wrist of many prominent (racing) people. A watch that wasn’t exactly Rolex’ top seller in the 1960’s and 1970’s grew out to be one of the most wanted watches in the world. Not only the vintage Daytona chronographs are sought-after (and some fetched even over a million dollars during auction), also the new (stainless steel) Rolex Daytona chronographs are not very easy to get, even when you have the money ready at hand. Besides the demand/supply issues, it is just a great chronograph and daily wearer. Since 2000, Rolex uses their in-house caliber 4130 movement for this chronograph. An in-depth article on the Rolex Daytona can be found here. Retails for € 11.300,- Euro.

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Top 10 Chronographs Overview - Rolex Daytona

1. Omega Speedmaster

The watch that was on the Moon. Not only because it was on the Moon and the severe abuse it needed to handle according to NASA’s specs and tests, but also because it is one of the most legible chronographs out there. The hand-wound Speedmaster Professional is the one we prefer ourselves, new or vintage. Its current retail price is €4300 Euro. Even if you have your Pateks, Daytonas and Lange watches, it is still a cool watch to own. However, the Speedmaster has many different faces. The ceramic Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon with in-house manufactured column-wheel chronograph caliber with Co-Axial escapement comes at a higher price (€9800 Euro) than the iconic Moonwatch, but it shows what Omega is capable of these days. Read here how the Speedmaster became the Moonwatch.

Top 10 Chronographs Overview - Omega Speedmaster

Some Thoughts

This Top 10 chronographs overview doesn’t show all chronographs we like. Also the order changes once every while, depending on mood and thoughts. New chronographs seem to appear every day. Last week we went out to see the new IWC Ingenieur Vintage Chronograph with their in-house caliber 69000 for example. If we remain as enthusiastic as we were, the Top 10 Chronographs overview could look different next time.

What are your favorite chronographs? We’d love to learn about your preferences. Please use the Disqus comment box below to share your thoughts with us.

Robert-Jan Broer
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Robert-Jan Broer

Founder & Editor at Fratello Watches
Robert-Jan Broer, born in 1977, watch collector and author on watches for over a decade. Founder of Fratello Watches in 2004.
Robert-Jan Broer
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  • JP

    I know this is an unpopular opinion, specially around here, but the Speedie is over-rated and I really can’t imagine it being the “top” chronograph ahead of an El Primero, a Daytona and much less the remarkable Datograph. Omega plays the moon card like no one else but Sinn, Bulova, Rolex, Fortis among others have all sent watches to the moon.

    In any case, and despite my perceived tone, I think this was a pretty damn near perfect list with only a couple of notable omissions such as the IWC Portuguese and FP Journe Centigraphe.

    JP

    • Skiiddy

      There has only been one moon landing, hasn’t there?

      • JP

        If you mean manned, then yes but the instrument watches were made by Bulova.

        It was a landmark (moonmark?) moment in our history but the Speedmaster actually didn’t play that big of a role then, contrary to other space missions like the one celebrated by the “Snoopy” edition. Having said that, there have been several other watches in space by now, which is what I said before.

  • Thomas B

    A good list -no question about that!
    But please let me add a few lines here.

    A friend of mine was looking for a mechanical chronograph.
    Cool design, not too expensive and with an out of the average movement.
    The only chrono that was coming into my mind was the Longines Heritage 1973.
    I think it fits better in this list than the TagHeuer Monza -imho!

    All the best!
    Thomas B