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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ever since he was a young child, Robert-Jan was drawn to watches, even though it were digital Casio and quartz Swatch models at the time. In the mid-1990s, his interest increased when he started to read about mechanical watches in... read more