Before we delve straight into what a chronograph is, its functions and uses, we need to understand why it is classified as a watch complication. What do complications mean anyway? Or is it just a fancy watch term?

Basic Guide to Watch Complications: The Chronograph

Watch complications?

The primary function of any timepiece is to tell the time. Any other function that a watch performs asides the display of time is considered as a complication. Simply put, a complication is any function on a watch that exists in addition to time telling.

Complications consist of works of different functions. It can range from simple and common works to intricate and rare works, that perform numerous functions. They include Date Complications, Chronograph, Dual Time Zone, Tourbillon, Moon phase, Tachymeter, Calendar, Alarm, Power Reserve and other complications.

The purpose of these watch complications is to enhance the quality of your life. The availability of these special functions on your wrist help simplifies your life. Apart from the functionality of complications they also serve and aesthetic purposes. They add a bit of sophistication to the watch appearance in general.

Basic Guide to Watch Complications: The Chronograph

Take a look at the Megalith 8092M,
the watch face has a cool utilitarian look thanks to the chronograph,
Tourbillon and daylight complications.

Now, what exactly does the chronograph complication do?

The Chronograph

The chronograph is one of the most popular and common watch complications in recent times. However, it’s largely misunderstood. It often remains dormant in its functions, serving only its aesthetic use.

In reality, a chronograph is just another word for a stopwatch. Well, the analogy version of a stopwatch. A chronograph is an instrument that records an elapsed amount of time. In simple terms, it measures the amount of time between moment A and moment B.

The chronograph is often confused with the term chronometer. The difference between the two lies in the fact that the term “Chronograph” refers to the function of tracking time elapsed, while the term “chronometer” refers to the measure of how well any mechanical timepiece performs.

A timepiece is labeled a chronometer means it is certified of a standard by the COSC, the official Swiss Chronometer.

History of the Chronograph

The idea of a chronograph is not a recent one. It is much older than one would guess. The direct translation of the word from its original Greek etymology means “time writer”. This was the ancient's way of tracking time elapsed. This was done by marking the dials with a pen.

The first chronograph as we know it was invented by the French horologist Louis Moinet in 1816. Although, his wonderful invention wasn’t discovered until recently in 2013.

Before the discovery, the first commercial chronograph was made in 1821 by Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec. When King Louis XVII tasked his watchmaker, Nicolas, to create an instrument that could easily time his horse races. As a businessman, Nicolas saw the opportunity to market his invention to the racing community and spreading the use of chronographs. Thus, revolutionizing the timing of sporting.

Nicolas’ chronograph was considered the first chronograph invented until the later discovery of the chronograph by Louis Moinet.

Louis’ creation was so ahead of its time (simple comparison of the two chronographs be enough proof of that) as its design looks more like the modern chronograph. Also, its ability to measure up to 60th of a second something considered impressive even to this day.

Basic Guide to Watch Complications: The Chronograph

How to Read a Chronograph Watch

Most chronographs often have three sub-dial (those small circles on the dial). It’s important to note that many chronograph designs are existing. The sub-dials can be two or even one and may be positioned in different ways. This means one would have to figure out which is which, with the help of the basic knowledge of chronographs.  

One sub-dial is dedicated to recording hours elapsed. It easily identified with a 12 or 24 at the 12 o’clock position. Depending on the number, whether 12 or 24 it shows the maximum number of hours the chronograph can track. Some chronographs can show a lower number of hours. So be sure to have this figured out.

The second sub-dial measures the minutes elapsed with a 60 at the 12 o’clock position. The number shown on the sub-dial, depending on the watch, shows the maximum number of minutes the chronograph can track.

The third sub-dial is the seconds sub-dial which is sync with the current time in seconds. It is usually 60 at the 12 o’clock position.

How to Use a Chronograph Watch

Using a chronograph watch might seem complicated at first, but with frequent use, one would realize it’s not so complicated after all.

Basic Guide to Watch Complications: The Chronograph

The sub-dials on a chronograph watch are controlled usually by two pushers or buttons on the right side of your watch face.  They are usually positioned at 2 o’clock and 4 o’clock positions on any watch.

The top pusher at the 2 o’clock position starts and stops/pauses the chronograph. It is the main control of the chronograph. A single push will start the chronograph causing the hands on the sub-dials to move to track the time. Another push will pause the chronograph, to resume a single push is needed.

Basic Guide to Watch Complications: The Chronograph

The bottom pusher at the 4 o’clock position is used to reset the chronograph. This means once the chronograph has been started by the top pusher, to track a new time the bottom push is used to set the hands on the sub-dials back to zero.

Using your chronograph watch can be as simple as pushing a few buttons. Now you can put these functions to good use. Such as recording your cooking time, swimming, examination time and more. However, this the most basic and common way to operate a chronograph watch. There are other types with some complexities. It’s best to refer to your user manual in this case.

Adding a chronograph watch to your collection is would be a great addition. Asides, the aesthetically look it can also serve its purpose of helping you track time efficiently. If you’re considering getting one do check our catalog.

Basic Guide to Watch Complications: The Chronograph

Here are a few of my favorites:

Basic Guide to Watch Complications: The Chronograph

Basic Guide to Watch Complications: The Chronograph