There are some chronographs whose dial is designed specifically to facilitate readings of elapsed time. On the other hand there are a few in which the dial makes it difficult or impossible to measure a span of time. The chronograph function becomes a purely decorative motif, and the pushers a sort of anti-stress game. All mechanical watches are something of a contradiction, because they are far more expensive than quartz watches and far less accurate. But it’s in the area of chronograph watches that this contrast reaches its height. No criticism is intended, they’re all beautiful machines.No specific order. Published on 1 December 2016, updated 18 November 2017.
1. Panerai Luminor 1950 Oracle Team USA 3 Days Chrono Flyback Automatic Ceramica 44 mm PAM00725
This flyback chronograph is one of the three official watches that Panerai have launched for the 2017 America’s Cup. It was my intention to include this watch in a post about the best regatta countdown watches, because for a regatta, the ideal watch is a flyback chronograph so that at each time signal you restart the chronograph using the flyback function, progressively eliminating any error caused by starting the chronograph late the first time. So you can once again restart the chronograph to perfection at the crucial one-minute signal before the start, and all you have to do is watch the seconds hand and count down the seconds as the chronograph seconds hand approaches zero. But all this is dashed because Panerai have interrupted the seconds/minutes scale with the giant 12 and 6 numerals. With all its sophisticated engineering, column wheel and vertical clutch, it’s never going to be precise for a countdown because the crucial last two seconds before the seconds hand reaches zero are bereft of a scale. The fractional seconds scale is also interrupted by the hour batons. Read more here.
2. Richard Mille RM 11-03 Automatic Flyback Chronograph
The RM 11-03 Automatic Flyback Chronograph, like virtually all Richard Mille’s products, is based on a contradiction. Supreme engineering, aerospace materials, innovative technical design, in a timepiece that can’t actually measure elapsed time with any degree of accuracy. The fifth-seconds scale follows the outside edge of the dial, and the tonneau case shape means that the chronograph seconds hand is positioned directly over the scale only for brief intervals, at 0, 15, 30 and 45 seconds. For the rest of the time, the tip of the seconds hand is a long way from the scale. The tachymeter scale is even further removed from the realms of reality. The watch costs €175,000. Read more about the Richard Mille RM 11-03 here.
3. Hublot Big Bang Blue
The Hublot Big Bang Blue is a new version of the brand’s Big Bang flyback chronograph. One of the features of the Big Bang’s design is the date window, whose positioning makes it impossible to take chronograph readings of durations from between 12 and 18 minutes. Read more here.
4. Frédérique Constant Vintage Rally Healey Chronograph
This piece by Frédérique Constant could be a nice chronograph at a relatively accessible price, €2,850, attractive for its uncluttered dial. It is a tribute to vintage motor sports with its perforated leather strap and the Healey logo below the central pivot. But what I can’t understand is why the chronograph seconds scale, divided into fifths of a second, is placed as a separation between the outer dial ring with the hour batons and the central part with the subdials and clou de Paris texture. If you are timing an event that lasts between ten and twenty seconds, or between forty and fifty, there is no way you can read the duration. Read more about the Frédérique Constant Vintage Rally Healey Chronograph here.
5. Locman Montecristo Rattrapante chronograph
Italian brand Locman’s Montecristo Rattrapante is their most sophisticated watch produced to date. In this piece, starting the chronograph sets the white chronograph second hand moving, along with the red hand that is exactly underneath, so that they are moving together. When you press the rattrapante button at 10 o’clock, the lower red hand stops, while the white hand continues moving. This way you can take the reading of an intermediate time of up to 60 seconds while continuing to measure the total time elapsed. That’s in theory: in practice, the tips of the chronograph seconds hand are far removed from the seconds scale at the edge of the dial, so all readings are going to be approximate. The price of the watch is €5,850. Read more about the Locman Montecristo Rattrapante chronograph here.
6. Rado HyperChrome Tachymeter Brown Ceramic Automatic Chronograph
The Rado HyperChrome Tachymeter chronograph has a case and strap in super-high-tech plasma ceramic, a material that has a solid matt chocolate brown colour with a metallic finish, providing an attractive contrast for the rose gold PVD finish of the stainless steel inserts, pushers, crown and hour indices. It’s a watch more about aesthetics than functionality, with the 12-hour chronograph subdial being the only one that can be read all the way around. It overlaps the other two, and in particular the chronograph minutes subdial whose markings are simply not there from the 10 to the 15 minute segment. The watch costs €4,650. Read more about the Rado HyperChrome Tachymeter chronograph here.
7. Zenith El Primero
I’ve always found the Zenith El Primero a bit of a contradiction. On one hand, it’s one of the few chronograph watches with a movement running at 36,000 vibrations per hour, 5 Hertz, which makes a fifth-second chronograph seconds scale logical and improves accuracy. But then again, the classical El Primero dial layout seems to go in the other direction, with seconds numerals that blank out parts of the fractional seconds markings, and superimposed subdials – an iconic part of the design – that make it impossible to read elapsed minute for times between 16 and 23 minutes. Beautiful watch though. Price about $19,000. Read more about the Zenith El Primero Lightweight here.