Chronographs with column wheel and vertical clutch have some significant benefits with respect to those with horizontal clutch or with cam chronograph movements. There is virtually no extra energy absorption when the chronoograph is running, and in some vertical clutch chronographs, the balance wheel amplitude actually increases slightly. You can leave the chronograph running all the time, as there are no problems with wear. In chronographs with a combined hour and minute totalizer, such as the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun, the chronograph can be started at an appropriate time and left running to provide a second time zone. Here are a selection of five vertical clutch chronographs, in ascending price order. First published on 11 December 2016, updated 21 November 2017.
1. Seiko Presage Chronograph SRQ019J1 – €2,500
The Seiko Presage Chronograph SRQ019J1 has a grand feu enamel dial, beautiful dial markings, absolute clarity and legibility, crocodile strap… But the best part is inside, with a movement designed and built by Seiko, with column-wheel chronograph control, and a vertical clutch. The case is 42 mm in diameter, 15.2 mm thick, in stainless steel, with a 10 bar/100 metre water resistance rating. Inside, the 8R48 chronograph movement has a formidable armament of Seiko’s proprietary technology, such as the Diashock system protecting the balance pivot from shock, and the “Magic Lever” that increases the rotor’s winding efficiency. You don’t see much of the movement through the sapphire caseback, just the gold oscillating weight, and the steel bridges. The column wheel and the chronograph levers are on the dial side of the movement. The Seiko Presage Chronograph SRQ019J1 costs €2,500, 2,800 Swiss francs. Read more here.
2. TAG Heuer Autavia – €4,600
The TAG Heuer Autavia is a lovely re-edition of a racing driver’s chronograph first introduced in 1962. The new version has a lot of positive features: large at 42 mm, almost 16 mm thick, it is water-resistant to 100 metres, always a positive feature for a luxury watch. The date at 6 o’clock – also an addition with respect to the original – is placed on the continuous seconds subdial. The mushroom pushers are sporty, the beige-tint SuperLuminova on hands and hour markers makes it a practical timepiece in the dark as well. A knurled crown, Heuer logo and distressed calfskin leather strap with beige stitching contribute to the vintage feel. The Heuer-02 movement can be seen through the sapphire caseback. It is built in-house, runs at 28,800 vibrations per hour, and provides 80 hours power reserve. It has 168 components, a column wheel and a vertical clutch. The TAG Heuer Autavia costs €4,600 with leather strap, €4,750 with steel bracelet.
3. Montblanc 4810 TwinFly Chronograph 110 Years Edition – €6,900
This flyback chronograph by Montblanc has an in-house movement, and it presents a lot of information on a well-designed dial. The design has the visual characteristics of the 4810 series, with narrow bezel, and dial with guilloché in the “exploding star” pattern, expanding outwards from an imaginary Montblanc star. A central blue skeletonized hand shows the home time. A subdial at the top shows the same home time but on a 24-hour scale for day or night indication. The MB LL100.1 movement was designed and built in-house, and it can be viewed through the sapphire caseback. The chronograph is controlled by a column wheel and vertical clutch. There are two mainspring barrels, providing 72 hours power reserve. The Montblanc 4810 TwinFly Chronograph 110 Years Edition, reference 114859, costs €6,900. It is a limited edition of 1,110 pieces. Read more here.
4. Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona – €11, 550
The Rolex Cosmograph Daytona has a long history: it was first introduced in 1963. This year’s major difference with respect to the 2015 all-steel Daytona is the black Cerachrom bezel, which is tough, smart, and has a tachymeter scale whose legibility is enhanced by a thin layer of PVD platinum on the markings. The dial is in two versions, black or white, and on the white dial version, the subdials now have a black outer ring. The dial layout is excellent, with a seconds chapter-ring with quarter-second subdivisions running right around the edge of the dial, undisturbed by the white gold applique hour markers with their Chromalight luminous coating. The case is water-resistant to 100 metres, with screw-down caseback. Crown and pushers are also screw-down. More specifically, the screw-down pushers were introduced in 1965 to provide a method of ensuring that the pushers can’t be activated underwater, which would increase the risk of water penetration. The pushers provide a great tactile feel during operation, without the excessive hardness that is typical of cheaper lever-operated chronograph movements, but with sufficient click tension to provide the right feedback to the user. The only downside to the screw-down pushers is having to unscrew them before using the chronograph. The movement is the calibre 4130, designed and built in-house, first introduced in 2000. It is a prestigious chronograph movement with column-wheel and vertical clutch. It is tested both by COSC and with the Rolex Superlative Chronometer testing system, that gives it a precision tolerance of +2/-2 seconds per day. It runs at 28,800 vibrations per hour, 4 Hertz. It is self-winding, with a power reserve of about 72 hours. The Cosmograph Daytona with white dial, reference 116500 LN, costs €11, 550, £8,250. The version with black dial has the same price. This is a watch with a waiting list. Read more here.
5. IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun IW389001 – €12,400
The IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun IW389001 has a dial arrangement with combined analogue totalizer for chronograph minutes and hours at the top of the dial. It uses the in-house 89361 movement developed by IWC as an in-house alternative to the ETA Valjoux 7750, and it is more refined than the 7750, with a column wheel controlling the chronograph function, a vertical clutch, free-sprung balance, excellent shock protection and high winding efficiency with a four-pawl Pellaton system. It also has the flyback function for instant stop, reset and restarting, and the stop seconds function for precise time-setting. It runs at 28,800 vibrations per hour (4 Hertz) and provides 68 hours power reserve. The Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun IW389001 has a ceramic case with titanium pushers, and a steel caseback with the Top Gun engraving. The watch costs €12,400 incl. tax, £8,650 incl. VAT. Read more here.
6. Piaget Polo S chronograph – €14,800
Piaget call their five Polo S watches game-changers. There’s no doubt that the chronograph in particular does something innovative: no continuous seconds. If the chronograph is not running, there is nothing moving on the dial. The Polo S chronograph has an in-house movement with column wheel and vertical clutch, and so if you’d like to see the continuous seconds, you can just start the chronograph and leave it running. Piaget have decided to eliminate the continuous seconds subdial in order to simplify the dial and make it more attractive. The two subdials are exactly on the midline, and at 6 o’clock, where normally there would be the third subdial in a tricompax arrangement, there is the date window, nicely designed with a tapering frame that mirrors the shape of the hour markers. The chronograph seconds scale follows the inner edge of the bezel, with its unusual shape, and the chronograph seconds hand is always close enough to the scale to make it legible at all times. The movement is the manufacture Piaget 1160 P, automatic, with 50 hours power reserve. It runs at 28,800 vibrations per hour (4 Hertz). The “S” in the watch’s name refers to the steel of the case. This keeps the price to a more accessible level than for most Piaget watches: €14,800, US$ 12,400. Read more here.
7. Chopard Mille Miglia Classic XL – €38,420
The Mille Miglia Classic XL by Chopard is a limited edition, just 90 pieces. It has a logical dial. On a pure white background, all the scales are perfectly functional and legible. The tachymeter scale has intermediate markings so you can read off the speed accurately. The chronograph seconds scale is continuous all the way around, complete with its quarter-second subdivisions. The chronograph seconds hand extends all the way to the tachymeter scale. Chronograph minutes and hours are clearly marked. Generous SuperLuminova on hour and minute hands, and hour markings, making it useful in the night. The dial’s no-frills purity is enhanced by the absence of a date window. The Mille Miglia Classic XL has a superb movement. A hand-wound, flyback chronograph, with column wheel, vertical clutch, and Variner (variable inertia) balance wheel, it looks great, with really solid levers and two-tone nickel-silver and gilded finish. Price €38,420. Read more here. More info on the Chopard website.
Other chronographs with vertical clutch:
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback Ocean Commitment II, reference 5200 0310 G52A, €19,080, £14,000.
Vacheron Constantin Overseas Chronograph, reference 5500V/110A-B075, price €31,600, $28,900
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph, reference 26320BA.OO.1220BA.01, price €56,800, $56,600.