News • 14 Jan 2016

Why The Chronograph Is The Best Complication Out There

by Low Ka Wei


Watch collectors are rather used to timepieces that offer functionality that is, to put it gently, an answer to a question nobody asked. Tourbillons anyone? How about an equation of time? But then again people buy super cars that are capable of three times the highest speed limit of the roads here – and I understand that appeal.

A chronograph is basically a watch with stopwatch capabilities. This gives its owner the ability to time anything he wants. (Image Credit: Getty Images)
A chronograph is basically a watch with stopwatch capabilities. This gives its owner the ability to time anything he wants. (Image Credit: Getty Images).

My favourite complications, though, are those that can be routinely used. Calendars and time zones, for example. But because my very first analogue watch was a chronograph – quartz though; there’s only that much horology one can afford out of school – to me the grand daddy of the everyday useful crop has to be the chrono. When that piece sadly sank to the bottom of the sea thanks to a wakeboarding manoeuvre gone wrong, I emptied out my (modest) bank account and bought another one.

The name translates to “time writer”, which it literally was back in the day when it was invented. The first chronograph was a spinning, indexed disc with a pen hovering over it; to mark elapsed time, ink was applied to medium underneath. The modern chronograph comes in many types – simple, rattrapante and flyback – but even the most basic is practical.

Like its original purpose – timing horse races – one of the more common uses for a chrono is to time laps, while swimming and running, for instance. There’s something quite motivating when you beat a long-held personal record, but for that to happen you have to know exactly what the previous best was.

One of the more common uses for a chronograph is to time laps while running. (Image Credit: Getty Images).
One of the more common uses for a chronograph is to time laps while running. (Image Credit: Getty Images).

I don’t spend as much time as I’d have liked at the pool nowadays, but I also like to cook as my second pastime, and here the chrono is invaluable. Make it a habit to time your recipes; then you’ve some sort of reference when you’ve nailed the perfect doneness, whether it’s for a roast beef or for a soft-boiled egg.

Your chronograph can also save you money, at $30 a pop. Use it to ward off the dread parking warden by knowing precisely how much you’ve left on the parking coupon. It’s even more useful overseas, where parking meters don’t always go by 30 minute blocks and are harder to keep track of.

A chronograph may be operated by one or more buttons, also known as pushers. (Image Credit: Getty Images).
A chronograph may be operated by one or more buttons, also known as pushers. (Image Credit: Getty Images).

Speaking of travel, a more unusual deployment for the complication is to set a second-time zone in a pinch if you don’t have or don’t want to bring along a GMT or a world-time watch. Be warned though that this will eat into your power reserve, but if you wear your ticker all day it shouldn’t be a problem.

Finally, my best-loved use for a chronograph: simply playing with the pushers and watching the second hand sweep across the dial. As I said, on occasion I do appreciate frivolousness, just because.

 


Low Ka Wei

Low Ka Wei is a freelance editor and writer. He cut his teeth at men’s lifestyle magazines NewMan and Arena and last helmed luxury lifestyle title The Peak where he was editor from 2009 to 2014.


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