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Watch Complications: The Chronograph

In this new series of articles about watches, we take a look at various watch ‘complications’, or features of a watch above and beyond the standard time-telling function. Complications can be relatively simple, such as adding date functionality, or extremely complex, such as displaying equation of time, the discrepancy between apparent and mean solar time. In this first article we take a look at the chronograph complication.

What is a chronograph?

A chronograph is a stopwatch. In its simplest form it will provide a central, sweeping seconds hand used to measure the passing of time. This seconds hand can be started, stopped and reset with successive button pushes. A slightly more complicated chronograph would include the ability to record not only seconds, but also minutes, hours and sometimes even tenths of a second, usually by utilising independent hands set either in one subsidiary dial, or in numerous subsidiary dials.


A chronograph will often appear alongside a tachymeter, a graduated bezel designed to enable rapid calculations of speed or distance. A well known example of this is the Rolex Daytona, pictured above, which features a fixed tachymeter bezel.

Flyback chronograph

A flyback chronograph is one which allows the timing hands to be reset and immediately commence timing again with the single press of a button. When used in conjunction with a tachymeter, this complication allows the user to record, for example, average speeds over consecutive miles. As each milestone marker is reached, the speed is read from the tachymeter as the timings hands are reset. They immediately begin timing again for the following mile with only a single button press.


Also known as a double chronograph or split-second chronograph, a rattrapante usually has two seconds hands which can be stopped and started independently of eachother. Under normal use the hands travel together, hidden one beneath the other. On activation, one hand is ‘left behind’ to record a lap time, for example. After reading the elapsed time, the stopped hand can be started again or reset to zero.

If you have any watches that you would like to sell, please contact Simon Rufus, watch specialist at Grand Auctions, Folkestone, Kent for further details.