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Horology, part 6 - The History of Chronographs

Updated: 3 days ago

There are several complications in the watch world, but none as popular as the chronograph. Legend says that the first modern chronograph was invented by Louis Moinet in 1816, solely for working with astronomical equipment.


The Louis Moinet

However, the first marketed chronograph was requested by King Louis XVIII and developed by Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec in 1821. It used ink to measure elapsed time, which made it unsuitable for multiple uses. In 1844, Adolphe Nicole made further developments by adding a re-setting feature, which allowed successive measurements to be taken without ink.


In 1913 Longines sent to market a monopusher chronograph using the company’s 13.33Z caliber movement. This model started a race between watch companies, and just two years later, Breitling released the first chronograph wristwatch with an independent push piece. The company was also the first to produce a chronograph with the addition of the second pusher at 4 o'clock.


In 1969, the watch companies Heuer, Breitling, Hamilton, and movement specialist Dubois Dépraz, partnered up to develop the first automatic chronograph. They were soon followed by Zenith, with the release of El Primero, and Seiko, with the introduction of Caliber 6139. This marked the last major technological change of the category.


The Breitling No.100

Since then, several iconic chronographs were released by all the major watch manufactures, with some models being around for decades. Here are some of the most important ones:

  • 1938: Longines Calibre 13ZN

  • 1952: Breitling Navitimer

  • 1957: Omega Speedmaster

  • 1963: Rolex Cosmograph Daytona

  • 1963: Heuer Carrera

  • 1969: Zenith’s El Primero

  • 1999: A. Lange & Söhne Datograph

Today you can find many styles of mechanical and digital chronographs, with various features and at all prices. If you don't have one in you collection, what is your excuse?


Hamilton American Classic Intra-Matic Auto Chrono
Hamilton American Classic Intra-Matic Auto Chrono

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