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Everything you need to know about chronographs

Until recently, the chronograph was thought to have been invented by Nicolas Riisek in 1821 to time horse races.

Until recently, the chronograph was thought to have been invented by Nicolas Riisek in 1821 to time horse races. The recent discovery of an even earlier device is due to this story: a Louis Monet time-measuring instrument dating from 1816, created with the noble goal of improving the precision of marine navigation.

The ability to measure fractions of elapsed time distinguishes a chronograph from an ordinary watch. You can identify a typical chronograph by the start, stop and reset buttons located on the side of the case.

On the dial, chronographs usually have a centrally mounted seconds hand and two additional dials to measure elapsed minutes and hours. If there is a third subdial, it is almost always a continuous seconds hand associated with the timekeeping function of the watch.

It comes as a surprise to most that the chronograph is one of the most challenging complications for watchmakers to make. Of course, once the mechanism design is in place, manufacturing it is easy. However, the process of getting there is invariably described by watchmakers as far more complicated than creating a tourbillon (another type of watch complication).

When you operate your chronograph, you are essentially starting another timer in your watch. Vital to this operation is a clutch mechanism. A system that allows the chronograph to be smoothly switched on and off from the main movement without wreaking havoc on the watch’s normal timekeeping.

The classic method uses a movable gear that moves through a small arc and laterally engages and separates the chronograph gears with the timekeeping gears. The newer method, introduced by Seiko fake in 1969, is the vertical clutch, which uses friction between the flat surfaces of two discs to drive the chronograph. The first method, as it is more traditional and takes a lot of time to make, is considered more prestigious. The second is very practical, reliable and suitable for industrial serial production of fake watches cheap.

When the buttons on the side of your chronograph are pressed, they activate the chronograph function, but not directly. Instead, the force you transmit to the thrusters is fed through a control center that delivers a regulated pulse to the respective mechanisms, regardless of how much force you actually applied.

This control center can be in the form of a column wheel or stacked cams. The column wheel is more difficult to manufacture and results in a smoother and more consistent user feel when operating the pushers. It is therefore used in higher-end chronographs.