The Chronograph Explained – Ins and Outs

What is the function of a chronograph and how exactly does it work? The Watch Pages teamed up with the expert in the field, Jean-Marie Schaller, CEO and Creative Director of Louis Moinet, to explain to us the ins and outs of a chronograph movement. The world’s first chronograph was invented by Louis Moinet in 1816 (Guinness World RecordsTM ).

Jean-Marie Schaller CEo Louis Moinet with the first ever chronograph 1816
Jean-Marie Schaller, CEO Louis Moinet, with the first chronograph ever created in 1816.

Where does the term chronograph come from?

The term chronograph comes from the combination of the Greek word khronos, which translates to “time” and grapho, which translates to “to write.” Khronographos defined all instruments that measure intervals of time and literally means “Time Writer.”

What is a chronograph?

A chronograph is a watch that tells the traditional time and functions as a stopwatch as well. Unlike a stopwatch, which only times an event with no regular timekeeping, the chronograph tells you the time of day and how long it takes you to run a lap!

The different functions – start, stop, and reset – can be performed by one or more buttons; these “pushers” are most commonly found on the right side of the case. The classic chronograph has a button both above and below the crown. The top button controls the start and the stop of the chronograph hand, while the bottom button resets the chronograph hand to 12 o’clock. When the start pusher is activated, the sub-dials on the watch face record elapsed seconds, minutes and hours. When all three functions – start, stop, and reset – can be performed by only one pusher, it is called a mono-pusher chronograph, as demonstrated in the MEMORIS by Louis Moinet featured below.

Louis Moinet Red Eclipse chronograph explained
Louis Moinet – Memoris Red Eclipse

What is the function of a chronograph?

The primary function of a chronograph is to measure a short time interval. While some watches can only record up to 30 minutes at a time, others can go as long as several hours.

In sports, the chronograph is the absolute judge. The chronograph determines which driver completed the fastest lap, which athlete broke the world record in the 100 meters race. It has an almost universal use. It can measure your heart rate, calculate your average speed, or keep track of two events at the same time.

Louis Moinet the Chronograph watch explained
A 100-meter sprint

An interactive complication in watchmaking

In the area of ​​watch complications, the chronograph offers the most interaction with its wearer. And for a good reason – the chronograph complication is animated, unlike other complications such as the tourbillon or the perpetual calendar.

One of the most challenging complications

The chronograph consists of several hundred components. In its most sophisticated version, the column wheel – which controls the various start, stop, and reset functions – is linked to the minute hammer, the blocker, and the clutch. These four parts represent the main elements of the chronograph.

Calibre LM54 - MEMORIS Louis Moinet
Caliber LM54 – Chronograph movement

The first-ever chronograph

The world’s first chronograph, called a “Compteur de Tierces,” was invented by Louis Moinet in 1815 and completed in 1816, as attested by The Guinness World RecordsTM. This instrument is capable of measuring the 60th of a second. It’s also the first high-frequency watch – it beats 216,000 vibrations per hour (30 Hz). The usual frequency of a modern watch is 28,800 vibrations per hour (4 Hz).

First chronograph ever produced, called a “third-party counter,” invented by Louis Moinet
The first chronograph ever produced, “Compteur de Tierces.”

Find your watch

Explore over 160 watch brands' new collections in one place.

Start your search