What is the Difference Between a Chronograph and a Chronometer?

A chronometer is NOT a chronograph, but a chronograph CAN BE a chronometer. Confusing right? Well, let’s start by defining the terms.


What is the Difference Between a Chronograph and a Chronometer?

A chronometer and a chronograph are two distinct types of watches with different functions and certifications. While both terms are related to time measurement, they serve different purposes. While obtaining chronometer certification for the movement used in a chronograph is possible, it’s important to note that a chronometer and a chronograph are fundamentally different in their primary functions and capabilities.

A Chronometer

A chronometer is designed to accurately measure time despite external factors such as motion or temperature variations. Its origins can be traced back to 1714, when the British government initiated a contest to develop a timepiece for maritime use. This resulted in the creation of the marine chronometer, which enabled sailors to calculate longitude accurately. Today, a chronometer refers to a watch that has undergone independent testing, often performed by organizations like COSC (Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute). The testing process evaluates the watch’s precision in different positions and temperatures. To be tested, a watch must have a second hand to allow for precise verification. The COSC standards permit a maximum variation of -4 to +6 seconds daily.

Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra 150M Co-Axial Master Chronometer GMT Worldtimer
Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra 150M Co-Axial Master Chronometer GMT Worldtimer

While only around three percent of Swiss watches undergo chronometer certification, certain brands, such as Rolex and Breitling, certify every movement they use. Chronometer certification comes at a cost, making these watches more expensive than regular timepieces. However, their precision is higher, offering a reliable and accurate measure of time. The Geneva Seal certification has also recently incorporated a precision test into its evaluation process.

A Chronograph

On the other hand, a chronograph is a watch that includes additional functionality for timing events independently of its regular timekeeping function. Unlike a stopwatch that focuses solely on timing events, a chronograph maintains regular timekeeping while allowing you to measure the duration of specific activities.

Simple or Standard Chronograph

The basic or standard chronograph operates using two buttons, one to initiate and halt the timing process and another to reset it. These buttons are typically positioned alongside the crown of the watch, usually on the right side of the watch’s face.

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona
Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, Standard Chronograph

The standard chronograph commonly employs a central sweeping second hand that completes a full rotation per second rather than measuring fractions of a second. This feature enables you to accurately measure events with a precision of up to 1/10th of a second, which is generally sufficient for most individuals’ requirements.

Monopusher Chronograph

A monopusher chronograph is a type of chronograph watch that utilizes a single push-button. It was the original design of chronograph watches.

The single pusher starts, stops, and resets the chronograph. It can be positioned on either side of the watch case and often features its own crown at 3 o’clock.

IWC Big Pilot's Watch Monopusher Edition "Le Petit Prince"
IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Monopusher Edition “Le Petit Prince”

However, the main drawback of a monopusher chronograph is its limited functionality in measuring a single timer. It cannot pause or stop the timer and then resume it. Once the timer is stopped, you have to reset it to zero before you can start timing again, effectively losing any previously recorded time.

Flyback Chronograph

The flyback chronograph is a chronograph variant designed to address the need for measuring multiple laps, whether it’s timing a run, a race, or any activity that involves laps.

This type of chronograph enables you to easily measure intervals of time. While some may perceive it as just another way to use the stopwatch feature on a watch, there are several advantages to using a flyback chronograph compared to other types of chronographs.

Patek Philippe Complications Flyback Chronograph, Annual Calendar
Patek Philippe Complications Flyback Chronograph, Annual Calendar

Unlike a standard chronograph, a flyback chronograph features two pushers, with an additional function incorporated into the lower reset button. While the timer is in operation, pressing the lower reset button instantly resets the main timer hand to zero without the need to press the top pusher again. This allows for immediate and seamless timing of subsequent intervals without interruption.

The Rattrapante or Split-Seconds Chronograph

The rattrapante, also known as a split-seconds chronograph, is the most complex and typically the most expensive type of chronograph watch. In addition to the standard rattrapante chronograph, there are even more intricate models known as triple-split chronographs, which can command six-figure prices.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Split-Seconds Chronograph GMT Large Date
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Split-Seconds Chronograph GMT Large Date

Alongside the buttons positioned at the two and four o’clock positions, the rattrapante chronograph incorporates an additional pusher typically located on the opposite side of the watch case, around the 10 o’clock position. This third button controls the split-seconds function. Split-seconds chronograph watches feature a second chronograph hand hidden beneath the main one, remaining concealed until it is activated.

Czapek Antarctique Rattrapante Silver Grey
Czapek Antarctique Rattrapante Silver Grey

When timing begins using the initial pusher, pressing the split-seconds button halts the upper of the two hands while the lower one continues progressing. This allows for the timing of two separate events or competitors simultaneously. For instance, you can stop one hand as the first competitor crosses the finish line and then stop the second hand as their opponent completes the race. The difference in times can be instantly determined and displayed.

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