Where have the classic 1940's and 1950's chronographs gone?

Today we have a choice of several chronograph movements, primarily ETA based 2824's, 2890's (only the Omega Speedmaster Racing) and 2892's - with chronograph modules and the 2894's, the ubiquitous Valjoux 7750 (and cousins). There is also the less common Lemania movements and the Zenith El Primo. And its not just the movements that are common. A flick through ''Wristwatch Annual'' will see the same dial layout, with the sub seconds at 9 o'clock, the minute counter at 12 o'clock and the hour counter at 6 o'clock (in the case of the 7750). And its a fair bet they are invariably ''Pilots Watches''. There's nothing wrong with ''Pilots Watches'' as such , it's just they're all ''peas-in-a-pod''. There is so little variety.

Come on watch companies lets see a little more variety, lets see some classic chronographs, you've done it before and you can do it again with style.

Lets see what you could do:

Forty or more years ago the first thing included was a ''Tachymetre'' and a ''Telemetre'' scale on the outside of the dial, but not on the outside of the case.

Here we have a Rolex Ref 2508 from 1937 with baton blue steel hands. The scale inside the case has two effects:

1. The scale does not require a thick case rim to sit on.

2. The dial looks large in relation to the case because of the thin case rim.

The stainless steel or gold case often had the the scale in blue, as highlighted in the Rolex Ref 4500 on the right.

Calender functions could be included, by omitting the Tachymeter/Telemetre scales.

A Rolex Ref 6063 from 1951.

Notice the 3,6 and 9 minute markers on the minute counter for timing phone calls (these were charged in three minute intervals).

Rolex are building a new chronograph movement, rather than sourcing the Zenith El Primo movement, so lets hope they build it with a dial like the one to the left. This has real style!

Rolex weren't the only ones with gorgeous looking watches, I especially like the ''squiggly'' counter hands on the following two watches. Is this where Alan Silberstien's ''squiggly'' chronograph hands come from??

The square chronograph buttons, always have a classic style about them, but the Patek Philippe on the right has what has to be the best chronograph buttons of all with a ''star'' or ''spoke'' on the ends. Chronoswiss use this on all their round button chonographs today.






Most of the watches above have a dial layout that is characterized by a combination Arabic numbers and baton markers. Sometimes these are alternating, as on the Rolex Ref 4500 above, or Arabic numbers at 12 o'clock and at 6 o'clock with baton markers at other points, as on the Movado.

The Patek Philippe at left has Roman Numerals at 12 o'clock and 6 o'clock and with the classic blue tachymeter scale, square buttons and would have to be my favourite all time chronograph.


Come on watch companies, re-create a little of the past, and give us some more variety in our chronographs. They are much more than ''Pilot Watches''.


These images are from ''Twentieth Century Wristwatches'' by George Gordon and published by Timeless Elegance - Copyright 1990 and unfortunately out of print. This is one of a series, with others being on Rolex and Cartier. I think there may also be one on Dunhill but I've never seen it. This series of books contains some very good images and are a very useful addition to any watch library. If there is a critism, the text could contain more details.

The essential chronograph book is, ''Chronograph Wristwatches To Stop Time'' by Gerd-R Lang and Reinhard Meis and published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 1993. This covers the history of the chronograph, provides great detail on the mechanics and contains numerous images of different types of chronographs. Unfortunately most of the images are in black and white, no doubt to hold the price at a reasonable level.


Greg Steer - November 1999