History of the Chronograph Wristwatch: Inventions by Various Watchmakers

The chronograph has a history spanning more than 100 years, and has evolved while being greatly influenced by the times, such as the start of the modern Olympic Games, the advent of the age of airplanes, and successive world wars.

It is no exaggeration to say that the history of the chronograph is the history of the wristwatch. So, this time I would like to trace the history of how the chronograph was made and developed in chronological order.

Commercialization of the Chronograph

In 1879, Swiss watchmaker Longines introduced the world's first commercially available chronograph: the Legrand, a pocket watch with a stopwatch function.

Stopwatches had existed before, but after the introduction of Longines' Legrand, technological development of timekeeping for sports became more active.

In 1882, Heuer (now TAG Heuer) obtained a patent and entered the chronograph market in earnest. In 1889, they released the world's first chronograph pocket watch with a split-second function. This watch won a silver medal at the Paris World's Fair held in the same year.

Chronographs and the Olympics

The history of the use of chronographs in the modern Olympic Games clearly shows their evolution.

In 1896, the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens, and Longines stopwatches were used to time the events. However, official records were based on visual inspection and were measured to the nearest second.

In 1916, Heuer developed the Micrograph, a stopwatch capable of measuring time to 1/100th of a second, which led to Heuer serving as official timekeeper at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.

Starting with this competition, mechanical times to the nearest 1/5 of a second were used as official records.

At the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, Omega was the official timekeeper, and official records were recorded to an even more precise accuracy of 1/10 of a second.

The advent of the airplane age and the effects of the world wars

Now, I'll go back a little in time...

In 1915, Breitling introduced the world's first wristwatch chronograph, the 30-minute timer. This was a model unique to Breitling, which had its sights set on the burgeoning aviation industry and was focusing on aviation watches.

Until then, pilots had to fly planes with pocket watches strapped to their arms or legs.

This was the period in the midst of World War I, which led to a high demand for wearable wristwatches, and watches underwent a dramatic evolution.

In the 1910s, various manufacturers released "monopushers" equipped with pulsometers that could measure heart rate.

In 1929, Longines introduced the split-second function to a wristwatch chronograph, and in 1936, it became the first watch manufacturer to feature the flyback mechanism, which allowed the hands to be instantly reset and restarted.

Heuer, which has contributed greatly to the evolution of motorsports, developed the dashboard chronograph and in 1933 introduced the Autavia, a dashboard chronograph for automobiles and aviation.

In 1934, Breitling introduced the "Premier" watch with two pushers, the second button for resetting the hands, which made it easier to reset and thus allowed for continuous measurement.

In the 1940s, World War II began, and the chronograph, an essential item for aviators, continued to evolve.

Breitling released the "Chronomat" in 1942. This is a wristwatch equipped with a rotating measurement scale that can measure speed, fuel consumption, etc. It was invented by Gaston Breitling, who was the company's president at the time.

In addition, in 1952, the pilot chronograph "Navitimer" based on the "Chronomat" was released.

These were highly valued aviation instruments capable of performing all kinds of flight calculations.

Completely waterproof chronographs also appeared. These were developed by the British company Oyster Co., and were chronographs that used the revolutionary "Oyster case," a seamless case made by simply cutting out a block of metal. Rolex, which later acquired Oyster Co., perfected the model, which later evolved into the famous "Daytona."

Post-war: Watches have evolved with the times

Breguet, which was asked by the French military to produce a pilot's watch, developed the Type XX in the 1950s. The successor model to the Type XX, which was adopted by the French Navy's aviation corps, remains popular to this day.

In 1958, Heuer introduced the Rally Master, a dashboard chronograph for car racing, which combined the Master Time eight-day watch with the Monte Carlo stopwatch.

In 1963, Rolex released the Cosmograph Daytona. It was made for car racers, who were becoming increasingly popular, and was named after the Daytona International Speedway, famous for its 24-hour endurance race. Today, the Daytona is considered the King of Chronographs.

The "Speedmaster", released by Omega in 1957, was chosen as the official wristwatch of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) in 1965 due to its high accuracy, legibility, and robustness. NASA tested watches from various companies to ensure they could withstand the conditions of outer space. Of those, only the "Speedmaster" was selected.

This highly durable Speedmaster actually went into space and was used in the Apollo missions in 1969, landing on the moon with Apollo 11. As the first wristwatch to land on the moon, it has since been called the "Moonwatch," and the words "THE FIRST WATCH WORN ON THE MOON" are engraved on the back of the watch.

In this way, the performance required of a chronograph has changed over the years.

Automatic chronograph

At the time, automatic watches were becoming widespread, but automatic chronographs were thought to be impossible to manufacture.

Finally, in 1969, Breitling, Heuer, Hamilton, and Dubois-Dépraz jointly developed the automatic chronograph movement "Chronomatic" (caliber 11).

Also in 1969, Seiko released the Caliber 6139 and Zenith released the El Primero (Caliber 3019).

Later, in 1973, the movement specialist manufacturer Valjoux completed the Caliber 7750.

Quartz Crisis

Seiko released the world's first quartz wristwatch, the Astron, in 1969, the same year the automatic chronograph was introduced. After that, watch manufacturers rushed to produce quartz wristwatches, and mass-produced quartz wristwatches took the world by storm.

As a result, mechanical watch manufacturers were forced into bankruptcy and consolidation, and the chronograph market went into a steady decline. This series of events that shook the watch industry so much that it is now known as the "Quartz Shock."

The revival of the mechanical watch

However, in the 1980s, mechanical watches, which had a different appeal to quartz watches, began to attract attention again.

The movement "Caliber 7750" previously developed by Valjoux was adopted as a base movement by various watch manufacturers due to its versatility and high expandability. In this way, the sharing of movements made it easier to manufacture chronographs, and mechanical watches gradually made a comeback.

In 1984, Breitling introduced a new Chronomat, developed in collaboration with pilots as the official watch of the Italian Air Force's acrobatic flying team, the Frecce Tricolori.

In 1986, Zenith revived the automatic chronograph with the El Primero movement that it had been supplying to other companies.

Then in 1988, Rolex's Daytona changed from a manual winding to an automatic winding. A movement based on El Primero was adopted. At that time, attention was drawn to the old model of the manual winding Daytona that was no longer in production, and the Daytona boom became overheated.

In this way, convenient, highly accurate quartz watches and historic, high-end mechanical watches came to coexist. Each company released new models one after another, and they continue to fascinate mechanical watch fans around the world even today.