We’ve mentioned the chronograph complication here before and discussed how useful it can be, but even more importantly, how complicated it is to produce. Of course, this makes any chronograph timepiece quite expensive, but this time around we thought we’d take a look at some of the even more special high-end chronographs available.
While you could look for an uber-rare vintage chronograph, there are also options out there if vintage just isn’t your thing. It’s not necessarily difficult to look for a high-end chronograph, however, when it comes to selecting a timepiece with classical chronograph aesthetics, choosing the right one can prove to be rather difficult. So, we’ve decided to look at a few that have great lineage and come from some of the finest watchmaking brands in the world.
Patek Philippe 5170
The 5170 is the latest classic chronograph in a long line of Patek Philippe chronographs and was first introduced at Basel World 2010. What makes this piece different from its predecessors (i.e. the 5070), is that it uses Patek’s in-house manually-wound chronograph movement: the caliber CH 29-535 PS. The previous 5070 caliber CH 27-70 PS was largely based on a Lemania movement, though Patek completely re-engineered it, creating a beautiful chronograph movement nonetheless.
The CH 29-535 PS took more than 5 years to develop, but spawned some other chronograph calibers along the way such as the CHR 27-525 PS. In true classic form, the caliber makes use of a column wheel and horizontal clutch architecture and a number of Patek innovations, making it super efficient and precise. These innovations include a vibration-free chronograph hand movement that improves efficiency and reduction of mechanical wear and an elaborate construction which assures that the small hand jumps within a fraction of a second, enhancing precision and legibility.
Not only is the CH 29-535 PS precise, but it is also beautifully finished in faithful Patek fashion. The old-style bridges have been chamfered, polished, and decorated with Geneva striping that can be admired through the sapphire crystal caseback.
The case of the 5170 measures a classic 39 mm and its sleek shape follows the traditional Patek Calatrava design. The lugs extend from the case band with a slight curve that aids comfort. The chronograph is operated with rectangular pushers at 2 and 4 o’clock; a typical attribute of Patek Philippe wrist chronographs for over seven decades. The crown is also an important element; it’s knurled for convenient winding with two fingers, but is small enough not to jab the wrist when the hand is bent back.
Beneath the sapphire glass is a silvery-white dial, which differs from the 5170J in that it makes use of applied Breguet numerals instead of Roman numerals and slender baton markers. The previous version of the 5170 sported a pulsation scale, harking back to the traditional doctor’s watch. The railway track minute scale features slightly compressed Breguet numerals. The engine-turned seconds subdial at 9 o’clock and the 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock are recessed in the main dial and sit just below the horizontal center axis, which balances the dial out nicely, making it elegant yet legible.
Lange & Söhne 1815 Flyback
When the 1815 Flyback was originally launched in 2004, it garnered quite a bit of attention even though this was the same year the Double Split was released. While it didn’t create the hysteria that surrounded the Datograph, the Flyback offered the same great chronograph movement found in the Datograph in a more balanced package: purer chronograph aesthetics, a more wearable case design, and quite a bit less expensive.
The newer 1815 Flyback Chronograph was introduced in 2010 and is void of any scales, unlike the previous model. This affords the newer Flyback a cleaner look, but does take away some of the charm of earlier models. The silver argenté dial and black accents marking the subdials and hours and minute track give it a clean classic look. The outer railroad minute track, placed on a slightly inclined flange, makes use of a 1/5th-minute inner scale with strategically placed dots marking the hours. Each quarter hour is marked with 3 dots resembling a club. The dial features full Arabic numerals for hours and two engine-turned subsidiary dials, recording chronograph minutes and continuous seconds. Again, both make use of railroad track scales, which only enhance the watch’s classic look. While the face of the dial may appear flat, the subtle levels on which each aspect of the dial are placed lends some much needed depth.
On the reverse side of the Lange 1815 chronograph, a sapphire crystal caseback reveals one of the most technically exquisite and beautiful chronograph mechanisms ever made. The caliber L951.5 chronograph movement makes use of a column-wheel control and a stepped pinion for the precise jumping minute counter. Of course, one of the highlights of this gorgeous movement is the flyback function, a device found in very few chronographs. The 1815 chronograph can be stopped and reset in the middle of timing via a single push-piece.
The 39.5-mm case is what makes this Lange & Söhne pretty much perfect; its no fuss, yet simple and functional design is a standout feature. Like all of Lange’s chronograph pieces, the 1815 Flyback makes use of rectangular push-pieces located at 2 and 4 o’clock on the case band. The case is secured to the wearer’s wrist with a hand-stitched crocodile strap featuring a solid matching case metal Lange prong buckle.
Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Chronograph
It is without a doubt very difficult to mention classic chronographs and not mention Vacheron Constantin in the same breath. They are THE traditional watch manufacturer who are well known for creating some of the most beautiful chronographs in the world. Their current classic chronograph is much the same, however, it does have a more contemporary edge in comparison. The dial of the Traditionnelle chronograph features a classic chronograph layout with a two-toned silver dial, which sports an outer tachymeter scale, railroad track minutes, and long block hour indices. Like all the chronographs we’ve looked at thus far, it features two engine-turned subsidiary dial registers, one recording chronograph minutes and the other displaying running seconds.
Inside the Traditionnelle Chronograph is the well-known 1141 caliber. This is basically a Lemania 2310 hand-wound chronograph movement that has been decorated and re-adjusted to fit Vacheron Constantin’s high standards, including beautiful finishing. Vacheron even replaced some original parts with their own, adding VC finesse. The movement uses a traditional column wheel and features gold-plated bridges. The base caliber is known for its reliability and accuracy and also looks absolutely marvelous, especially when time is invested into decorating its numerous bridges. Let’s not forget, this base caliber has also been used by other high-end brands in the past.
The 42-mm case is what makes this chronograph more contemporary than the others mentioned. While it may still be a little too large to be called traditional, its case design brings it back just within the realm of classic. Like the others, it makes use of rectangular push-pieces, which are located at 2 and 4 o’clock on the case band. A coin edge finish on the caseback adds a nice extra touch. The case is secured to the wrist via a hand-stitched alligator strap with a solid matching case metal deployant buckle.
Girard Perregaux 1966 Chronograph
The Girard Perregaux 1966 Chronograph was first introduced to the world at SIHH 2010. The chronograph was greeted with much enthusiasm by watch lovers the world over and it’s not hard to see why. GP paired a perfectly proportioned case (40 mm) together with a classically styled dial, both of which were vintage inspired. The 1966’s dial includes a tachymeter scale, railroad track minutes, and numerals only at 12 and 6 o’clock, adding to its vintage credentials. Similar to the Lange above, it features two engine-turned subsidiary dial registers, recording chronograph minutes and displaying running seconds. Some may argue that these are a little too close to the center of the dial.
This 1966 chronograph differs from the Patek and the Lange in the movement department, however. Looking through the caseback of the 1966 chronograph, you will see the caliber GP030CO, which is an automatic movement, meaning you don’t really get to see the entire movement. However, you may also notice that the movement is somewhat smaller than the case. This may seem rather odd, but what GP have done is try to maintain the proportions of the dial and 40-mm case. While they could’ve opted for a smaller 38-mm case, this probably would have set the overall aesthetic off balance. That said, the movement is still very beautiful and features Geneva stripes and a striking 18-karat gold rotor.
Since it’s a modular chronograph movement, the chronograph works are hidden from view under the drivetrain components, so you don’t get to view the column-wheel movement. While you can’t see it, the tactile feedback remains, which is typical of a well-made column-wheel chronograph. Actuation is smooth via the rectangular pushers, giving it just the right amount of pressure to start, stop, and reset.
These are just a few hand selected traditional chronographs. Of course, there are many more that offer similar aesthetics and even the same attention to detail, but we believe these four come from watch manufacturers steeped in history, and to be honest, they are probably as good as they come.