The 12 best chronographs for timing everything from car races to coffee brewing

The 12 best chronographs for timing everything from car races to coffee brewing

Jamie Weiss

Arguably the most popular form of watch complication on the market, no watch collection is complete without at least one chronograph. If you’re a regular reader of Time+Tide, we have no doubt you’re familiar with what a chronograph is, but for those who aren’t – firstly, welcome – and secondly, a chronograph is simply a watch that can be used as a stopwatch (that is, it can measure the amount of time that elapses between its activation and deactivation) as well as telling time.

A quick aside: chronographs shouldn’t be confused with chronometers, which are simply highly accurate mechanical timepieces – for more on those, read this explainer here. Chronographs can be chronometer-certified, but they’re not the same thing.

chronograph history
L-R: the first ever chronograph, Louis Moinet’s “compteur de tierces” from 1816, and a Hamilton Chrono-matic from 1969, an example of one of the first automatic chronographs.

While time-measuring devices like hourglasses and water clocks have existed since antiquity, the first proper chronograph was invented by famed French watchmaker Louis Moinet in 1816, to aid the tracking of astronomical objects. Fun fact: Louis Moinet was Abraham-Louis Breguet’s personal advisor. One of the biggest developments in the history of the chronograph was in 1934, when Willy Breitling first developed a chronograph with a second pusher at 4 o’clock, with Breitling’s two-pusher design becoming the industry standard. Another key development came in 1969, when both Zenith and Seiko, as well as a consortium consisting of Breitling, Büren, Hamilton, Heuer and Dubois-Dépraz, all separately brought the first automatic chronographs to market.

These days, mechanical chronographs come in all shapes and sizes, from classical designs that evoke the history of fine watchmaking to tool watches first devised for specific scientific or recreational pursuits, such as motor racing or aviation – and everything in between. We’ve put together a list of some of the best and most collectible chronograph watches on the market today that span the breadth of the category.

Brew Metric

Brew Metric Retro Dial Front Quarter

Founded in 2015 by industrial designer Jonathan Ferrer, Brew started as a passion project combining Jonathan’s love of coffee and watches. Featuring a design evocative of 1970s coffee machines and referencing telephone timer watches of the 1930s, the Brew Metric has specific markers designed to time the length of an optimal espresso shot extraction, specifically from 25 to 35 seconds. It’s powered by a Seiko VK68 mechaquartz movement (we’ve explained how they work in detail here), which offers mechanical chronograph looks and feels without a mechanical price tag. Price: US$450

Furlan Marri Sector Dial Mechaquartz “Nero Sabbia”

furlan marri nero sabbia 1072 a

One of the most successful microbrands in recent memory, Furlan Marri has made its name with beautifully executed designs inspired by 1940s Patek Philippe models, just at a much more accessible price point. The Nero Sabbia is one of their most striking pieces, which opts for an asymmetrical dial layout omitting the 24-hour indicator normally situated at three o’clock, outfitting the model in a stunning gilt and black colour scheme with a pulsometer scale. As the name implies, it’s powered by a Seiko VK64 mechaquartz movement, which relies on a quartz calibre for timekeeping and a mechanical chronograph module sitting on top. Price: US$665, available at the Time+Tide Shop.

Studio Underd0g x Time+Tide Hand Delivered

Studio Underd0g Hand Delivered 92

Shameless self-plug inbound. Originally conceived as an April Fool’s Day prank we concocted with Studio Underd0g founder Richard Benc, we decided to turn our cheeky “pizza watch” into a real product after we saw just how many people wanted one for real. Featuring a beautiful red-to-orange gradient dial smattered with pizza ingredients, this light-hearted “Hand Delivered” chronograph comes in two flavours: a classic Pepper0ni and a sacrilegious Hawaiian. Otherwise, it’s the same recipe as the rest of Studio Underd0g’s immensely popular Series 01 chronographs, boasting a 38.5mm case, twin-subdial layout and Seagull ST-1901 movement under the hood. As the name implies, there’s only two ways to get it: either visit the Time+Tide Watch Discovery Studio in Melbourne, or meet Time+Tide’s Andrew McUtchen or Studio Underd0g’s Richard Benc in person. Price: US$765

Seiko Prospex 1/100th Speedtimer “Panda” SFJ001P

SFJ001P

An eclectic take on a “panda dial” from Japan’s biggest watchmaker, the Seiko Prospex 1/100th Speedtimer “Panda” SFJ001P features a distinctive space-age design with a quartet of subdials. The primary time can be read on the subdial at 6 o’clock, with a 1/10 second display at 9 o’clock, a 1/100 second display at 3 o’clock and a running seconds indicator at 12 o’clock. Its calibre 8A50 is solar-powered and is capable of running for around 6 months when fully charged. Price: US$945

TAG Heuer Carrera Glassbox

carrera glassbox blue

The quintessential motorsports watch, the (TAG) Heuer Carrera is one of watchmaking’s true icons, worn by action stars and race car drivers alike. The current “Glassbox” iteration of the Carrera is perhaps the best yet, fusing vintage design cues like its namesake double-domed crystal, a deeply banked rehaut and wide, faceted and sharp lugs with modern touches like limitlessly-adjustable steel deployant clasps and an in-house TH20-00 column wheel movement. Price: US$6,450

Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch

SPEEDMASTER MOONWATCH PROFESSIONAL

Arguably the most iconic watch of all time, the Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch is also one of the most historically significant, being the first watch to be worn on the Moon, worn by Buzz Aldrin during Apollo 11 in 1969. Almost six decades later, the “Speedy” remains one of the most collectible watches on the market. Innumerous versions of the Moonwatch exist: today, you can choose between a period-correct Hesalite (i.e. acrylic) crystal model and a more modern sapphire crystal model, both of which feature the Calibre 3861, a modern Co-Axial movement that nevertheless retains the DNA of the Calibre 321 that powered the original Moonwatch. Price: US$7,000 (Hesalite), US$8,000 (sapphire).

Zenith Chronomaster Sport

Zenith Chronomaster Sport T+T

Another watchmaker that’s intimately associated with chronographs is Zenith, with the 159-year-old brand having developed one of the world’s first automatic chronograph movements, the legendary El Primero, in 1969. The El Primero lives on in the Zenith Chronomaster Sport, which nods to past Zenith chronograph references with its tri-coloured subdials yet remains thoroughly modern with a ceramic bezel and an exhibition caseback. A 1/10th of a second chronograph (meaning its chronograph hand completes a rotation of its dial in 10 seconds rather than 60), it beats at 5 Hertz yet retains a beefy 60-hour power reserve. Price: US$11,300

Breitling Chronomat B01 42 Titanium

Breitling Chronomat B01 Titanium

Few brands are more synonymous with chronographs than Breitling, so it’s hard to just pick one. The Chronomat name first appeared in 1940, but today’s Chronomat design was born in 1983 when it was revived for a sporty-looking collaboration with the famed Italian aerial squadron, the Frecce Tricolori. 2024 has seen the Chronomat become sportier still, with the pilot’s watch now featuring a case, bezel and bracelet crafted from titanium. Classic design details like its oversized “onion” crown, prominent bezel rider tabs and ultra-comfortable Rouleaux bracelet give this Breitling a retro-futuristic appearance. Price: US$12,400

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona

Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona

You can’t make a list of the best chronographs of all time without including this bad boy. Named after the Daytona International Speedway in Florida, the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona is easily one of the world’s most desired timepieces, standing out within Rolex’s already coveted range as the most coveted Rolex of all. While you could write screeds on the history and legacy of the Daytona, what you need to know is that the current version of this motorsports-focused chronograph features a ceramic bezel with a platinum PVD tachymetric scale, screw-down chronograph pushers and a 72-hour power reserve courtesy of its in-house calibre 4131. Price: US$15,100 (ref. 126500LN)

Hublot Big Bang Unico Orange Ceramic

Big Bang Unico Orange Ceramic

Hublot’s first watch might not have been a chronograph, but these days the brand is almost universally associated with chronographs, thanks to the success of its Big Bang range. The Big Bang Unico is particularly archetypal, powered by the Calibre HUB1280, Hublot’s first in-house movement and a particularly nice one at that: a flyback chronograph movement with a double coupling system, column wheel and 72-hour power reserve. The new Big Bang Unico Orange Ceramic is also typical of Hublot as a brand: the first-ever luxury timepiece to be made from orange ceramic, it’s incredibly eye-catching.  Price: US$29,600

A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Up/Down

A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Up:Down Blue case 2

The A. Lange & Söhne Datograph is widely considered to be one of the best chronograph watches of all time – indeed, legendary master watchmaker Philippe Dufour has said he believes the Datograph is the best serially produced wristwatch in the world, which is no small thing. A fine piece of Teutonic high watchmaking, it features a classic early-20th century aesthetic, with Lange’s signature big date at 12 o’clock and a two-register setup. Crafted from white gold, this model’s Up/Down name comes from the power reserve indicator down at 6 o’clock, which reminds you to wind the watch when the arrow dips into the red zone. Under the hood beats the beautiful L951.6 calibre, a flyback movement with instantly jumping minutes that’s crafted from untreated German silver. Price: US$131,000

MB&F Legacy Machine Sequential Flyback Platinum

mbf lm sequential flyback platinum

One of the most complicated and decadent mechanical chronographs on the market, the MB&F Legacy Machine Sequential Flyback in platinum is a truly bonkers watch. As you may have deduced from its overwhelming dial, it actually features not one but two separate chronographs, which can be engaged simultaneously thanks to its unique Twinverter system. In essence, if both chronographs are off, it’ll start them; if they’re both on, it’ll stop them; and if one is running, and the other isn’t, it’ll stop the first and start the second. Silly stuff. That’s before we start talking about its 44mm platinum case, five subdials and beautiful finishing including blackened striping, exquisite internal bevels and massive skeletonised intermediate wheels. Price: upon request.

T+T Timeless Pick: Universal Genève Tri-Compax ref. 12265

universal geneve tri compax ref 12265 wrist

Breitling might have recently acquired Universal Genève, but the brand hasn’t been revived yet. However, we couldn’t make a list of the best chronograph watches without including the Tri-Compax ref. 12265. One of the prettiest vintage chronographs around, its name reflects the true meaning of the term “tri-compax”, which has been misappropriated by watch enthusiasts to denote chronographs with three sub-dials when it strictly means one with three complications. In this piece’s case, that’s a chronograph, moonphase and calendar. Price: around US$4,000 to $6,000.