With all the utility one can get out of smartwatches and phones these days, few guys are using chronograph watches to time events and activities. Let’s face it, hardly anyone used chronographs to perform that function, anyway. But no smartwatch can possibly replace the level of mechanical interaction a chrono complication can provide, and then there’s the immense style imparted by a good chronograph. Whether a good chronograph has two or three subdials, the added level of detail on the dial can lend sportiness or dress to a timepiece, and it certainly makes you look like a pretty serious watch guy. Along with a great dive watch, pilot watch, and field watch, a chronograph watch should have a place in any respectable watch collection.
What Is a Chronograph Watch?
In the simplest of terms, a chronograph watch is a stopwatch that also happens to tell time. An analog chronograph watch is a timepiece with an extra complication to act as a stopwatch. It’s meant to measure elapsed time by using pushers on the side (or top) of the watch case, and a chronograph can have two or three sudials or registers that display the hours, minutes, and seconds. Some “chronographs” are not true to the segment because they do not possess an independent central sweep second hand and a minute sub-dial operated by a pusher and reset pusher. Typically fashion chronographs operate a small seconds subdial and a day or date subdial. If you don’t care much for true chronograph functionality, then a chrono-style timepiece will suit you just fine. In fact, most chronograph owners don’t actually use the pushers and subdials to clock anything. But legitimate chronographs are great tool watches that owners can use in the real world, in addition to the upped horological style quotient.
While chronograph watches can get pricey, there are quality options available at every price range.
The Best Chronograph Watches, From Affordable to Special Occasion
Timex X Todd Snyder MK-1 Sky King
Style maven Todd Snyder’s first chronograph is a style steal. For less than $200, you get a vintage military field watch chronograph that’s inspired by the original MK-1. The 42mm stainless steel case gets a black coating that matches the flat black dial. Easy legibility with white hands and markers gets a boost from the orange second hand. Three matching chrono dials are operated and reset by the black pushers. The recycled olive fabric strap looks properly military spec.
RZE Valour Chronograph
RZE’s latest timepiece was designed and built for track duty. The angled and rounded case is crafted with hardned titanium, and the subdials and tachymeter scale have race day written all over them. Other details include a super-accurate meca-quartz movement, Swiss Super-LumiNova for low-light legibility, AR sapphire glass, and some sweetly curved pushers that are nicely integrated into the case. Choose between light blue, yellow, or white dials. Each model gets a high-grade and super-comfy FKM rubber strap with a titanium buckle. Time to go racing.
Unimatic Classic UC3
Unimatic doles out limited edition collaborations all year long, but they’ve finally issued a permanent collection, of which the UC3 is a member. The 40mm watch is prominent because of its black bezel with a single lumed pip, the matte black dial with bicompax configuration, phantom ladder hands, and no date window for a clean chrono look. The meca-quartz movement is accurate to within +/-20 seconds per month, and its locking pushers prevent accidental operation and damage. The fine mesh black Nato strap is its perfect match.
Furlan Marri Castagna
In recent memory, no new watch microbrand has captured the horological past as well as Furlan Marri. Although the small company is only a few years old, the bi-compax Castagna looks like it’s been around for decades. The 38mm brushed and polished stainless steel cases drips with style, and the intricate, multicolored dial will have you staring at it over and over again. It also gets doubled-domed AR sapphire glass and one of the coolest crowns we’ve seen with a turbine engraving on it. The Seiko VK64 meca-quartz movement is super-accurate, and it should keep this vintage-style chrono working for decades to come.
Shinola Runwell Chrono 41mm
Detroit’s Shinola makes more watches than one can keep track of, but a favorite is the new Runwell Chrono 41 on the three-link butterfly-clasp steel bracelet that looks amazing on the curved wire lugs. The simple 41mm steel case gets dressed up by its high polish sheen. The beautiful guilloche subdials have intricate concentric circles that pop on the flat black dial, as do the orange subdial hands that match the Shinola lightning bolt. The Runwell Chrono gets timekeeping duties from a Swiss-made, USA-assembled Argonite 5021.D quartz movement. The accentuating onion crown and polished steel pushers add that extra level of pizzaz to this beauty.
Le Jour Le Mans Chronograph Vintage White
Swiss watchmaker Le Jour might be low on the horological radar when compared to the bigger names, but the Le Mans Chrono looks like the beautiful lovechild of a Rolex Daytona and an Omega Speedmaster. The offset triple-register panda dial is stunning, and the black guilloche subdials match the color of the black aluminum tachymeter bezel, both of which look properly auto race-ready. The movement is a Swiss Sellita SW500 automatic chronograph movement. Domed AR sapphire glass looks like vintage acrylic but adds substantially better scratch and impact resistance. Finally, the elegantly framed day/date window is one of the best we’ve ever seen.
Christopher Ward C65 Chronograph
Christopher Ward has a huge cult following in watch circles because they provide tremendous style, quality, and value. The C65 Chronograph is just one example of how well they design their watches. The yachting-inspired chronograph boasts a colorful 30-minute “regatta timer” subdial atop a bright blue sunburst dial. The blue unidirectional bezel and the inner fixed tachymeter bezel provide additional timing options. Other high-grade features include a Swiss Sellita SW510 BHa bicompax automatic movement with stopwatch functionality and a 48-hour power reserve, a date window at the 6, and a sapphire glass display back that shows off the CW engraved rotor.
TAG Heuer Formula 1
Another chronograph dedicated to the art of motoring is the TAG Heuer Formula 1 that’s built for speed. The robust 43mm stainless steel case gets a fixed black steel tachymeter bezel with matching black crown and pushers. The triple-register dial is easy to read, and Super-LumiNova provides excellent low-light visibility. The small red-tipped hands and the red triangle pip at the 12 that look racy without screaming it from the rooftops. The quartz movement resists driving forces far better than a mechanical automatic, and the all-racing business look will have everyone wondering what you drive on the track.
Tissot PRX Automatic Chronograph
Tissot’s PRX line, with its integrated single-link bracelet, looks and feels premium without the commensurate cost. The PRX line pretty much took the watch world by storm just a couple of years ago, and it’s only expanding the line further. The new chronograph adds another model to the PRX line with a 42mm brushed stainless steel case, a Swiss Valjoux A05.H31 automatic chrono movement, and three functioning subdials. The blue reverse panda dial caps off the vintage ’70s sports watch aesthetic, and the sapphire crystal glass provides premium protection. Flip it over to watch the racing wheel rotor through the transparent caseback.
Nivada Grenchen Orange Boy Automatic
If you haven’t heard of Nivada Grenchen, you’re not alone. The niche Swiss brand has actually been around since 1926, and its Chronomaster has been revived for the modern age without losing its very becoming and timeless chrono diver looks. The Orange Boy Automatic chronograph is just one version, but it’s a favorite because of the great color choices for the subdials, chrono hand, and the markers against the black dial and black aluminum bezel insert. The movement is a Swiss Sellita SW510 BH B mechanical automatic for excellent chrono timekeeping. Sapphire glass caps of this nicely-size 38mm stunner.
Hanhart 417 ES 1954 Flyback Panda 39
You can’t assemble a great chronograph list without a dedicated pilot’s watch. Germany’s Hanhart recently issued a smaller diameter version of its iconic 417 ES known as the 1954 Flyback Panda 39. It also adds The flyback function that provides measurement of a new timing interval via the lower reset pusher. The white dial version is especially fetching with its hands and Arabic numerals outlined in black. Sellita’s AMT5100 M calibre manual wind movement provides 58 hours of power on a full wind. The pilot-specific bund strap keeps the cold caseback off your wrist at high altitudes, but it’s really just a solid style statement for us earthbound folk.
Hamilton Jazzmaster Face 2 Face III Limited Edition
The third version of Hamilton’s Face 2 Face chronograph is easily its best thanks to its classic round case that departs from the previously ovular and gigantic models that used two movements. The inner watch case of the III swivels inside the outer case that holds the crown and chrono pushers from a single H-41 automatic movement with a 60-hour power reserve. The chrono side shows off a popping blue subdial and an almost totally exposed date wheel. Flip it over, and you’ll find a silver tachymeter, a blue pulsometer scale, and a single blued hand that operates counter-clockwise. It’s a big watch with a complex and ornate feature that’s pretty much impossible to find at this price.