What is a chronograph, and why do Breitling do them so well?

For more than 130 years, Breitling has been committed to making the finest timing instruments for dashboards, pockets and wrists alike

Not everybody spends their time obsessing over the finer details of watchmaking. There are, of course, those of us who know tourbillions and tonneau case shapes inside out, but there are others who couldn’t identify any part of our watch past the hands. Those three little circles on the dial, for example…

But don’t overlook those three little circles, as they can turn a simple watch into a timing device known as a chronograph. Breitling, the iconic Swiss watch brand, makes one of the best in the business — and here’s how they do it.

What is a chronograph?

A chronograph is a simple timing device, visible mainly on modern sports and pilots’ watches. While they were originally designed to help time the laps of a race car or the fly-by timings of a plane, today they’re great for timing your eggs in the morning or seeing how long you can hold a plank position.

They normally take the shape of three sub-dials and two pushers either side of your crown. The top pusher will start and stop your chronograph and the lower one will normally reset it.

When were chronographs invented, and why are they so popular now?

We can credit the current chronograph form to Breitling, who date back to 1884. Léon Breitling had a vision of creating the most accurate timing instruments for industrial, military and scientific uses. And, although he picked up a couple of awards for his timing machines, he solidified his reputation at the beginning of the 20th Century.

The first ever wrist-worn chronograph, with a pusher separate from the crown, was developed by Breitling in 1915. And this was the first model to begin to resemble the modern sports watches of today.

Fast-forward 20 years and Breitling introduced yet another innovation into the world of chronographs: The first two-pusher chronograph wristwatch — one for starting and stopping the timer and one for resetting it.

Who are the masters of the chronograph, Breitling?

Breitling were clearly world leaders when it came to chronograph innovations, but how did the company evolve to the world renowned watch Maison that they are today?

The brand stayed in the hands of the Breitling family for three generations. But, due to ill health and the quartz crisis, it was handed on to another watchmaker and pilot, Ernest Schneider, whose family would remain guardians of the famous chronograph brand until 2017.

Today, the company is headed up by the indomitable Georges Kern, who is taking the company in a direction that few Swiss watch brands have braved before. Rather than emphasising their yearly shows, Breitling is now concentrating on roadshows, where they can interact with partners and consumers on a much more personal level.

Breitling’s current CMO, Tim Sayler, added, “Breitling’s legendary future centres on the Breitling worlds — air, land and sea — recognising the key roles we have played in the development and innovation for timekeeping in these environments and reflected in our collections as well as our new partnerships such as with Ocean Conservancy or Norton.”

How are Breitling still innovating to this day?

Despite their illustrious and inventive history, Breitling are still striving for innovation in the watch world. The Breitling Emergency, for example, comes equipped with a dual frequency distress beacon that can be used to save lives.

Additionally, the brand has also taken the most recent step in chronograph innovation. The Exospace B55, a connected chronograph, can utilise your smartphone to enhance the functionality of a normal chronograph.

It’s a model tailor-made for pilots and yachstmen. Boasting a full range of functions, from an electronic tachymeter, and a ‘countdown/countup’ system, to a ‘chrono flight’ and ‘chrono regatta’ device for recording flight and regatta times. And two LCD screens finish off a display that can be backlit, to deal with low light level situations.

Of course, being able to control the functions of your watch using a smartphone might not sound revolutionary in the age of the Apple Watch, but Breitling offer far more than Apple’s ‘screen on your wrist’. This isn’t an accessory; it’s a tool that gives you the most accurate chronograph possible.

Our favourite of these innovative chronographs has to be the newly restyled classic Navitimer 1. Possibly the most instantly recognisable of Breitling’s range and utilising their fantastic in-house movement that masterfully deploys their signature chronograph.

With their incredible history in the development of chronographs and watches we are very excited to see what Breitling come up with next. But for now, go to the pub with confidence in the knowledge that you know all about those three little circles on your watch dial.

Breitling Navitimer 1 B01 Chronograph 43

Breitling Navitimer 1 B01 Chronograph 43


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