When it comes to watches that are both classy and sporty, few can match up to a chronograph. As far as watch complications go, it’s one of the more conservative ones – strictly functional, with little in the way of flashiness. Nevertheless, a well-executed chronograph is always pleasing to the eye. Here are some of the classic chronographs to have decorated history.
Rolex CosmoGraph Daytona
You can’t talk about classic chronographs without discussing the Rolex Daytona. Originally released as the “Cosmograph” in 1963, the Daytona only came to be known as such two years after its release. The most coveted Daytonas are the “Paul Newman” ref. 6239 timepieces, named for the late actor and race car driver due to his association with it. Ironically, “Paul Newman” Daytonas are rare because they didn’t sell well when they were being produced. Due to its rarity, the acquisition of this watch can be both boon and bane for any watch collector given the high prices involved, and the need to establish the provenance of any example being sold.
Omega Speedmaster Professional
It’s also called the “Moonwatch” as it was worn by the astronauts on the Apollo 11’s lunar voyage. Besides being the first watch on the moon, the Omega Speedmaster reference 105.012 continued to be a part of six moon missions. These days, it is simply known as the Omega Speedmaster Professional. Lending credence to the adage of “form following function”, it’s a great example of how style and substance need not be mutually exclusive.
Before its acquisition by Techniques d’Avant Garde, TAG Heuer was known simply as “Heuer”. In what was widely considered its heyday in the 60s, Heuer released the Autavia, a racing/aviator-styled chronograph (AUTomotive + AVIAtor = Autavia). Along with the venerable Rolex GMT Master-II, the Autavia (reference 2446C) was one of the first few watches to feature the “Pepsi” blue/red bi-coloured bezel. It also came with an added GMT complication. Now, the brand is currently revisiting its archives and bringing classic models like the Autavia back into the fold with timepieces like the Heuer Heritage Calibre Heuer 02. Fun fact: the origin of the Autavia goes back to 1933, when Heuer designed its first dash counter for racing cars, boats and aircraft.
Zenith Chronomaster El Primero
Since its release in 1969, the movement for the Chronomaster El Primero has remained largely unchanged. Its reliability and precision were so renowned that even Rolex relied on them to supply chronograph movements (albeit reworked in-house to beat at a more leisurely 28,800vph) for its Daytona timepieces between 1988 and 2000. The Zenith Chronomaster El Primero is also one of the more varied and colourful chronographs around, with variations sporting extra complications like a moon phase, contrasting sub-dials, or skeleton dials.
Breguet Type XX
Breguet’s Type XX stands out from the rest of this list on account of its dial presence. Big bold Arabic numerals, a rotatable bezel, fly-back function and lumed features made the Breguet Type XX one of the first military aviation chronographs to be released. While the Breguet Type XXI and XXII represent a more modern treatment, there is an unmistakeable vintage appeal to the original Type XX.
Watches are usually celebrated for their history, design or engineering. Most classic chronographs happen to hold a distinction in at least one of these areas. While the march of technology has rendered the primary function of the chronograph obsolete, time has done little to diminish the romanticism associated with its aesthetic.