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Essential Chronographs

By Michel Jeannot

03.15.17

Subhead: 
Sporting Watches
TAG Heuer Carrera Mikrograph
Carrera Mikrograph
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Since the chronograph has been recognized as a complication in its own right and indeed every bit as difficult to execute as a tourbillon, according to Michel Parmigiani, this function is no longer considered a simple enhancement for dials lacking animation. Recently it has even become the objective of research conducted with the goal of obtaining a precision unmatched in the world of mechanical movements. We are reminded of TAG Heuer’s breakthroughs in this field with the Mikro line and its dual chain, which brought 5/10,000th of a second precision within the reach of a wrist-worn chronograph. Still counted among TAG Heuer’s collections, the Carrera Mikrograph associates two escapements oscillating at 28,800 and 360,000 vph respectively, which allows 1/100th of a second measurements without interfering with the functioning of the movement base. 

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Montblanc went even further with its recently released TimeWriter II Chronographe Bi-fréquence 1,000, which as its name indicates, offers 1/1,000th of a second precision powered by a movement that “turns” at 50Hz (360,000 vph). These breakthroughs, rendered feasible by the increasingly advanced integration of research and development divisions in the heart of watchmaking facilities, give the lie to the saying that in horology, everything has already been invented. In terms of practical applications for such chronographic advances, such as sporting events, electronic timekeeping took over a long time ago. Omega proved this yet again at the last Olympics in Rio—its 27th round as the official timer. An achievement to match those of the athletes, and its weight is not just metaphorical. At its first time at the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1932, Omega timed the events with 30 split-seconds chronographs. In Rio, the brand brought along 450 tons of equipment!

Carl F. Bucherer Patravi Traveltec Black
Patravi Traveltec Black
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Watch brands still occupy a niche that continues to impress watch lovers attuned to the chronograph’s ticking seconds hand. Rare indeed is the house that does not have a chronograph on the roster, especially since the complications can be interpreted in any register: from models imbued with stately classicism, such as the Admiral Chronograph Flyback from Ateliers deMonaco, to ultra-technical ones, such as the Carl F. Bucherer Patravi Traveltec Black, whose profoundly black color highlights a short countdown timer and three time zone displays powered by proprietary COSC-certified caliber CFB 1901.1. Not to mention the “tribute” watches, for example the Super KonTiki from Eterna, equipped with the house’s first flyback chronograph caliber, which revisits the origins of the watch dating back to the 1940s, when six Eterna watches served as navigation instruments to the Norwegian ethnologist Thor Heyerdahl during his expedition across the Pacific in a wooden raft. Perrelet has also chosen the homage route, with its recent Turbine Chrono, which offers an original chronograph display with sapphire crystal disks, in order to avoid visually distorting its dial-side double-rotor mechanism (a signature of the brand since its launch in 1995).

Hublot Big Bang Ferrari
Big Bang Ferrari
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Even those companies whose fame is intimately linked with haute couture or jewelry are open to adding chronographs to their masculine models. Aesthetics are timeless, as proven by de GRISOGONO and its Grande Chrono Nº 1, Harry Winston and its Ocean Chronograph Automatic 44mm, Boucheron and its Epure Chronograph in steel, as well as Dior and its Chiffre Rouge A02 and A05. At the other end of the spectrum from this approach, some houses have done their utmost to join the sports world, backed by chronographs, to the point where the quest for performance has become part of the DNA of these brands, whose names have become synonymous with one sport or another. This is exactly what Hublot did with soccer, forging a relationship so intimate it could be considered a textbook case for future brands. When Hublot first set its cap for soccer, no watchmakers were interested in the sport’s stars, and even less in soccer itself, deemed too mass market. So Hublot began in 2006 by designing a watch for the Swiss national team. This first step opened up an entire field to Hublot, territory that it rapidly conquered by becoming, in 2008, the partner of the UEFA European Football Championship, then the FIFA World Cup. It was a brilliant play: at the world’s biggest international competitions, the Hublot name is displayed on the referee boards, which signal substitutions and additional time periods. Given that the audience for these meets numbers in the billions for televised games, the Hublot name has traveled the entire planet, bringing with it products such as the famous Soccer Bang, a Big Bang Bi-Retrograde Chrono designed specifically for the soccer world.

Richard Mille RM 050 Felipe Massa
RM 050 Felipe Massa
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Hublot has indeed not confined itself to soccer, also striking up a partnership with Ferrari. As the world of watchmaking and that of automobiles share a focus on performance, there have been a number of relationships between horologers and car companies: Breitling and Bentley, Zenith and Rover, Chopard and Porsche, as well as Bovet 1822’s collaboration with Pininfarina, the renowned automobile designer. These are just a few examples among many, and allusions abound to classic racetracks such as Le Mans, Daytona and Panamerica, as well as legendary drivers: Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa… The latter name has gained a special place at Richard Mille, which has developed a line of products for Massa, including the remarkable RM 056 Tourbillon Sapphire and the RM 050 Tourbillon Competition Chronograph, highly complex timepieces developed to resist the conditions in which this “friend of the brand” races.