The Chronograph Pocket Watch

The Chronograph pocket watch is often thought to be a more modern invention, but this isn't really the case...

The Chronograph (not to be confused with the Chronometer) is especially interesting for collectors because it represents an affordable complicated mechanism that is available for a moderate cost. Ignoring modern quartz movements, the mechanical chronograph pocket watch or watch is something that we can all show off and, as long as we know how a chronograph works, do so with a degree of knowledge somewhat advanced that that of most people.

I will describe exactly how a chronograph functions shortly, but first a quick history lesson on how the chrongraph pocket watch came to be. Man always wanted to be able to record the passage of time. Up until around the early 1800s, nothing was capable of measuring a specific period of time until an inventor by the name of Rieussec created a machine that recorded the passage of time by leaving a series of ink dots on a round dial.

Not until 1862 did Adolph Nicole create a mechanical chronograph pocket watch that could measure time using the movement of a hand on a watch. What also made this new invention unique was that the hand could be made to return to zero on command. Later, around the 1880s further enhancements allowed the sweep hand to be controlled by the use of two seperate buttons, one for starting and stopping the movement and one to return the hand to zero. This function is a completely seperate movement from the rest of the watch.

How do we use a Chronometer?

Breitling chronograph Using the illustations on this page (a Breitling Chronomat for those that are interested), you can see that the watch has two prominent buttons at the top and bottom on its right hand side. The top button starts and stops the sweep hand, while the lower button is used to send the sweep hand back to the zero position.

Chronograph scaleAbove you can also see the inner scale, used to measure the distance covered travelling at 60km/h.

So for each 6 seconds elapsed the object will have travelled 100m. The outer scale is a direct measure of how fast an object is travelling when measured over a set distance. As you can see the scale goes backwards from 500 to 60, obviously the longer an object takes to travel the set distance, the slower it is travelling.

For the Collector

The Chronograph is available in a pocket watch. As early as the late 1800s, fine quality chronograph pocket watches were produced, often with other complications included in the watch. Late 1890s 1/4 hour repeater chronograph pocket watches are available in the marketplace today for around US$2400. I think this is cheap and represents excellent collectible value for the future. As always, appraise the watch first and be careful with auctions, do your homework and you could be sitting on the next big collectible investment.

Chronograph Pocket Watches available on eBay:

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