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Chronostory  - Where Next For the Chrono?

Chronostory Where Next For the Chrono?

It’s so much a part of our lives we barely notice it, when we should really step back and consider the chronograph’s extraordinary trajectory. And maybe predict what Lies ahead?

It’s a story that’s lost none of its relish. The year is 2008. Montblanc is developing a wonderful new chronograph, the Nicolas Rieussec, named after the inventor, in 1817, of the “chrono – graph”, literally an instrument capable of writing time. The brand’s entire communication revolved around this event and the invention of the chronograph was—legitimately—attributed to Rieussec.

Mais où s'arrêtera le chorno ?

Star Legacy Nicolas Rieussec © Montblanc

Then, on March 21, 2013, the founder of Ateliers Louis Moinet, Jean-Marie Schaller, made an announcement that took everyone by surprise. He was now the owner of a chronograph made by Louis Moinet and dated 1816, preceding Rieussec by a year. The inventor of the chronograph was therefore Louis Moinet. And that’s not all.

Not only was Louis Moinet’s “Compteur de Tierces” the first chronograph in history; it ran at an unbelievably high frequency of 30 Hz. That’s seven or eight times faster than a traditional chronograph.

Time stands still...

Where Louis Moinet paved the way… no other watchmaker followed. For decades, Moinet’s remarkable achievement was unequalled and mechanisms returned to a leisurely 3 or 4 Hz. This inexplicable lethargy continued until 1916, when a certain Jack Heuer succeeded in exceeding this frequency with a balance that oscillated at 360,000 vibrations per hour.

Alas, the chronograph was again stopped in its tracks by two World Wars. Some important advances saw daylight nonetheless: the first wrist chronograph (Longines 13.33 in 1913); the second pusher (Breitling in 1915); industrial production (Lemania 13 CH and 15 CH); finishing (the very lovely Lemania 13/20 from 1923); the basis for the modular chronograph (Movado 90M in 1938), etc. 

The El Primero revolution 

However, the invention that would change the course of history for the “ordinary” watch-wearer came in 1969. This was the year Breitling (with Dépraz and Buren) presented its first automatic chronograph movement, Calibre 11 beating at 19,800 vph, followed by Calibre 12 (21,600 vph). Stealing a march by just a few weeks was Zenith’s El Primero, at 28,800 vph. The modular Chronomatic versus the integrated El Primero. Was the chronograph back in business?

Where Next For the Chrono?

El Primero Revival A386 © Zenith


Stopped in its tracks

Sadly, no, as quartz wreaked havoc on Switzerland’s mechanical watch industry. It wasn’t until the twenty-first century that new advances were made, thanks to TAG Heuer. 2009 saw the arrival of the Mikrograph: one watch with two independent movements. The chronograph hand completes its rotation of the dial in one second for direct read-off of 1/100th of a second. The launch, in 2011, of the Mikrotimer Flying 1000 took TAG Heuer from high frequency (50 Hz) to very high frequency (500 Hz) and the ability to measure 1/1,000th of a second. 

Where Next For the Chrono?

Mikrotimer Flying 1000 © TAG Heuer

TAG Heuer continued to push the boundaries when, just a year later, the Mikrogirder raised the bar from 500 Hz to 1,000 Hz. Also in 2012, TAG Heuer turned its attention to the balance wheel. The Mikrotourbillon S, which reprised the dual-chain system, is equipped with two semi-flying tourbillons; one at 4 Hz and the other at 50 Hz. Last but not least, the Mikropendulum is a chronograph with a magnetic balance wheel.

Where Next For the Chrono?

Mikropedulum © TAG Heuer

Beyond High frequency 

The modern chronograph is also a thing of beauty. In 2015 Piaget fitted a chrono inside an Altiplano. For Bulgari, in 2019, it would be the Octo Finissimo (setting an unbeaten world’s-thinnest record at 4.65mm).

Where Next For the Chrono?

Altiplano © Piaget

In between times, in 2018, Agenhor launched the AgenGraphe chronograph movement with central hands that was simultaneously acquired by H. Moser & Cie. and by Singer Reimagined, which contributed to its development for two years. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the first chrono to feature a central display. That would be the Maxichrono by De Bethune (2014) and, before that, the Multi-Centerchrono that Mido released in...1941!

Where Next For the Chrono?

Maxichrono © De Bethune

Where Next For the Chrono?

Track 1 Hong Kong Edition © Singer Reimagined

What's next ?

Where might the chronograph head next? Materials are one of the avenues to explore. While the vast majority of chronograph movements are made from German silver, aluminium (as seen at Lornet), titanium and, why not, composites are among the many other options open. Parmigiani Fleurier’s Chronor is made from gold.

Shock-resistance is another area to consider. Having worked a lot on the chronograph’s precision, brands still have a way to go to increase its capacity to withstand Gs. Bianchet has made shock-resistance of at least 5,000 G a fundamental feature of its watches.

Where Next For the Chrono?

Sequential EVO Black © MB&F

Miniaturisation offers more opportunities. Greubel Forsey is working on nano-structures which could allow a major reduction in component size that would significantly enhance power reserve. The first prototypes are expected in 2023. 

As for chrono complications, considerable ground has already been covered. A. Lange & Söhne has developed a triple split, Cyrus a double independent chrono and MB&F a double chrono with independent, split-second, sequential and cumulative timing modes. Apart from time, the other thing watchmakers never run out of is imagination!

Where Next For the Chrono?

Klepycs Dice © Cyrus



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