Top 10 Mechanical Chronographs

Of all the complications in mechanical watches, my favourite is definitely the Chronograph.
It’s one of the only complications where you can push a button and then something actually happens on the dial!

In my opinion it’s one of the most useful complications in every day life. I use mine to time food when I’m busy cooking, testing my PC to see how fast it boots, timing how long I get stuck in traffic every day 🙁 etc.
I find myself drooling over various chronographs almost daily. On Saturday, I saw a gorgeous vintage Breitling Top Time. I couldn’t stop looking at it, but unfortunately it was WAAAAAY above my budget.

Here is my list (in no particular order) of my top 10 favourite mechanical chronographs

1. Zenith El Primero

Zenith El Primero


Trying on the El Primero at the local dealer in Cape Town.


The El Primero movement is probably the most iconic chronograph movement of all time. It beats at 36 000vph (vibrations per hour) which gives it an accuracy of up to 1/10th of a second.
Most other watches beat at 21 600vph or 28 800vph.

The El Primero was introduced in 1969. The movement has been used in many other watches, and even Rolex used this movement in the Daytona from the late 80’s until 1999 when they switched to their own in-house movement.
I love the different colours of the 3 subdials and the red chronograph seconds hand.

2. Rolex Daytona

The steel Daytona with the new ceramic bezel introduced at Baselworld 2016.
The steel Daytona with the new ceramic bezel introduced at Baselworld 2016.


A bunch of vintage (and super expensive) Rolex Daytonas with the Paul Newman Dial.

The Rolex Daytona is probably one of the most well known and most iconic chronograps of all time.
At Baselworld 2016 Rolex introduced the new steel Daytona with a ceramic bezel.
The watch world is in absolute frenzy over this new Daytona! Rolex just can’t make them fast enough.
I recently went to a few local Rolex dealers and enquired about the new Daytona. They just started laughing and said that I’ll probably wait a year (or maybe more).
They have waiting lists that are many pages long, and the watch is currently selling for above it’s listed retail price.
So if you want one of these, either buy an older version or wait until the “ceramic bezel craze” is over.

I cant possibly talk about the Daytona without talking about the most iconic (and most expensive) versions of this watch.
The superstar actor and race car driver, Paul Newman, was seen wearing this watch in many famous photographs. This caused the Daytonas with this specific dial to skyrocket in price.
The easiest way to recognize a Paul Newman Daytona over a normal one is to look at the subdials. If there are little squares on the tips of the lines, then it’s a Paul Newman! (see image above)

Today, these watches easily sell for over $100 000!
In 2013, a Paul Newman Daytona ref 6263 sold for $1.1 Million!
Click here to read more about that record breaking sale

Paul Newman wearing one of the watches named after him.
Paul Newman wearing one of the watches named after him.

3. Omega Speedmaster

Omega Speedmaster Professional (Moonwatch)

No top 10 list would be complete without the Speedy!
The Speedmaster was introduced in the 1950’s as a racing/driving watch.
It was never meant to become the “Moonwatch” as it’s known today.

In the 1960’s NASA were looking for watches to take into space.
They tested many other watches including the Rolex Daytona, but the Speedmaster came out on top.
The Speedmaster was worn by the Apollo 11 Astronauts when they landed on the moon, and it has been a cult classic ever since.

The Speedmaster Professional has a hesalite crystal and is manual winding.There is no automatic rotor.

The reason they chose a hesalite crystal is because of it’s flexibility.
If there is a sudden drop in pressure while in space, the hesalite crystal will simply bend or worst case scenario, it will pop off and just float around in zero gravity.
If it was a sapphire crystal, it would shatter. Sapphire is very hard, but also very brittle. Imagine if the crystal shatters and there are hundreds of tiny pieces of glass floating around and getting into everything! That would be any astronaut’s worst nightmare.

The reason for manual winding is obvious.
In space there is zero gravity. If it had a automatic rotor, it wouldn’t rotate.

There are different versions of the Speedmaster which have sapphire crystals and are automatic, but they are not the “Speedmaster Professional” and they are not certified to go into space.
They usually just say “Speedmaster” on the dial.

4. Patek Philippe 5170

Patek Philippe 5170

Before I say anything about this absolutely stunning timepiece, I have inform you that I would do almost anything to get this watch!!
This is my absolute grail watch. I hope that one day (a very very long time from now) I will be able to afford one.
This watch has one of the finest traditional chronograph movements in the world. It’s absolutely stunning.

The stuff of my dreams....
The stuff of my dreams.

5. Breitling Navitimer

Breitling Navitimer
Breitling Navitimer

The Navitimer is a Pilot’s Chronograph.
When you think of Breitling, you think of the Navitimer. It’s definitely their most iconic watch.
The complex slide rule bezel was used to calculate critical operations without any other tool.

6. TAG Heuer Carrera

TAG Heuer Carrera
TAG Heuer Carrera

The Carrera was launched in 1963, and today it’s arguably Tag Heuer’s most famous watch.

7. Junghans Max Bill Chronoscope

7. Junghans Max Bill Chronoscope
Junghans Max Bill Chronoscope


All the available colours of the Max Bill Chronoscope
The available colours of the Max Bill Chronoscope

Junghans is a German watch manufacturer.
They created an entire range of watches with famous architect and artist Max Bill.

His simple, yet functional and beautiful designs, make this chronograph irresistible. I’m currently saving for one. I just need to decide which colour I want!

This excerpt is taken from Junghans website:

“Max Bill was one of the most unusual artists of our time. Acknowledged as an universal genius, he worked as an architect, painter, sculptor and product designer and has left behind an extensive portfolio of creations.
This includes one of the most fascinating watch series ever designed – the clocks and wristwatches he created for Junghans – and which remain practically unchanged today.
As a Bauhaus student of Walter Gropius, he intuitively understood how to apply the pursuit of constructive clarity and precise proportions to his work. His unrivalled drive to create is also seen in the field of education.
He was not only the co-founder and first rector of the Ulm College of Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung – HfG), but the school building is also a Max Bill original design.”

8. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph

Royal Oak Chronograph
Royal Oak Chronograph

The Audemars Piguet Royal oak was designed by Gérald Genta in 1972. He later went on to design the Patek Philippe Nautilus in 1976 as well as the IWC Ingenieur and many others.
When the Royal Oak was released, it was the first luxury watch in steel. People were outraged, because this watch cost the same as other watches in gold!
Over the years It has become AP’s signature watch. They also released a diving version, the Royal Oak Offshore, in the 1990’s.

I prefer the normal Royal Oak. The Offshore is way too big and flashy for my liking. It’s also worn by a lot of rappers/athletes etc. and that usually turns me off a watch pretty quickly (So you can guess how I feel about brands like Hublot).

9. Calibre de Cartier

Calibre de Cartier Chronograph
Cartier is a brand more known for their dressier watches like the Tank, Ballon Bleu, Santos etc.
In recent years they have started making bigger, manlier watches and the Calibre de Cartier is the manliest of them all!
Like all Cartiers it has Roman numerals on the dial with a railroad-style minutes track around the outside.

10. Tag Heuer Monaco

Tag Heuer Monaco


Trying on the Monaco at my local dealer in Cape Town

The Monaco is the 2nd watch from Tag Heuer on my list.
I was always worried about how it would wear, because I’m not used to square watches. I tried it on a few weeks ago, and I was surprised how well it sat on my wrist.
It didn’t feel too big at all!

The Monaco became an icon after the popular actor and racer, Steve Mcqueen wore this watch.

Steve McQueen wearing a Monaco
Steve McQueen wearing a Monaco

This excerpt about Steve McQueen is taken from Tag Heuer’s website:

“As a young child, with a mother who couldn’t care for him, Steve McQueen moved to his uncle’s farm in Missouri. It was there that a shiny red bicycle, given to him by his uncle, awakened a love for speed and a passion for racing that was to drive his imagination for the rest of his life. His childhood from then on was a story out of Dickens, rewritten for…

The Great Depression: Drifting from one broken home to another, part of a gang by 12 and living on the street by 14. He joined the circus, was remanded to youth correctional facility, and shipped out with the Marines. Then he discovered acting, and Hollywood discovered him, and for two decades, he owned the box-office, even when he turned his back on it to return to his first love—racing. Motorcycles, first—by the time of his death in 1980 he owned more than 100 vintage bikes—and then cars. He came in second place in the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1970, driving a Porsche 908/02 with a cast on his left foot from a motorcycle crash two weeks before. Later that year, he drove another Porsche in the racing film Le Mans, this time wearing a Heuer crest on his racing suit and a square-dial Heuer Monaco on his wrist. The blue-faced watch and the blue-eyed man have been linked ever since. For like TAG Heuer, Steve McQueen is a path-breaker who refused limits, a rebel who always went his own way, and, no matter what, never cracked under pressure.”

There have been numerous special edition Monaco’s in honour of the partnership with Steve McQueen.

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