Chronograph Book

What is a Chronograph Watch?

If you have any interest in watches, clocks, or other time measuring devices, you have probably heard of chronographs. It’s a fairly common term in horology, but yet most people don’t know what it is.

So, what is a chronograph watch?

I would say that a chronograph is a watch with a timing fuction, just like a stopwatch. But if you want a more objective and precise answer, a common chronograph definition is:

an instrument for measuring and recording time intervals

According to Wikipedia, it should also be able to display time just like normal watches. So, in other words, a chronograph is an instrument or device that shows you what the current time is as well as functioning as a stopwatch.

Here’s a video that explains it in a simple way:

What Does Chronograph Mean?

The word chronograph is derived from the Greek words “Chronos” and “Graph”. Chronos means time, and Graph means writing. Combining the two words thus creates Time Writing. Which makes perfect sense, because the first chronographs used a small pen that created a mark whose length determined how much time had passed. Not very practical, but that’s how it started.

Chronographs and Chronometers Are Not the Same Thing!

A common mistake is to confuse chronographs with chronometers. Please don’t!

Even though their names are similar, they are not the same thing. As explained in this post, chronographs can be used as a stopwatch while also serving as a normal watch that displays time (and sometimes day and date).

A chronometer doesn’t function as a stopwatch. It’s job is to display time more accurately and more robust than other watches. To qualify as a chronometer, it has to be certified by COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres), which is the official Swiss institute that tests and approves wristwatches based on their precision and accuracy.

In other words, a chronometer is an unusually accurate and robust timepiece.


The world’s first chronograph watch was invented by the French horologist Louis Moinet in 1816 (he was also the creator of a super-expensive watch brand that still exists). However, it was only used by astronomical scientists and didn’t reach a broader mass of people.

But it only took five years before Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec came up with the very first commercial chronograph. The buyer was non other than King Louis XVIII, who used the watch to time race horses at the race track. And from there on, new inventions rapidly improved the device until it reached its current form.

Perhaps the most famous chronograph in history recently sold for $24 million!