How to Use a Chronograph Watch

A chronograph offers genuine utility with its ability to easily time events. This is how to operate one.

brew chronograph watch on wrist operating pusher
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Chronograph watches are cool and technical-looking, with multiple subdials, scales and pushers on the side of the case — and, let's face it, this is why they're still so popular today. But you shouldn't miss out on the useful stopwatch functionality they were invented to offer. While you probably don't need to calculate speed using a tachymeter scale or how far away an artillery battery is, a chronograph can indeed come in handy in daily life and offer a satisfying way to get more out of your watch.

While there are a few different types of chronographs, operating the great majority of goes something like this:

Start the Chronograph

In most (but not all) cases, a chronograph watch will have two pushers on the righthand side of the case. Press the top pusher (located at 2 o'clock) to begin timing an event, and you'll notice the seconds hand (usually centrally mounted on the dial) start to sweep or tick.

bell ross br126 sport slide 5
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Stop the Chronograph

Use the same (top) pusher to stop the chronograph when the event ends. This button is usually operated with the index or middle finger with the watch case supported on the other side by the thumb.

Read the Elapsed Time

Chronograph watches display the time measured on the stopwatch separately from the current time of day. The format can differ depending on the design and movement inside, with some only counting up to 30 minutes while others have the ability to measure up to 12 hours. The seconds, minutes and hours for the chronograph are (usually) read on separate subdials.

For example, let's say your watch has a 30-minute counter/subdial at 3 o'clock and a running seconds hand at 9 o'clock. If you've been timing an event for 15 minutes and 20 seconds, the sub-dial at 3 o'clock will show those 15 elapsed minutes, while the centrally mounted seconds hand will show 20 elapsed seconds. The seconds hand at 9 o'clock will continue to sweep, as it's measuring the time of day — not the time on the stopwatch.

Reset the Chronograph

Finally, the bottom pusher (around 4 o'clock) resets the chronograph to zero.

(Notable chronograph variations include the flyback, which allows you to reset the chronograph without first stopping it. A monopusher chronograph only uses a single button for all functions — stop, start and reset. A split-seconds, or rattrapante, is a particularly complicated type of chronograph, allows you to measure two separate events simultaneously.)

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