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The 7 Best Mechanical Chronographs You Can Buy Today

Outdated? Yes. But who cares?

best chronos
Vacheron Constantin

The earliest chronograph dates back to the 19th century. The story goes that it was invented at the behest of King Louis XVIII, who wanted to know the duration of the horse races he enjoyed watching. That chronograph was a clockwork mechanism in a box, connected to a pen that marked down elapsed time. Fast-forward to the 20th century: the chronograph’s stopwatch-like function was miniaturized and put into wristwatches for use by pilots, race car drivers and eventually astronauts.

With modern digital timing systems, chronograph watches are complete frivolities today — at its most useful, one would do in a pinch as an egg timer. But for watch nerds, they’re a must-have. They’re a complex, purposeful piece of engineering and design, and their 20th-century associations with derring-do only increase their allure. If you’ve decided you want to take the plunge, these seven are some of the finest mechanical chronographs you can find on sale today.

Baltic Bi-Compax 002

We've been waxing poetic about this watch since the first version came out in 2017, so we'll spare you all the superlatives. Suffice it to say that for the money, this is one of the coolest mechanical watches in the world. Perfectly sized at 38mm and available in several colors, the Bi-Compax 002 distills 1940s and 1950s watchmaking aesthetics down to their essence, giving you a vintage throwback that doesn't necessarily call to mind any particular model. It's a lot harder to do than it sounds.

Diameter: 38mm

Movement: Seagull ST1901 hand-wound

Water Resistance: 50m

Price: ~$658

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Hamilton Intra-Matic Auto Chrono

Since its release in 2017 — or "re-release," as this model is based on a beloved version from the 1960s — the Intra-Matic Auto Chrono has been through several iterations. The latest improvements bring the case size down to a much more wearable 40mm (from 42mm), and see it available on several different strap and bracelet options. Our favorite? A simple leather strap — just the way such a chronograph was meant to be worn in mid-century racing.

Diameter:
40mm

Movement: Hamilton H-31 automatic (Valjoux 7753 base)

Water Resistance: 100m

Price: $2,195

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Sinn 103

If you want serious value for money in your timepieces, buy German. Sinn doesn't mess around — their tool watches are designed for professionals, including pilots, soldiers and police forces. The 103 is an exemplary chronograph: automatic and featuring a tri-compax layout with day-date display, it's equipped with a rotating timing bezel and your choice of acrylic or sapphire crystal. Whether you buy it on a strap or a bracelet, this is still one of the best chronographs for your money, period.

Diameter: 41mm

Movement: Concepto C99001 automatic

Water Resistance: 200m

Price: $2,280-$2,530

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Omega Speedmaster Professional

2021 saw the introduction of the biggest change to the Speedy in decades — it's now powered by Omega's caliber 3861 hand-wound movement, which replaces the 1861. Available in several versions (including both Hesalite and sapphire crystal models), it's still one of the best buys in chronographs with in-house movements, though the updates certainly come with a not-insignificant price hike. However, keep in mind that you're also getting a redesigned bracelet and dial plus a thinner case, which alone might be worth said price hike.

Diameter: 41mm

Movement: Omega cal. 3861 hand-wound

Water Resistance: 50m

Price: $5,950-$7,950 (steel)

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Zenith Chronomaster Sport

While the newest offering from Zenith is clearly poised to take on Rolex's Daytona, that doesn't mean it's a watch that doesn't stand on its own: powered by the brand's famous El Primero automatic movement equipped with a wildly cool 1/10th-second chronograph, it's a timepiece with a unique feature and great looks that deserves careful consideration. Available in black and white on leather or a steel (very-Oyster looking) bracelet, it may very well steal some folks away from the Rolex camp who are tired of years-long waitlists.

Diameter: 41mm

Movement: El Primero cal. 3600

Water Resistance: 100m

Price: $9,500-$10,000

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Rolex Cosmograph Daytona

The Daytona will forever be the King of the Chronographs, perhaps equaled only by the Speedy in allure. Of course the problem with procuring a Daytona is that it's incredibly difficult to do. That being said, when you do get your hands on one, it'll be powered by the Crown's renowned caliber 4130 automatic movement and will likely make you beam: its current dial, with "Daytona" executed in red, is a throwback to vintage models, and looks absolutely killer. (It's also available in gold and platinum configurations, should you be that kind of dude.)

Diameter: 40mm

Movement: Rolex cal. 4130 automatic

Water Resistance: 100m

Price: $13,150 (steel)

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Vacheron Constantin Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955

Hell of a name, that, eh? Well, it better be for $42,200. All kidding aside, the Cornes de Vache — which is modeled after a vintage chronograph from Vacheron's archives — is without a doubt one of the coolest, best-looking chronographs in the world. Sure, it's expensive AF, but what else do you expect from a Big Three watchmaker? Available in several versions, we love this newer model in stainless steel with a brown leather strap. It simply doesn't get much more elegant than this.

Diameter: 38.5mm

Movement: Vacheron Constantin cal. 1142 hand-wound

Water Resistance: 30m

Price: $42,200 (steel)

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