Welcome to Watches You Should Know, a biweekly column highlighting important or little-known watches with interesting backstories and unexpected influence. This week: the Omega Chronostop.
The experimentalism of the 1960s and '70s watches went beyond crazy colors and unexpected geometry: the funkiness sometimes extended even to mechanics and functionality. A case in point is the greatly overlooked Omega Chronostop, which reimagined the form and operation of a chronograph watch — and which today offers a surprisingly compelling value for a vintage sport watch.
Introduced in 1966, most Chronostops look very much like products of their time, with the likes of bright orange hands, bezels that look like roulette wheels and some funky case shapes. In any of its various forms, however, the Chronostop watches are linked to one another via some distinctive traits: Despite a clean dial with only three hands, its general sportiness and single pusher protruding from the case side mark it as more than your typical time-only watch.
Yes, this is an unusual form of chronograph (stopwatch), as it offers the ability to measure only up to 60 seconds. It's not the only such watch to have ever featured such a simplified take on chronograph functionality (the Rolex Zerographe and Centregraph being early comparable examples), but the Chronostop is also interesting for how its chronograph is used.
The typical modern chronograph measures the seconds via a central hand, while smaller subdials track minutes and sometimes hours (the main time's seconds are often displayed on yet another subdial). They're usually operated by two pushers: one to start and stop, and the other to reset. Even relatively primitive "monopusher" chronographs mostly have the same functionality, but require three presses of a single pusher.
The Chronostop also only has a single pusher (at 2 o'clock) but is simplified even in comparison to the standard monopusher. The chronograph seconds hand stands at attention at zero until activated via the pusher. When you want to stop the seconds hand and get a reading of the measured time, you depress the pusher again and hold it down. It'll then snap back to the zero marker when you let go. That's it. (It's interesting to compare this to the functionality of the Rolex Zerographe mentioned above — see here for more details.)
None of this makes the Chronostop a groundbreaking achievement, but it does make it a fascinating piece of forgotten horology for collectors looking for something off the beaten path. Of course, it only makes the Chronostop more appealing that it has a respected name on the dial, a high-quality movement inside and is available in all kinds of interesting looks, and even modern-feeling sizes.
The Chronostop was only made for a few years. When released in 1966, it lived in Omega's Seamaster collection but later joined the more affordable (and now discontinued) Geneve line. The hand-wound movements that gave the Chronostops their unique functionality and looks were the caliber 865 (no date) and caliber 920 (date). It may be that the Chronostop movements were pared-back in order to offer a more affordable chronograph option, as typical chronograph movements are expensive and complicated to make. It seems the solution didn't stick, however, as Omega only ever used the movements in the Chronostop.
With different case shapes and sizes ranging between around 35mm and 41mm or so, the sheer variety available makes Chronostops fun vintage shopping. Some feature tachymeter scales and others have 60-count or 24-hour markers as well as different dial colors or other offbeat design elements. In the Seamaster collection you can find larger case sizes as well as rotating inner bezels (operated by a 10 o'clock crown) which can be used to add measurements of minutes to your chronograph seconds timing.
Arguably the most interesting Chronostops, however, are the "driver" watches in the Geneve collection: These feature dials which are oriented such that the 12 o'clock marker is where 3 o'clock would usually be, which is intended to make the dial easier to read with one's hands on a steering wheel. Some vintage ads even show it worn on the underside of the wrist, calling it "the under-the-wrist start-and-stop watch." If you pick one up, by all means, wear it that way and take if for a drive.