Race cars. Airplanes. Space ships. These are the things we associate with chronograph watches, and watch brands will do everything in their power to make sure you don’t forget it. Chronographs are aggressively marketed as time-telling tools for racers and pilots, so much so that I’m almost certain every chronograph press release I’ve ever read suggests the wearer use one for recording lap times on a race track. I have driven on a race track exactly four times in my life, and I will tell you this much: I never used a chronograph to time myself because I was expending 100 percent of my mental energy making sure I didn’t oversteer the car into a barrier.
Of course, buying something like an Omega Speedmaster because you’re doing mad track days or flying to the moon is like buying Danner Mountain Lights to scale Everest: you can do it, technically, but there’s newer, better gear for going about it. The point in buying a chronograph watch today is all about the aesthetics and the association with racecar and aviation heroics. So, with that said, is there still real, everyday utility in owning a chronograph watch?
I have found that there are, in fact, everyday events in my life worth timing. It may not be 24 Hours of Daytona, but I have timed the amount of time it takes for me to walk from my apartment to the subway. This sounds like little more than a silly curiosity, but it’s practical information for commuting. I know it takes me somewhere around nine minutes to make that trek. Google Maps, meanwhile, thinks that trip is about 13 minutes, so when planning to go anywhere new in the city, I know exactly when I need to leave to catch the next train without waiting an extra four minutes on the platform. Worth it.
The chronograph also works well as a makeshift alarm when plugging a parking meter. If you start the chronograph function as soon as you’ve paid up for parking and take note of how much time you’ve paid for, you have a clear indicator of how long you have until your fair game for parking tickets. Yes, a standard watch and some mental math work here too, but having the chronograph gives you the time at a glance.
The kitchen, however, is where the chronograph comes into its own. Yes, dedicated kitchen timers will always have their place, but the beauty of the chronograph is its immediacy. Rather than fumbling with the timer on my iPhone or oven, I can start timing out a cooking time almost instantly with a quick push of a button mounted on my wrist. More importantly, you can also time things out by the second, rather than the minute like on most kitchen timers.
Unlike a count-down alarm, you can’t just set and forget, but as long as you’re mildly cognizant of how much time has elapsed it works out incredibly well. It’s not something that makes sense for recipes with long baking times, but it shines when cooking times are short and when the difference between perfection and overcooking is dictated by seconds rather than minutes. Boiling pasta. Fast-flipping steaks. A quick French press coffee. For these things, it’s proven insurmountable.
Subway stations, parking spaces and kitchens are a far cry from cockpits, race tracks and spacecraft, but they’re facets of real life, not boyish fantasies of derring-do. Yes, chronographs will always have that special appeal, and they’ll always be purchased because if it. But there’s so much more to the chronograph than misty-eyed nostalgia. After all, who needs a lap record when you have perfectly cooked pasta.