Why Did This Incredibly Elegant Type of Chronograph Watch All but Disappear?

The Angelus Chronodato is the progenitor of the triple-calendar chronograph, a classic watch style originating in the mid-20th century.

Welcome to Watches You Should Know, a biweekly column highlighting important or little-known watches with interesting backstories and unexpected influence. This week: the Angelus Chronodato.

A stopwatch and a calendar sound like simple mechanisms to our digital-age minds, but in mechanical watches they’re called complications for a reason. These functions can entail significant cost and complexity, and the Swiss brand Angelus’s incredibly elegant 1942 Chronodato was the first serially produced watch to combine them. Watches with this particular feature set were popular through the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s but relatively few companies now make them. Why did this iconic type of watch fall out of favor?

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Today, chronographs remain popular, but mechanical watches with calendar features tend to be either relatively simple or extremely complicated and expensive: The day (of the week) and date are found on the likes of an ultra-inexpensive Seiko 5 and as well as on many chronographs powered by the popular ETA 7750 movement, whereas perpetual calendar watches tend to fall into the realm of high horology. And there’s not much in between among modern watches.

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Photo by Christie’s

Calendar watches that display the day, date, and month are called “full,” “complete” or “triple-” calendars — and they’ll need to be adjusted periodically at the end of the month. (A calendar is “annual” if it accounts for the inconsistent number of days in the Gregorian calendar’s months, and “perpetual” if it factors in leap years as well). It’s not just the useful information and interesting mechanics inside that make these watches compelling, but the triple calendar (let’s go with that name) has a downright iconic look.

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Photo by Omega Forums

While sharing defining features, not all triple calendar chronograph watches have the same configuration. One of the most recognizable formats displays the month and day of the week in separate windows, with the date indicated at the edge of the dial by a centrally mounted hand. Add the chronograph to this functionaloty with its two or three subdials, and you’ve got a mess of mechanics, a lot of information and a potentially busy watch dial.

That’s why it’s particularly captivating when this kind of dial is executed gracefully. Many of the most well known brands (and many more obscure ones, as well) have this kind of watch in their back catalogs, and they’ll often have two windows placed side by side under 12 o’clock on the dial to make room for three subdials. (The Rolex “Killy” is a good example.) These watches were often powered by movements like the Valjoux 72c, a once commonly available calendar version of an iconic chronograph movement. The Chronodato, however, stands out as visually different: The manually wound Angelus movement provided only two subdials (chronograph minutes at 3 o’clock and running seconds at 9 o’clock), and its month and day windows were symmetrically positioned at the top and bottom of the dial.

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Photo by Omega Forums

The Chronodato was actually also the first series-produced chronograph watch to feature a date display. In its heyday, Angelus was recognized with awards as well as commercial success for its in-house movements, and it was among several prominent watch companies such as Breitling, Universal Genève and Gallet that were notable for specializing in chronographs. Hence why the Chronodato is appreciated by collectors today for its quality, aesthetics, and historical significance. It also happens to be exceptionally well sized at 38mm wide for modern wearers, who find many midcentury watches to be too small.

The Chronodato became the best selling watch in Switzerland, and an important line for Angelus. Later models like the Chronodato Deluxe would add elements like a moon phase display and a “big date” complication. Sadly, Angelus is one of the illustrious brands that didn’t survive the Quartz Crisis. Today, the company name has been revived by the movement maker La Joux-Perret with a range of high-end, avant-garde pieces.

Vintage Angelus watches are no longer a well kept secret, however, and Chronodatos in good condition can sell for many thousands of dollars. With so many modern watches being either vintage-inspired or unabashed remakes, it would be particularly cool to see the classical triple calendar chronograph make a comeback. Unfortunately, it’s likely their cost and niche appeal that has caused their popularity to decline in the first place, and this may very well prevent them from ever becoming popular again.

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