Add the stopwatch feature to your typical time-only watch, and you've got a chronograph. And yet, this is no simple equation, as chronographs are so much more compelling than the mere sum of their features: they're sporty and technical looking and filled with history. Most of all, of course, they're useful. All this and their complexity, however, comes at a price significantly higher than that of their more basic counterparts. The good news is that if $5,000 is your cap, you're well into the territory of some excellent mechanical chronos.
You are, however, in something of an in-between spot. While there are some value-packed mechanical chronograph watches under $2,000 and plenty of quartz ones in the triple digits, many of the most iconic chronographs like the Omega Speedmaster, Zenith El Primero, Breitling's various well-known chronograph collections and, of course, the Rolex Daytona are all in the next tier up. It can admittedly be a challenge to find the best watches between $2k and $5k, but the good news that there are compelling options around than ever before. Check out some of our faves:
Coming in at just over $2k, the Chronograph H is the latest evolution of Hamilton's Sixties-inspired Intra-Matic series that we love in all its forms. With a proprietary, manually wound ETA movement, this version feels more mature than ever. The popular "panda dial" style and 40mm case top off a compelling package.
Movement: ETA H-51 manual
Like its Swatch Group sister brand Hamilton, Tissot is known to offer a hell of a value. As its name suggests, the sporty Heritage 1973 takes inspiration from a historical model. It also offers automatic winding and a unique racing style that's not easy to find even among today's many vintage reissues.
Movement: Valjoux A05.H31 automatic
Amid so much cream-colored lume and midcentury references, Fortis's series of contemporary-leaning pilot's watches offer a crisp breath of fresh air. The F-43 Bicompax chronograph, in particular, looks little like anything else on the market and yet offers a classic instrument-like feel at the same time.
Movement: Sellita SW510 automatic
So named for its asymmetrical dial with one boldly sized subdial alongside two more regular-sized ones, the Longines Avigation BigEye is offbeat-looking in just the right way. The 2021 version, however, takes it a step away from its no-nonsence, black-dialed military roots with a gradient blue dial and the very modern case material of titanium.
Movement: ETA A08.L01 automatic
Though German watchmaker Junghans gets more attention for its minimalist, Bauhaus watches like the Max Bill, the brand also made a pilot's watch in the 1950s for the German Armed Forces. The the current version has all the upgraded features expected of a modern watch, like sapphire crystal and automatic winding.
Movement: ETA 2824 automatic w/ Dubois Depraz 2030 chronograph module
Spanning prices from a few hundreds bucks to over $100k, these are our favorite time-writers.
Sinn's 103 chronograph is another classic, utilitarian model that's receive a contemporary aesthetic treatment. Every bit as tough and functional as previous versions, the latest model has a shimmering metallic-green dial matched to a green aluminum bezel as well as a movement from a less commonly seen maker.
Movement: Concepto C99001 automatic
The Tutima M2 has a hell of a badass look and backstory, with military origins and a whopping 46mm diameter, to boot. That's why the M2 Coastline series was welcomed by slimmer-wristed individuals for its 43mm case and bracelet made of lightweight titanium.
Movement: Valjoux 7750 automatic
One of the most iconic chronograph watches of all time is the Heuer Carrera. There have been many variations over the years, and examples like this aren't the newest, but they still capture the Carrera's handsome pragmatism well — and they're still a great choice within the $5k range.
Movement: ETA 7750 automatic
Frederique Constant offers features that would typically cost significantly more, such as the in-house chronograph movement with exotic flyback function that powers this watch. It sounds simple, but not having to stop the chronograph before restarting adds significant complexity and, here, remarkable value.
Movement: Frederique Constant FC-760 automatic
For (just) under $5k, you can get a chronograph watch with a fantastic movement from Rolex's sister brand. Granted, it comes on a strap (as a steel bracelet bumps it over the $5k mark), but this is one of the most compelling values in all of watchdom. The movement is Tudor's modification of the excellent Breitling B01 — which you can't even find from Breitling at this price.
Movement: Tudor MT5813 automatic