How To Use A Chronograph Watch

Written By: Vahid Moradi

Perhaps you have seen a chronograph on a friend's luxury watch and wondered what the extra clock on their watch face is for. Or, maybe you have had a chronograph on your own luxury watch for years and have just not known how to properly use it. Whatever your reason for exploring how to properly use a mechanical chronograph, this article will help distinguish what a chronograph is, the different types of chronographs that exist as watch complications, how to use them, and of course the practical applications.


Very simply, the term chronograph is a type of complication within a luxury watch that measures a specific amount of time. This type of watch was invented by Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec. In layman's terms, compared to regular watch chronograph could be referred to as a stopwatch but the reality is that a chronograph is slightly more sophisticated.

Typically, choosing a chronograph watch over a standard luxury watch boils down to individual preferences and needs. At CJ Charles, we have a myriad of IWC watches for sale, as this watch brand is known for its premium chronograph features. We also offer pre owned IWC watches, as the elite brand also specializes in limited edition watches - making their timepieces a true rarity. Read our articles answering the questions, "should I buy an IWC watch," and, "IWC vs Rolex," for more information on the brand.

The mechanisms that drive a chronograph function, especially those found in luxury watches, are geared toward absolute precision. This ensures that the user is always given the most accurate time, as well as a higher degree of control regarding the stopping and starting of the timer itself.

A chronograph is used in watches of all varieties and each subdial comes in handy when you need to measure the passage of time in the context of a specific task or activity. When applying a finite constraint to the passage of time, there is no better complication than the chronograph.

While the modern stopwatch function certainly has its roots firmly planted in the history of the chronograph, the chronograph (due to its mechanical nature) is the superior version of this capability. Before we get into how to properly use a chronograph, let's look at the history of this complication for greater insight into a chronograph's capabilities.

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The Types of Chronographs 

There are three major types of chronographs, all of which have their place based on your needs as a watch wearer. While all three chronographs share the same basic premise, and many of the same controls, each chronograph offers its user something unique. Let's take a closer look at the three types of chronographs and how each one may influence your next purchase of a luxury watch.


Also known as the classic mechanical chronograph, this particular version of the chronograph is the most common option for luxury watches. The simple chronograph, although it is the most basic of the three versions, is also the industry standard. The precision and reliability of the simple chronograph have made it a foundational complication for any sporting watch as well as a welcomed addition to any watch made for daily use. While a simple chronograph can come in many varieties they all feature the same basic principle - the ability to start and stop time using a single second chronograph hand. A simple chronograph traditionally requires three actions from the watch wearer to start, stop and reset the chronograph. This is the most basic version of a chronograph and often the most common in a daily wear chronograph timepiece.


The Flyback Chronograph is typically seen as an upgrade over the Simple Chronograph by watch enthusiasts as it only requires two actions to start, stop and reset the chronograph. One press starts the chronograph and the next press simultaneously stops the timer and sends it immediately back to zero. This particular version of a chronograph is seen as advantageous by some but as a nuisance by others. The internal mechanisms which drive a Flyback chronograph are more sophisticated than a Simple chronograph which often means a higher price tag. Typically Flyback chronographs are favorites of race enthusiasts, swimmers, or anyone else who might want to measure multiple rounds of the same activity.


In French "Rattrapante" means split seconds, which should give you a good indication of how and why this particular chronograph got its name. The Rattrapante chronograph features an additional chronograph complication that the other two chronographs in this list do not. Specifically, the Rattrapante chronograph features an additional seconds hand to measure fractions of seconds. While the fractional second can range from the tenths to the thousandths, having the ability to measure a "split second" is what differentiates the Rattrapante chronograph from its other two time-measuring counterparts.

In a Rattrapante chronograph the additional second hand moves at a faster rate than its counterpart. The result is a faster version of the relationship between the second hand and minute hand on the face of your watch. One hand movement happens very quickly but in tandem with the other hand that is moving slower. The result is a modern chronograph that supplies its user with a more precise and accurate measurement of time, making the Rattrapante chronograph the superior option to the simple chronograph.


Depending hon your watch, or even the brand of watch, the exact method of operating the chronograph on your luxury chrono watch may differ. With that said, there is a relatively standard operating procedure for using your modern chronograph watch as outlined here:

Step One: Initiate The Chronograph - For most luxury watches initiating the chronograph is done with the winding crown. For some watches, the winding crown simply needs to be pressed in toward the watch and for others, the winding crown needs to be brought to a particular position to initiate the watch complication.

Establish which position the winding crown needs to be in and set the crown to that position. If your luxury watch does not use the winding crown as part of the chronograph's initiation procedures, find the dial that controls the chronograph and begin there. Often, it will be another dial similar to the winding crown on the same side of the watch as the main crown.

Step Two: Begin the chronograph - Once you have established the mechanism that controls the chronograph starting the timer is as easy as pressing the button.

Step Three: Stop and Reset - Depending on the type of chronograph your watch employs, starting, stopping, and resetting your chronograph will take a different number of actions on your part. Remember, a Simple Chronograph requires three presses to get back to the reset position whereas a Flyback Chronograph only requires two.

It is entirely possible that your efforts to learn about what a chronograph is are spurred not just by a desire to become more knowledgeable but by a real desire to put a chronograph to use in your life. Now that we are more familiar with what a chronograph is and how it works, let's look at some real-life applications of this technology within the context of your luxury watch.


First, let's address which types of watches most often employ the use of a chronograph. While it is rare to find a chronograph on a dress watch, they are a common complication for dive watches, pilot watches, racing watches, and daily-use watches. While daily wear watches and Pilot's watches can certainly find useful applications for the chronograph, racing watches and dive watches are the two types of luxury watches that really lean on the practicality of this particular complication. If you are interested in learning more about Pilot watches and their standard features, we've written in detail about the watch style in our blog post titled, "What is a Pilot Watch?"


Racing is obviously all about speed. But how do you measure speed? In time! Having a watch with a chronograph is a watch complication-must for any luxury watch made with the racing enthusiast in mind. While some race watches feature a Fly Back Chronograph for its ease of use there are others who prefer a classic chronograph (aka simple chronograph) so that the information isn't lost in one press of a button.

For example, if you were timing a car making laps around a track, a Fly Back Chronograph drive watch would be the chronograph of choice as the person timing would be able to reset and restart the timer instantaneously as the car was crossing the marker. On the other hand, if you were timing a drag race and wanted to see how fast a car drove from point A to point B the simple chronograph would be the proper mechanism as you could stop the timer without immediately resetting it.

If you are someone who likes to participate in activities that involve specific measurements of time then the inclusion of a complication like a chronograph is for you! Seeing as how so many luxury watch brands include the chronograph as a staple complication, finding a luxury watch brand you love is the first step in shopping for a luxury chronograph timepieces.

The luxury watch brand experts at CJ Charles are the perfect people to help you find the watch you love, with the chronograph you need. And while you are undoubtedly an expert in how to use a chronograph after finishing this article, our associates at CJ Charles can walk you through all of the incredible features of your new luxury watch, including how to use the chronograph.

Explore the world of chronograph watches at CJ Charles Jewelers. Learn how to use a chronograph watch and discover the perfect timepiece for you. Visit our IWC boutique in San Diego, La Jolla, or Del Mar and dive into the fascinating world of horology today!


Written By: Vahid Moradi
Vahid Moradi’s lifelong passion, dedication, and commitment for the jewelry industry led him to become the respected owner of CJ Charles Jewelers in 1988. From that moment, Moradi’s single focus in business was to become recognized as the pinnacle of value and world-class quality in the his Community. Over 34 years later, CJ Charles continues to grow and thrive as a successful, family-owned business that consistently provides exceptional service to all their clientele.

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