Chronograph Guide

Guides | 09.24.2012

The allure of mechanical chronographs is easy to pin down.  Tiny little mechanisms, powered by springs, engage and disengage at the press of a button to time events, measure speed, distance or even heart rate. On the surface, the action of a chronograph is simple and often useful. Underneath, the movements that power these functions are very complex and often very beautiful. As with most things that are complex, mechanical chronographs tend to cost more than standard 3-hand watches. And if you are going to spend more, you should know a bit about what is out there. Chances are if you went into your local watch store, any mechanical chronograph under $2,000 would have the Valjoux 7750 movement in it. While ubiquitous, it’s not the only thing out there and there are different variations on it.

So, we decided to create a guide of affordable mechanical chronographs, with an emphasis on showing different brands and movements, many of which are available on-line only.

 

1. The Seagull 1963 $389

Movement: ST19 19 or 21 jewel hand-wound

This is a watch that is very hard to resist. We’ve talked about the Seagull 1963 in detail before, pointing out its historically inspired looks and the beautiful Seagull ST19 movement within. At $389 new with a sapphire crystal, this is the least expensive watch on our list, but also one of our favorites. At 38mm, this is also a great smaller chronograph option. The newest editions are available with mineral or sapphire crystals, but if you really want the vintage look that makes this watch so gorgeous, be patient and look on forums for the early acrylic crystal version, which should also cost even less.

2. The Precista PRS-5 $430

Movement: ST19 19 or 21 jewel hand-wound

The Precista PRS-5 is based on classic British military chronographs from the 70’s. It has a purposeful but gritty look thanks to the clean military dial and heavily bead-blasted steel case. The watch is also fit with a high-domed acrylic crystal, really giving it a vintage feel. This is clearly a great option if you are looking for a military inspired chronograph. At 41 x 14.75mm this watch also has some serious bulk to it.

3. The Strela Cosmos $507

Movement: Poljot 3133 23-jewel hand-wound

The Strela Cosmos is based on the watch that was made famous by being worn by Juri Gagarin on the first manned space flight. The watch has a unique look, with blocky markers and hands that manage to come together to create an aesthetic that is refined and elegant. The dial, which is available in black, white or cream, features a Tachymeter on the outer edge, and a Telemeter on and inner circle that bi-sects the sub-dials. Though the design is vintage, this is a very functional chronograph. It is also on the smaller side at 38mm in diameter, though fairly thick at 14.5mm.

 

4. The Steinhart Marine Chronograph $883.50

Movement: ETA 2824-2 w/ Dubois Depraz DD 2030 Chronograph module, 49-Jewels, automatic.

The Steinhart Marine Chronograph is yet another watch with historical roots, this time being based on observer chronographs developed for the Italian Navy in the 1940’s (likely the Panerai Mare Nostrum). The Marine Chronograph has a bold look with an easily read dial and large steel bezel that features a Tachymeter scale. This is amongst the most unique watches in this guide for 2 reasons, the look and the movement. The chronograph movement featured on this watch is one you do not see very often, and, technically, is not a chronograph movement. It’s a standard 2824-2 movement with an additional module by the Dubois Depraz brand installed. The end result is an automatic chronograph with a lateral register layout (registers at 3 and 9, rather than 12 and 6). The fact that this watch comes in at under $1000 makes it a great affordable option. (note, Steinhart has many other affordable chronographs as well)

 

5. Ocean7 Classic Pilot Chronograph $899

Movement: Valjoux 7750 25-jewel automatic

With a 44mm PVD case, a black dial and bright orange indices and hands, the Ocean 7 Classic Pilot is a bold option. It’s also one of the most affordably priced Valjoux 7750 chronos on the market. Though the name “Classic” might imply a different look, the Ocean 7 certainly has a purposeful design with extremely good legibility. The overall aesthetic is downright fierce, so if you are looking for a chronograph with some serious attitude this might be the watch for you.

 

6. Christopher Ward C9 Harrison Chronograph $1,195

Movement: Valjoux 7750 25-jewel automatic (modified to have 2 registers)

The C. Ward C9 Harrison is a sporty dress watch with clean features. It’s available in a few color ways, but the one that stands out the most is the black dial with silver sub-registers. The contrast makes the chronograph function stand out and the overall look a bit more intriguing. The Valjoux 7750 used in the C9 has been modified slightly as to remove the sub-seconds hand at 9, which increases the symmetry. Similary, there is not day/date at 3 to that disrupts the dial. The C9 is on the large side at 43mm.

 

7. Hamilton Pan Europ $1,200 – 1,300

Movement: ETA H-31 27-jewel automatic (modified 7753 w/ 60hr power reserve)

The Hamilton Pan Europ is a nearly one-to-one remake of a classic chronograph from 1971. This giant 45mm barrel shaped body, large bezel and multi-colored dial have a bold look that clearly speaks to racing and the aesthetics of the 70’s. This reissue of the watch features a beefed up version of the ETA Valjoux 7753 called the H-31, which features a 60/hr power reserve. Since the Swatch Group owns Hamilton, it is not surprising that they have movements at better prices that are unavailable to other brands. This watch can be found on amazon or “buy it now” deals on ebay (buyers beware) and the like for around $1,200. (Hamilton makes other chronos in the 1,000 – 2,000 range as well)

 

8. Archimede Pilot Chronograph $1,430

Movement: Valjoux 7750 25-jewel automatic

The German made Archimede Pilot Chronograph takes the classic Flieger watch and seamlessly integrates chronograph functionality. Unlike the Ocean7, this is genuinely a traditional pilot watch, with styling dating back to the 40’s. The Valjoux 7750 movement here utilizes the 12-hour, 30-minute and small seconds dials. At 42mm the Archimede is nice medium size for pilot watches, which can often be quite large. For a bit more money, there is also a PVD version. So, if you find yourself often eyeing the likes of the IWC Top Gun, but can’t sell your car to buy one, keep the Archimede in mind.

9. Sinn 356 Flieger Acrylic $1,660.00

Movement: Valjoux 7750 25-jewel automatic

This is the closest one can come to an “entry-level” Sinn chronograph. The 356 is a fairly small sized pilot chrono at 38.5mm with timeless looks. The dial, which is similar to that of other Sinn models, has elements of classic Flieger watches as well as a more general vintage military style. The bead blasted case and domed acrylic crystal add to the retro appeal. The 356 utilizes the full Valjoux 7750 feature set, including the day/date function.

 

10.  Stowa Marine Chronograph $1,798

Movement: Valjoux 7753 27-jewel automatic, decorated

The Stowa Marine Chronograph takes elements of classic marine chronometers, adds oversized sub-dials and ends up with something that is one part nautical instrument, one part dress watch and all-around gorgeous chronograph. The elements of the dial are simple, but proportioned perfectly to be readable at a glance. The two large sub-dials, small seconds at 9 and a 30-minute register at 3, feature scaled down ladder indexes as well as numerals, making them feel like separate dials all together. This adds to the functional allure of the watch, while the blued-steel poire hands and polished case elevate the look to something dignified and refined. The watch features the Valjoux 7753 movement, which is a variation on the 7750 with a horizontal layout. The 7753 used is decorated with Geneva stripes and blued screws, which are viewable through the sapphire display back.

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And that’s that… well, there are also always vintage chronographs, such as the Seiko 6139 we wrote about the other week…but that’s another article.

by Zach Weiss

  • http://URL squash philately

    thanks guys. this helps a lot. been researching for the past few months and this article is all i needed. although the pan europ in blue is a hard one to come buy (RRP: 1971$)

  • http://URL Frenzy Gambler

    “The Strela Cosmos is based on Russian chronographs from the late 50’s early 60’s that were made famous by being worn by Juri Gagarin on the first manned space flight. ”
    This is actually not correct. He wore a simple 1MWF (1МЧЗ) 3 hand watch. And the first russain chrono was built in 1976.

    • http://www.zachstarrweiss.com w&w

      thanks for pointing that out! I will correct the article shortly.

  • http://URL Frenzy Gambler

    There is also a great russian chrono based on 3133 Poljot mechanism. Sturmanskie OKEAH. I believe them to be prettier than the Strela, but that is IMHO. Also the most affordable chrono based on ST19 is Alpha watches homages to well-known chronos. Which doesn’t make them any less woth their price/quality. I have both 1963 reissue and 3133 OKEAH and consider them to be extremely great and worth more.

  • http://URL Jose M.

    damn guys! this is one of those things you do that keeps me coming to this awesome site almost every day… GREAT guide, thank you!

    • http://URL Jose M.

      it’s a shame that the Valjoux 7750 25-jewel automatic movement has some plastic parts inside… very disappointing specially for the high price…

  • chickenlittle

    What about the Steinhart Nav B Chrono II (featured in your watch lust section)?