Hands-On: Expanding Watch Horizons with the Tissot Telemeter 1938 Chronograph

Over the course of my young collecting tenure in the hobby, I’ve developed a particular taste and preference for watches that fit my aesthetic and lifestyle. So what have I found out thus far? Well, if you give me a black dial, stainless steel sports watch that ranges between 36mm and 39mm (with a bezel) in width, and blends all of that together in a distinct design, I would be a very, very happy camper. That folks, is my watch comfort zone.

As easily as I could rattle off what I look for in a watch, I could do the same when it comes to certain qualities of a specific type of watch I’m uncertain about. These types of watches are the likes of larger cases in the 42mm plus range, chronographs, and colored dials. Now the beauty of being a full-time watch writer is that I have the luxury to be around these pieces on a daily basis. I can still appreciate these types of watches from afar, without having to spend an inordinate amount of time with them. But more recently, I’ve noticed that the same appreciation has turned into curiosity. A couple of minutes maximum with, lets just say, a chronograph in the office has turned into a full-on weekend wearing the watch. I think it’s safe to say that my “Watch Horizons” are slowly expanding. But by how much? Well the only way to find out is to fully lean into the opposite direction of where my watch tastes currently lie. And what better way to do so with the Tissot Telemeter 1938 Chronograph.


“I’m not a chronograph guy.” The function and dial layout has never appealed to me. I’ve been more into watches with a minimal, legible dial that comes with a rotating bezel, preferably of the count-up variety. I haven’t found the need for the tachymeter scale and haven’t jived with the presentation of all the information on the dial and at times, the bezel. The Tissot Telemeter 1938 has not one, but two different timing scales on the dial. Centered and displayed in a red accent, is a Base 1000 tachymeter scale that intersects the middle of each sub-register. The other scale borders the outer portion of the dial and comes in the form of a telemeter scale.

For those unfamiliar, a telemeter scale was initially developed in the mid 1850’s to measure the distance traveled by sound. The typical use case scenario for a telemeter scale was for tracking the distance of a lightning strike. By starting the chronograph timer when the flash of lightning was seen, stopping the chronograph when the thunder was heard, and then locating the seconds hand along the scale, one could determine how far the storm was from a given location. The scale would prove to be instrumental on the WWII battlefield in the 1930’s and 1940’s as it was used to decipher the distance of artillery strikes. The telemeter scale on the Telemeter 1938 is displayed in a blue colored, thin typeface and measures distance in kilometers.

I must admit, I didn’t find myself in the middle of a battlefield, nor was I storm chasing during my time with the Telemeter 1938, so the telemeter function did not get much usage. The same goes for the tachymeter scale. That said, the design and format is well executed. I particularly like the choice of font that is used within the tachymeter and telemeter scales, and more specifically the flat top “4” and the open-ended “6” and “9” in the telemeter scale. The black minute track and Arabic numerals only compliment the dial. It’s obvious that the dial and its blue steel hands were made to evoke a vintage feeling and I think that’s a welcomed feature about the dial.

Serving as a backdrop for all the scales, accents and markers is a silver dial, which leads me to another preference of mine that I’ve extensively written about on these digital pages of W&W, and that is, “black dials over colored dials”. The dial actually has an off-white tonality and the hour track that houses the Arabic numerals uses a different finish from the rest of the dial, acting as a playground for any source of light that hits it. Comparing both the black and silver dial iterations of the Tissot Telemeter 1938, the black dial with gold accents wears smaller than the silver. That’s the effect a black dial can have and is quite appealing to those on the slim-wristed side (like me). But out of the two, the silver dial spent more time on the wrist. Now does silver count as a color? I think so. Color Dials, 1. Black Dials, 0.

“36 mm to 39mm, or bust.” Case and dial proportions most certainly factor into that. Some watches, like my Doxa Sub 300 for example, measures 42mm in width, but with a 27mm dial, wears much smaller on the wrist. The Tissot Telemeter 1938 measures 42mm as well, but wears entirely different than my Doxa. The watch is all dial, and the silver dial especially gives the watch a larger profile visually. Looking past that, I was still able to find different qualities of the case that balance out the bigger case proportions I’m used to.

For one, I love almond-shaped pushers. This might be a hot-take, I despise pump or piston shaped pushers. Almond shaped pushers have this discreet and sleek appeal to them and fit the entire vintage vibe the Tissot Telemeter 1938 has going for it. Action for both the start/stop button and reset button are smooth, and don’t feel like you’re grinding metal on metal like in some chronographs I’ve handled over the years. Lug to lug of the case thankfully comes in a touch under 47mm, preventing any lug-overhang on my 6.25” wrist.

I’ll always be a “bracelet guy” at heart. And although the Tissot Telemter 1938 does not come with a steel bracelet, it does come with a well made, padded and stitched, Italian leather strap. The leather strap secures via a signed butterfly deployant clasp which adds a touch of refinement to the whole package. Now, as I’m known to do, and I’m sure this goes for many readers, I couldn’t resist throwing the Telemeter 1938 on a gray NATO. It completely changes the look of the watch, making this specific style more casual and approachable as a watch that you could wear about town. A NATO also helped with finding the right fit on my wrist, which was a tad bit more difficult to find with the leather strap.

Along with a gray NATO, I found myself getting the most out of this watch by wearing it very casually. I’m talking with a hoodie and a denim jacket right over it. I think in doing so, it downplays the elevated features of the watch (in a good way) like the blue steel hands and polish case finish. The moments I did glance down at my wrist, I did enjoy the vintage charm of the Telemeter 1938. So much so, that if I were to be a “chronograph guy”, the watch I would lean more towards would be of a  vintage aesthetic as opposed to a modern design. As far as the actual functions of the watch, the chronograph feature satisfied my need for having something to fidget with on a watch. I didn’t time pasta or a pizza with the chronograph. Instead, I found myself using the function in situations like waiting at the first stoplight I hit on my commute everyday to see how long I actually wait there every morning, or timing how long a mid-day walk was.

I still firmly believe, for me at least, that the sweet spot for a watch is 39mm. Again, it all depends on case and dial proportions, but typically that’s the case. The Tissot Telemeter 1938 is a handsome watch, with a whole lot of vintage charm, but I do wish it was a little smaller. Not only would I think it would wear better on the wrist, but it would fall more in line with the vintage style they’re going for. The Telemeter 1938 also has a dial with no lume to be found. I’m sure that’s intentional for the entirety of its design, but I am also a “lume guy” at heart. I’m at a point in my life where waking up in the middle of the night to a crying baby is the norm, and knowing the time in a pitch black room is essential. However, it’s not the end of the world for this watch. I simply took the watch off, put it on my bedside table and reached for my phone when I needed the time.

How far has my “Watch Horizons” been expanded after my time with the Tissot Telemter 1938? I would say that I’ve now been nudged in the direction of being open to exploring watches that do not fall in my comfort zone. I guess it’s a part of the job anyways, right? An occupational “hazard”, if you will. And if this means I get to play around with more watches, sweet spot, or not, then bring it on.


Hands-On: Expanding Watch Horizons with the Tissot Telemeter 1938 Chronograph

316L Stainless Steel
Valjoux Chronograph A05.231
Silver / Black
Dome Sapphire w/ Double Sided AR Coating
Leather w/ Butterfly Deployant Clasp
Water Resistance
30 Meters
Lug Width
Push / Pull
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Thomas is a budding writer and an avid photographer by way of San Diego, California. From his local surf break to mountain peaks and occasionally traveling to destinations off the beaten path, he is always searching for his next adventure, with a watch on wrist, and a camera in hand. Thomas is a watch enthusiast through and through; having a strong passion for their breadth of design, historical connection, and the stories that lie within each timepiece.