Chronographs are among the most popular complications on Chrono24. But which watch brand offers the best chronograph models out there? We have selected our top 5 brands. Spoiler alert: Rolex is not part of this list, even though its Daytona is considered perhaps the most popular watch on the planet. In any case, the watch brand with the crown is not really known for its chronographs. So what makes a watchmaker a chronograph brand? Let’s jump into our top 5.
Let’s start our list off with Breitling, one of the biggest names in the watch world. Breitling has created some of the most iconic chronographs in history. Some of these famous chronographs are still part of their collection today, while some that have been discontinued over time remain very popular among vintage chronograph collectors. The most well-known is without a doubt the iconic Breitling Navitimer. This pilot’s chronograph was first introduced in 1954 and has become the most recognizable Breitling watch model ever. Breitling released a number of great chronographs in the 1950s and 60s, from the AVI ref. 765, to the Chronomat, and from the Premier to the famous Top Time models. Their list of iconic chronographs seems endless. On top of that, many of them are equipped with renowned chronograph movements from Venus and Valjoux. Additionally, Breitling was part of a consortium of brands that introduced the famous Chronomatic movement, one of the first three automatic chronograph movements released in 1969 along with the Zenith El Primero and the Seiko 6139 movements.
Breitling’s Navitimer, Chronomat, Top Time, and models are still part of their collection. The brand also regularly re-issues classics from the past; it’s great to see that they are still so relevant today. Breitling took the step some years ago to start producing their own in-house movements, with the B01 caliber being used in many of their watches today. It’s helped put Breitling among the elite of the chronograph brands out there.
Another watchmaker well known for their amazing chronographs is Zenith. The watch brand was one of the three parties involved in the race to introduce the first automatic chronograph in 1969. That’s when Zenith introduced their El Primero movement to the world, a caliber seen as special because it not only was one of the first of its kind, but also beat at a higher frequency than its competitors. The El Primero high beat movement ticks at 36,000 vph, making it more accurate. On top of that, the seconds hands on both the time display and the central chronograph hand appear to glide effortlessly across the dial, making them a true joy to watch. In 1969, Zenith introduced three El Primero models that have since gone on to become brand icons. My personal favorite is the A384 with its iconic tonneau case and panda dial. Then there’s its brother, the A385, which essentially differs only with its fumé dial. The third and the most popular of the three, is the A386, considered by collectors as one of the most iconic chronographs ever released.
While it wasn’t always smooth sailing for Zenith after the quartz crisis, the El Primero movement has always been considered chronograph royalty. Zenith still uses the modern version of their El Primero movement for their Chronomaster collection. The Revival line within this collection holds the modern iterations of their classic A384, A385, and A386. There is also the very popular Chronomaster Sport that, although taking after the Rolex Daytona, definitely has its own charm and twists. Additionally, you will find El Primero movements in some of the watchmaker’s Defy collection timepieces. The Defy 21 and Defy Extreme are powered by modern versions of the El Primero movement, and track the time up to 1/100th of a second; the central chronograph hands flies across the dial when activated. It is as impressive to witness as it is in its ability to time with top precision. The movement also exemplifies why Zenith is still one of the leading chronographs brands around.
3. TAG Heuer
Another brand that has a rich tradition of producing some of the most iconic chronographs is TAG Heuer, or simply Heuer as the brand was called before the TAG was added in 1985. TAG Heuer produced some of the most iconic chronographs in the 1960s and 70s. One that immediately comes to mind is without a doubt the Heuer Carrera that was first introduced in 1963. The TAG Heuer Autavia, Camaro, and Monaco are some of the more illustrious names within the Heuer legacy. Most of you will also know the iconic Monaco with its square case and remarkable blue and red color combination. It was made famous by Steve McQueen in the 1971 movie Le Mans. In 1969, Heuer was among the brands that introduced one of the first new automatic chronograph movements. Where Breitling presented its Chronomatic, Heuer had the Calibre 11 for their version of the same kind of movement. This however wasn’t the first legendary chronograph from the brand, because even prior to this, it had released some of the industry’s all-time greats.
Today the TAG Heuer brand still features the Monaco, Carrera, and Autavia models in its collection. While the Monaco is enjoyed as a modern version of the original classic, the Autavia and Carrera, although inspired by the spirit of the past, are very different from the iconic models that we know with these names. TAG Heuer is proud of their rich heritage, and will regularly release modern versions of their iconic classics. It reminds us why TAG Heuer is such an important, iconic chronograph brand.
4. A. Lange & Söhne
If we’re talking about high-end luxury brands that have made their mark in the world of chronographs, we of course have to mention A. Lange & Söhne. The brand from Glashütte, Germany, has released some of the best and most impressive chronograph timepieces in recent history. Now, although Patek Philippe should also be part of this list, I have only five spots, and I picked A. Lange & Söhne. I’ll explain why: the German brand stepped onto the chronograph stage with their much-praised Datograph in 1999. Watch fans all over the globe were in awe of its in-house caliber L951.1, developed by Reinhard Meis. This movement consists of a whopping 405 parts; seeing it through the case back makes you understand that it is truly a work of art.
The regular Datograph was followed by a string of variations with more complications that continued to show the brilliance of the brand. Additionally, the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph was released in 2004, proving the brand could also produce an incredible but more traditional chronograph movement that is second to none. What’s more, the brand also released the world’s first double-rattrapante chronograph. The A. Lange & Söhne Double Split was introduced in 2004 and gives you the opportunity to split the seconds centrally. It also has a smaller minute counter at 3 o’clock that features two hands to split the elapsed minutes. If that wasn’t enough, the brand also released the Triple Split not too long ago that takes things a step further, allowing you to also split the elapsed hours. It’s yet another work of absolute brilliance that proves that when it comes to today’s chronographs, there is probably nobody better than A. Lange & Söhne.
How could I not feature Omega on a list like this? While I would not consider Omega a chronograph brand per se, it has definitely played a pivotal role in the legacy of the chronograph, making it hard to leave the brand out. Omega’s most famous chronograph, and also the world’s most iconic, is of course the Omega Speedmaster. And while we commonly say “the Speedy,” the watch in question is actually the Omega Speedmaster Professional “Moonwatch.” It was the first watch on the Moon in 1969, cementing the Speedmaster name in horological history. There’s simply no better story for a timepiece.
While that achievement is absolutely monumental, the Speedmaster legacy started 12 years earlier when the first Speedmaster was introduced together with the Seamaster 300 and the Railmaster. A diving watch, a chronograph, and a watch for engineers made for an iconic trio of timepieces that played a major role in getting Omega to where it is today. History was made when the Speedmaster was selected by NASA as the watch for their astronauts. Along with it being part of the first Moon landing, the Speedmaster also played a vital role in returning the crew of Apollo 13 safely back to Earth. The watch was used to time an emergency engine burn to get the spacecraft on the proper flight path angle for safe re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Omega was awarded with the Silver Snoopy award by NASA as a result.
The legacy of the Omega Speedmaster is undisputed, and the Speedmaster collection has grown into an extensive selection of different models, hinting back at so many of the great releases of the past. On top of that, today’s Speedmasters are equipped with some of the best modern chronograph movements. The brand has incorporated their chronograph movements into their Seamaster collection as well. Omega is unquestionably one of the most important, if not the most important brand, in making the chronograph one of the most-liked watch types around.
There you have it, five brands that have played a huge role in the development of the chronograph. If you are on the lookout for a nice chronograph, there are plenty of options to choose from, with almost every brand carrying their version of a chronograph in their collection. I have no doubt you will find your favorite. Happy hunting!