Keeping Time: The History of the Chronograph

EVN Chronograph Legend Watch History

By Michael Nixon

A fixture of many modern fashion watches, the chronograph has a long history as a useful tool for sailors, racers, and even astronauts. 

The term “chronograph,” from the Greek “time writer,” refers to a specific type of watch that includes a stopwatch built into the display face of the watch. The stopwatch function, or “complication,” allows the wearer to keep track of time by the second, minute, or even longer - depending on the watch design. 

Invented in 1816 by French watchmaker, Louis Moinet, the first modern chronograph was designed to aid astronomers with charting the stars. A commercially-available model was created in 1821 - the product of King Louis XVII’s need to better time his racehorses. 

Historically, the chronograph also allowed sailors to keep better time as they traveled - a pivotal component of mapping their journey. In the decades that followed, the chronograph became a useful tool for sports players, car racers, hospital workers, and anyone else hoping to track time to the second - or even more precisely. 

The biggest year for the chronograph might be 1969. That year saw watch manufacturers like Breitling, Heuer, Hamilton, and Zenith patenting unique takes on the self-winding chronograph, but it was Japanese watchmaker Seiko that took the year - both inventing a self-winding chronograph of their own as well as making self-winding technology obsolete by perfecting wristwatch-sized quartz movement. 

But the chronograph kept ticking thanks, in part, to NASA’s Apollo space program. Earlier in the Sixties, president Dwight Eisenhower made it a requirement for astronauts to wear chronographs during space flights. This turned out to be the right call, as the wristwatch chronographs worn by the Apollo 13 astronauts were a critical tool in saving their lives, allowing them to precisely time the rocket burns needed to safely return home. 

Ideally, you won't need to use your chronograph during a harrowing return to planet Earth, but modern chronographs are perfect for use in car racing, diving, cooking, and piloting airplanes. 

The EVN Legend Chronograph features the classic stopwatch and standard time display, as well as additional “complications” - or extra features - including a day dial, two 24-hour dials to allow Dual Time, as well as a date tracker. These functions are controlled via the crown and the two buttons set above and below it. 

From tasks as adventurous as tracking high-speed laps to those as mundane as timing the perfect pasta, a chronograph is an easy ‘life hack’ to keep better time - any way you clock it.