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Chronometers vs Chronographs

What is the difference between a chronometer and a chronograph?

It’s a question that anyone moderately well versed in the world of watches might readily have the answer to. Yet, for anybody undertaking research in search of their first watch, it’s an entirely valid question. After all, if you’re looking to spend your hard-earned money on such a uniquely personal item – something you’ll be living with every day – you need to know that it’ll do everything required of it.

Throughout the Christopher Ward Collection, you’ll find watches classed as chronometers, and others as chronographs; in some cases, they can even be both. Confused? You needn’t be. It’s actually pleasantly simple once you understand the distinctly different purposes that chronometers and chronographs actually serve: the former refers to accuracy, with the latter concerned with a particular kind of functionality. Let’s start by addressing the issue that normally causes this confusion in the first place: both share the prefix chrono, which to people fresh to the world of horology, can somewhat rationally lead to the assumption that they are similar.

To clear this up requires a simple case of etymology – essentially the building blocks of language behind these words. That term, chrono-? In Ancient Greek, it simply means ‘time’. In the case of the chronograph, the -graph suffix refers to something ‘that draws or shows’. Join those terms together, and you have chronograph (or khronográphos, “chronicler”, to be precise), a watch specifically designed to record time and its intervals – in other words, an integrated stopwatch function.

Push the button

Normally, chronograph models are generally recognisable for their two pushers, one either side of its crown. Pressing the upper pusher will activate the chronograph function, which, depending on the capability of the model in question, will display anywhere from minutes down to 1/10ths of a second through a series of subdials on the watch’s face. Watches such as the C60 Trident Chronograph 300 and C3 Malvern Chronograph Mk III are examples of quartz chronographs – you can find out more on how quartz movements work C60 Trident Chronograph 300 and here – while the C60 Trident Chronograph Pro 600 features a mechanical chronograph movement. At the top end of the CW Collection, and a horological masterpiece in itself, the C9 Me 109 SPC’s engineering negates the need for two pushers, allowing its user to operate its chronograph functions through the crown alone.

The hunt for accuracy

So: if the chronograph refers to the recording of time, what does the -meter in chronometer signify? Again, its roots are in found in Ancient Greek, this time translating to the word ‘measure’. The chronometer is literally a measure of time. Of course, any watch or clock is designed to measure time; however, in the case of a chronometer, it is a watch that is meant to represent the pinnacle of accuracy. For example, a mechanical chronometer watch has a tolerance of -4/+6 seconds per day, while its quartz counterpart, which relies on a high frequency crystal to count time rather than hundreds of tiny moving parts, is accurate to -10/+10 seconds a year. For any Swiss-made watch to receive chronometer status, it needs to be tested and certified by an organisation called Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres – you can read about their testing procedures in our Do Your Research COSC article.

Essentially, while the chronograph is known in watchmaking terms as a ‘complication’ – basically an additional function beyond telling the time – a chronometer refers to the accuracy of its timekeeping. That’s why it’s entirely conceivable a chronograph could be also classed a chronometer, provided it passes the rigorous tests of the COSC. Whether you have a requirement for a watch that needs to be accurate to just seconds a day, or one that has stopwatch functionality, is an entirely personal decision. For those who find a watch a useful accessory to complement an outfit, neither the precision of a chronometer or the functionality of a chronograph is necessary. But therein lies the joy of building a watch collection: every person (and watch) is different. We’re very proud of the variety throughout our Collection – we’ll leave it you to find your favourite…