The chronograph watch, once an apparatus exclusive to men in sports, the military and technical fields, today is a boldly bulky fashion accessory strapped on by even the most sedentary of souls. There's something intriguingly cool about the look -- the impressive mechanisms with all those numbers, knobs and dials.
Chronograph refers to a wristwatch that has a stopwatch as well as regular timekeeping features. The term is taken from the Greek words "chronos" meaning time and "grapho" meaning to write.
The first chronograph, created by the inventor Rieussec around 1822, used dots of ink on a dial to measure increments of time, thus the name.
The complicated split-second watch, which included an additional dial for timing two events at once, appeared around 1879.
Today, the split-second feature is standard fare.
The scope of field for the chronograph is about as specialized as the watch is diverse. The many elements are well represented among manufacturers. You can get a chronograph with a tachometer scale -- a calibrated bezel that shows the speed or rate of a moving object in kilometers or miles per hour. There are moon-phase indicators, special pulsimeter chronographs that show the number of human pulse beats per minute, and water- and pressure-proof deep-diver versions.
Lighter weight and less expensive digital or quartz chronographs are sporty options but less of a collectible than the automatic or mechanical variety. Names like Patek Philippe, Rolex, TAG Heuer, Cartier, Breitling, Pulsar, Timex, Citizen and Swiss Army represent the mere tip of the manufacturers' iceberg.
The chronograph became popular for men in non-technical areas in the '20s. And today, the piece of jewelry that looks like a small version of an airplane instrument control panel is a perfect finishing touch for the woman who's partial to this season's menswear looks.