Feature: 3 Chronograph Considerations
When you’re looking for the watch that’s right for you, it’s easy to be swept up in the hype of those top few default choices. Say you’ve set your heart on a chronograph; chances are your shortlist may contain a Speedmaster or a Daytona. Both superb watches, no doubt about that, but there are others that you might not know about—and they’re equally worth consideration.
TAG Heuer Carrera 1887 Jack Heuer CAR2C11.FC6327
The TAG Heuer Carrera is a pretty default choice in the chronograph arena, no doubt, but this is a little bit different. If you remember TAG Heuer’s 2012 Mikrogider—you know, the mechanical chronograph accurate to 5/10,000th of a second—you might recognise this, because it shares the same styling as its conceptual cousin.
Endowed with a ‘bullhead’ arrangement—with the chronograph pushers protruding from the top of the case like a bull’s horns, a design tuned for the ergonomics of a race car—the Carrera 1887 Jack Heuer is a celebration of the 50 years since Jack Heuer’s 1963 introduction of the original Carrera.
Then known as simply ‘Heuer’—the ‘TAG’ part was added when holding company Techniques d’Avant Garde took control of the watchmaker as it struggled through the quartz crisis—the company was excelling as the golden age of motorsport was really starting to blossom. Heuer stopwatches were famous for their use as rally dash timers, and Jack’s friendships with racing drivers like Jo Siffert gave the brand the connections it needed to become truly ingratiated with the sport.
It was at a motor race, in fact, when Jack was inspired to build the Carrera. As brothers Ricardo and Pedro Rodriguez stormed the Sebring circuit in the Ferrari 330 TRI-LM, Jack was chatting with their parents, who told him about a legendary road race called the Carrera PanAmericana, a border-to-border sprint across Mexico intended to publicise the recently built Pan-American Highway.
It was considered the most dangerous race of its type, and had been cancelled in 1955—but it still gave Jack inspiration. Coincidentally, he registered the name for use on his watches at the same time German automobile manufacturer Porsche did for its cars.
The Carrera 1887 Jack Heuer is actually TAG Heuer’s first bullhead chronograph—historically, Omega, Seiko and Bulova were responsible for those—but a quick inspection of the two-piece Mikrogirder case reveals that the design actually sources its inspiration from those original historic dash timers, the steel, wrist-mounted outer cage propping up the titanium, stopwatch-esque barrel for a very modern interpretation.
Zenith Pilot ChronoMetro Tipo CP-2 03.2240.4069/21.C774
It’s a Zenith chronograph, but it’s not an El Primero. Well, that’s not strictly true—there’s an El Primero doing all the hard work inside, but there’s nothing on the dial that alludes to the involvement of this most famous of chronograph calibres. It’s not because Zenith forgot—that would be like Omega forgetting it went to the moon—it’s because this ChronoMetro Tipo CP-2 draws inspiration from a watch that existed about a decade before the El Primero came to be.
Multi-lingual types will have noticed that ChronoMetro and Tipo are neither French nor German—the two main languages spoken in Switzerland—they are in fact Italian. Again, Zenith hasn’t forgotten its origins—that would be like Rolex forgetting it went to the bottom of the ocean—it’s a reference to the military heritage of this design.
Back in 1960, Rome-based military distributer A. Cairelli signed a deal with Zenith to supply its watches to the Italian armed forces, much like Panerai did with Rolex watches earlier that century. The watches were categorised under the code CP—'chronometro da polso’, or wrist chronometer—and it was the second to be supplied under that code, after a Leonidas of similar design, hence CP-2.
Although copyright troubles prevented Zenith from daubing this modern CP-2’s dial with the ‘A. Cairelli’ motif, choosing to loosely refence the El Primero with ‘automatic’ instead, the rest of the watch’s aesthetic remains faithful to the original, including the large-for-the-time 43mm diameter. As the original was delivered specifically to the aviation division of the Italian armed forces, size, as has been seen with the Type 20- and Mark 11-designated watches of the past, was on the larger end of the scale, to aid operation.
Hands and markers, like its forbear’s, are doused in luminous paint, as is the triangle at 12 o’clock on the bi-directional timing bezel. It’s a simple, clear watch as you’d expect, with no consideration for visual flourishes—and that’s part of the appeal. And if all this has got you pondering an original vintage CP-2, you’d better have the readies—these days, they’re fetching north of £10,000.
Rolex Yacht-Master II 116681
For a very long time, the most complicated thing in Rolex’s line-up was its chronograph—and the brand didn’t even make that itself. Then, in 2007, Switzerland’s biggest name announced the Yacht-Master II to—well, let’s face it—much confusion.
How this watch ever came to be is a bit of a mystery, one that only gets more bizarre as the layers are peeled away. Rumour has it that, in the mid-90s, Rolex was developing a replacement to the Submariner, a glitzier, more luxurious variant with luscious, polished curves and a rich, sunburst blue dial.
The rumour goes that someone high up at Rolex got cold feet at the last minute, and rather than replacing the Submariner, the watch was released as its own line—the 1994 Yacht-Master. If that was true, then it was most definitely the right move, the Yacht-Master’s sales dwarfed by its more straightforward, older sibling.
A steel version of the Yacht-Master further iterated that the price of the watch was not the problem, and so the Yacht-Master was resigned to the back of jeweller’s cabinets behind the much more desirable Submariners and GMT-Master IIs. This was around the same time that Rolex finally manufactured its own chronograph movement, and so the collection was complete.
That is until someone, somewhere, somehow, managed to convince the bigwigs at Rolex head office that a chronograph version of the Yacht-Master would be a good idea. And not just a straight fit of the calibre 4130—it needed to have a set of complications all of its own that focussed specifically on the pastime of the regatta.
How the Yacht-Master II was ever greenlit will be a puzzle for the ages, but if the time is taken to actually explore the watch and understand how it works, it doesn’t take long to realise why its existence is for the better. For those who don’t know, regattas, sailing races, begin with a rolling start after a ten-minute countdown. So you’ve got your chronograph here, with ten-minute countdown, which runs as expected.
But through the ten minute countdown comes a series of flags and horn blasts to indicate the progress of the countdown, and at this point it might dawn on the team member responsible for managing the timing that the chronograph was activated a fraction out. So, press the reset button and the chronograph seconds flip round to 12, flyback style, while the minute indicator jumps to the nearest minute. Just like that, back on track, ready to race.
And that’s not the most complicated part: say the countdown timer was to be used for something less than ten minutes; there’s no need to work around it because, with a twist of the Ring Command bezel—the origin of the Sky-Dweller’s ingenious control system—the minute hand can be reset. It blocks the start pusher and locks the reset pusher, allowing the crown to pick the exact minute required—with a nifty retrograde function in there for good measure. It’s a set of features that many owners may not even be aware of, but it shows a level of shrewdness and ingenuity to Rolex that we only get to see every once in a while.
Chances are that our hypothetical chronograph hunter will still opt for one of those default choices—and good for them, they’re superb watches—but for everyone else, this demonstration barely scratches the surface of the wealth of watchmaking interest and ingenuity that’s available with a little more research. Hunting for something special can add another layer of enjoyment to the purchase of a watch, and taking the time and opportunity to choose right is an experience that should be savoured.
Looking for a TAG Heuer watch? Click here to shop now
Looking for a Zenith watch? Click here to shop now
Looking for a Rolex watch? Click here to shop now