Fratello Watches

The 7 Most Iconic Chronograph Watches

From my blog,, I offer up my personal list of Seven Iconic Chronograph Watches. If you don’t count the date feature, the chronograph is probably the most popular complication for wristwatches, as well as one of the most useful: one can find many uses for a chrono during his or her everyday life, such as timing diner preparation or in other work- or sports-related activities.

What makes a timepiece iconic? In most cases, it has something to do with age and heritage, but more importantly, in my opinion, its design should be truly timeless. If you can easily identify a watch as having been around since the 1950s or 1960s and that watch can still be worn today without looking old — well, that’s the definition of timeless. Another important aspect of an icon is that it should be easily recognizable as a specific model and brand. Think of the Royal Oak by Audemars Piguet, the Santos by Cartier, or the Datejust by Rolex.

Most of these watches do not need introduction, but I’ll introduce them anyway.

So, in ascending order:

7. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore

The original Royal Oak goes back to 1972 and was designed by the legendary Gérald Genta. Audemars Piguet‘s Royal Oak Offshore collection was introduced 21 years later in 1993 and was meant to be a more rugged and up-to-date version of the regular Royal Oak to attract a younger and perhaps a new target customer. The themed models from the Royal Oak Offshore collection bear interesting names as ‘Safari’, ‘Navy’, ‘Vulcano’ and so on. Watch aficionados even nicknamed them ‘Panda’ and ‘Elephant’.

6. Zenith El Primero

Zenith El Primero chronographFrom all the chronograph watches listed in this article, Zenith is perhaps the only one where the movement is even more famous than the watch itself. The El Primero chronograph movement has a long (1969) and interesting history that I will save for a later article. This Zenith El Primero 36,000 VPH has the looks of those very first models from 1969 but crafted and designed to meet all current standards. This 42mm model however, will always remind you of those early automatic chronograph models due to its case shape and dial.

5. IWC Portuguese ChronographIWC Portuguese Chronograph

The brand from Schaffhausen has a long and rich history, especially with its Portuguese family of watches, and yet the Portuguese Chronograph is the youngest watch in this Top 7. A clean and classically designed watch that you will recognize instantly as an IWC, the Portuguese Chronograph has an ETA/Valjoux 7750 movement and a case diameter of 40.9 mm. And its design should be as contemporary 50 years from now as it is today.

4. TAG Heuer CarreraTAG Heuer Carrera Jack Heuer 80th Edition

In 1963, Jack Heuer introduced the World to the Carrera, a chronograph watch clearly inspired by sports cars and the world of auto racing.  Now, 50 years later, the TAG Heuer Carrera is recognized as a legitimate icon. Last year’s 41-mm Carrera model was introduced to celebrate the 80th birthday of its founder, Jack Heuer. Collectors prefer the many vintage Carrera models that can be found at auctions and stores selling pre-owned watches.

3. Breitling NavitimerBreitling Navitimer

The oldest chronograph on this list is the Breitling Navitimer, introduced in 1952. The original watch was meant for pilots and featured a slide-rule bezel. With the slide rule, pilots were able to calculate ground speed, miles per minute, fuel consumption and other mathematical calculations. The Navitimer family came in a lot of shapes and sizes during the years, but we prefer the classical-looking Navitimer piece that comes closest to the original model from the early 1950s. Did you know that astronaut Scott Carpenter wore a Navitimer when he orbited the Earth in 1962?

2. Rolex Daytona

Rolex DaytonaOne of the most sought-after watches worldwide is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Rolex introduced an all-platinum version this year, with an ice blue dial and a chestnut-colored bezel. However, Rolex refuses to call this watch a special or anniversary edition, it is – like all Rolex models – part of its ‘regular’ collection. The cult of the Rolex Daytona started in Italy – so the story goes – with a magazine featuring Paul Newman wearing his Daytona on the cover of a magazine. The Rolex Daytona – especially the oldest models – fetches very high prices at auctions and has its own subculture among watch collectors.

1. Omega Speedmaster ProfessionalOmega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch

The so-called “Moonwatch” from Omega has not changed much over the years. Introduced in 1957 as a watch for racecar drivers, it became the choice for NASA astronauts in 1965. In fact, it played an important role during the return of the damaged Apollo 13 spacecraft in 1970. Precise timing was necessary for a safe return into the atmosphere. Couldn’t any other watch have done the job? Probably, but fact is that the Speedmaster was the only watch able to pass NASA’s rigorous testing in its search for a space-worthy chronograph watch. The Moonwatch today has the same basic design as those used by NASA in those days; only minor details have changed. It is the pre-Moon models that are most sought after by collectors.


So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Any you’d add to this list? Feel free to chime in!

This article was originally published in 2013 and has been updated with additional material.






52 Responses to “The 7 Most Iconic Chronograph Watches”

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  1. Elie chehwan

    Agree on all classification but I will retrograde tha Daytona and replace it with the navitimer

  2. The most famous I would say based on its use for precision would be the William Pogue’s Seiko 6139

  3. No list of iconic watches can be taken seriously without the Rolex Submariner.

    • Sub does not really seem to be a chronograph – about what this article is about :)

  4. Jonathan Evans

    I have recently acquired a blue dial Tag Carrera Calibre 17. I was interested to see this watch noted in your top 7 article. I think I have made a sound purchase based on your comments thank you!

  5. Anatoliy

    Omega Speedmaster watch glass was broken on Moon and astronaut replaced Omega to Bulova.This Bulova commanded over 1000000 dollars price on auction.

  6. fraser stewart

    Excellent selection, they are certainly deserved of the title. I feel you are leaving out one watch that certainly deserves to be included, perhaps an 8th member of the list. The Seiko 6039, AKA as the first automatic chronograph is omitted, why? Am I experiencing a Euro bias towards Japan? Let’s face it, the Tag Heuer uses a 1887 movement this is a modified version of a Seiko, if it makes the list…

  7. Mahmood

    Completely agree with the list. How people can even try to claim that other watches with possibly better movements should be on this list is beyond me. If we were talking about movements, the speedy would not even be ahead of Omega’s in house co-axial. But we are talking about icons.

    Speedy is the ultimate icon. No watch to this day can claim what Speedy claims i.e. “I am the watch that went to the moon and back and I survived.”

    No other watch manufacturer can claim this. You have millions of hand wound movements but this is the only one NASA likes. Speedy all the way.

  8. Oscar Barragan


    Good topic.The comments to your article perspire passion like if all were taking about sports and passion is what chronographs awake in watch fans.
    What makes a timepiece iconic?
    The three reasons  you mentioned are valid for me but Advertising is also a very important factor to become an icon. Even when Paul Newman never accepted to have a relation with Rolex he made the best work with Daytona. Also the Moon, NASA, Snoopy and Buzz Aldrin made  fortuitously the same for Speedmaster. El Primero is a legend on its own merits. Heuer was also an icon and Tag Heuer is a Swiss-Japanees icon.
    There is another great Chronograph. I think it’s also an icon. One of the first automatic chronographs the first to be sold and the first automatic chronograph in the space. Seiko Pogue 6139. I have had one since I was fourteen. My father gave it to me when he visited the Expo 70 in Osaka. I have aqcuired many watches in my life but I still use it. Many traces of wear and still working.

  9. Howard Marshall

    Lange 1815 Chrono, blows all the above away, finish, design, beauty, value.
    The Vacheron 1955 chrono comes close.

  10. I cannot understand why the Vasheron Constantin Overseas is not on that list. AP did get the ball rolling with the Royal Oak, and VC stumbled with the 222 and Phidas, but with the Overseas a beautiful line of unique and distinct chronographs were launched.

  11. How can any of these chronos even be in the same category as the Datograph, Double Split or 1815 Chrono? Just look at the design and execution of those Lange in-house movements! Except for a few of the independents, Lange is the top of the horological pile IMO!

  12. GalaxyGuy

    I personally feel the Zenith should have been number 2 or number 3. Hard to trump a Speedster, but why is the Daytona so high? TAG Heuer? Really?

  13. Steve Schall

    The IWC is by far the most attractive watch. The Rolex, though an excellent watch, has tiny, barely readable hands, no numerals, a glitzy nonsense bezel, and a overly shiny bracelet which immediately becomes full of scratches. Easy choice.

    • Simon Broadbent

      Had a IWC Portuguese in gold but recently changed to IWC Aquatimer in rose gold chronograph absolutely stunning watch

  14. I think you pretty much hit the mark with your selections. I can’t include any additions mentioned without knocking one your selections off. Spot on and I’ve been collecting chronographs since ’69.

  15. Boston Rob

    So the Daytona is an iconic watch because it’s…. popular…. K.

  16. Mohamed shartouh

    My prefer Watch is the Omega speedmaster Moonwatch, the Speedy all the way then Daytona,
    ok Ap or Breitling….ect.

  17. All are great selections! In addition to the El Primero, the Sinn 103 – a classic pilot chronograph – what a dial!!!

  18. Jeffrey Goldberg

    I felt that Jaeger LeCoultre Master Compressor or Extreme World Time should have made the list

  19. Mohamed shartouh

    Ofcourse agree I like Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Pro. and I hope I cann bay one with new Box anniversy 45 years Apollo 11.

  20. IMHO some of these pieces because of being iconic have been overplayed in the market as well as some of them do not feature in house movements or fall under the category of Haute de some cases too many have been copied as well as there have been too many variations of a particular piece.This is not meant to be a criticism on Jan or his opinion but just my personal opinion. That is why I love this hobby so we can all listen to each other’s opinions.

  21. Definitely, El Primero should be “the first” on any list of automatic integrated column wheel chronographs. Not only because it’s iconic, but also because it’s robust, reliable, durable, remarkable well built, precise and thin.

  22. Great selection to be sure, would be happy to own any of them! I am partial to my breguet type XXI chronograph rose gold. …. Actually sold my Daytona TT d series to get it. Size is perfect (42mm) legibility excellent, has the date feature, and I really like the minutes totalizer as a center hand.


  23. mohamed shartouh

    A.Lange 1815 chrono?
    The new Patek philippe Chrono?

  24. When I think of “iconic” chronos, I’d prefer to see a Heuer (before TAG got involved) chronograph on the list.

  25. Mark Loberg

    This is an open message not only to Robert, but I’d welcome any readers to chime in with their thoughts…

    At the end of this past summer, my pride and joy 1995.5 T-series 16520 Rolex Daytona was stolen from right under my nose. I purchased the watch in 2004 in celebration of the achievement of several business goals as a sort of “trophy” to my accomplishments, so it occupied a space of far greater significance to me personally, which went well beyond the prestige associated with this timepiece.

    Now that I’m days away from receiving (partial) reimbursement from my Insurance carrier, and I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time researching other chronographs, I’m curious to know if faced with the similar situation of after owning one of the truly greatest timepiece for just shy of a decade, would you get another one, or instead move on to another classic. And as pointed out by the first few respondents in this thread, I’m interested to get your longer-term take on the El Primero Striking 10th from a collectible perspective. Will the limited 1969 piece production be low enough to eventually position this watch solidly with it’s more recognizable peers like Rolex Daytona and Omega Speedmaster? Or instead of another 16520 or a new Striking 10th, would half my money be better spent on a well preserved Speedmaster? Choices and decisions…



    • I’d try for another zenith daytona, it’s the only one that will continue to appreciate, and is a great watch, other than that the newer in house daytona will probably hold it’s value way better than any of the other options !

  26. Hi guys

    I tend to agree with Steve.The only watch that has an in house movement is the Rolex ( except the Omega which is part of the Swatch Group already)but the IWC Breitling and TAG have ETA movements,whereas the Zenith have in house movements with a much better make up than the ETA movements and are directly produced by Zenith a trend that is going this way into the future a Swatch has reduced it’s movement supply to the market and as a collector and others that I know,choosing a watch with an in house movement puts you ahead of the competition so in my humble opinion the Zenith falls into second place to the Rolex as the Rolex now has the iconic 4130 movement but until the 2000 year had a Zenith movement running this timepiece.

    This is my opinion and hope that the Zenith will feature in the future



    • Regarding AP Royal Oak Offshore Collection 42mm:

      This is not a classic in-house movement it is a sandwich type of movement:

      Movement is essentially an AP 3120 self-winding caliber as found in the 15400 with a Dubois-Depraz chronograph module sandwiched on top. This makes the Offshore, inherently, a thicker watch, and less desirable to the purists out there.

  27. It’s hard to argue with your selection. All are well known. AP’s Royal Oak Offshore would be on my list.

    • Dear Steve (and Mr Tissot),

      Thanks for your comments on the Zenith El Primero. I decided to publish my favourite chronograph models and although the Zenith El Primero is certainly top notch I would have a hard time to pick a model in the overall Top 5 (probably the Striking 10th would be at position 6 now, but the 38mm version is also wonderful). However, if the article would be about chronograph movements (and not the entire watch), it would be definitely in the Top 5 (Top 3 even). A wonderful historical high-beat movement, no doubt!


    • Agree. The Speedmaster all the way! For me, Heuer Carrera (the original ones) or Autavia would be #2

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