From my blog, Fratellowatches.com, 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
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
From 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 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 Carrera
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 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
One 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 Professional
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.
Chronographs are icons on it’s self into the watch world.
Many collectors of watches have only chronographs in their collection.
I do the opposite. My love for time only watches is huge, because of the simplicity of a dial.
So if i chose a chronograph it would be not easy, because there are a lot of interesting ones.
I like the Breitling Navitimer more than 37 years, so this is my favorite chronograph.
Omega is my favorite brand, so a Speedmaster is my second choice. The anniversary Snoopy, is my favorite.
The Navitimer and Royal Oak Offshore, time and again. Eternal favorites.
You forget Breguet. Aeronavale and its forerunners. Lemania movments.
I am certainly no chronograph expert, but these 7 seem right to me in terms of watches considered iconic among chronographs.
I’m fond of the vintage Benrus Sky Chief. These I think were iconic back in the 40s 50s and 60s, especially among pilots. And had the venerable Valjoux c.72 movement later in its run. I have the most prevalent version there was, a 35mm black dial model. Along with a 70s Seiko 6138-8020 “Panda”, these are the only two chronographs I currently own
Grand Seiko for the pusher mechanism. In my view, it has the best pusher in the world.
The Apollo 15 Bulova chronograph was also approved by NASA and there is still one on the Moon today. It turned out to be a better watch than the Omega as the Omega’s
crystal popped off during a walk and Scott Carpenter used his back-up Bulova instead.
May I suggest Heuer Monaco Caliber 11
Very good options!! But like you cpuldnt be more predictable…so unique choices!!
I do agree chronographs are useful but you forgot the most iconic watch-chronograph (price excluding)… the Patek Philippe nautilus 5990. Combines all the above plus water proof, sturdiness, dual time (very useful if a frequent traveler), easy to wear and for the most unassuming…
My second most preferred chrono is indeed the ionic Zenith El Primero, in the tripple date version. My favorite is however much more precise still: Grand Seiko Spring Drive Cjhronograph. It’s precision is within 1 – 2 seconds per month! Unbeatable!
I will add to this list the 41mm Titanium Bugatti Aerolithe by Parmigiani
Tag Heuer Monaco
I like Omegas. However, I owned the manual wind Speedmaster Pro but didn’t really like it despite it’s history. The crown is extremely small and it is a pain to wind. How the astronauts ever wound this watch on the moon, is beyond me. I got fed up and traded the watch for something else.
Interesting the Rolex Submariner not making your list.
The submariner is not a chronograph.
Of course! My ( very ) bad .
Why are the pre moon watches more desirable to collect.?
I personally own the wind up moon watch the Tudor tiger chronograph , and the Tag Heuer Monaco.
Love them all
One wonders how Rolex always finds its way onto some or other list of icons, arguably one of the most ugly watches around and oblivious in their overpriced arrogance.
I find it interesting that, while the IWC chronograph in this article and a Sinn chronograph use the exact same movement, the Sinn is less than 1/2 the price. Perhaps it’s the case…
The IWC movement isn’t even close to the same as the Sinn. It has a heavily modified movement which shows in the case of 6 o’clock having the seconds hand. This movement is entirely re-engineered according to IWC’s strict standards!!
The Oak is my favourite.
Popular doesnt mean much In terms of reliability, beauty or functionality.
Agree on all classification but I will retrograde tha Daytona and replace it with the navitimer
The most famous I would say based on its use for precision would be the William Pogue’s Seiko 6139
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 :)
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!
Omega Speedmaster watch glass was broken on Moon and astronaut replaced Omega to Bulova.This Bulova commanded over 1000000 dollars price on auction.
Omega Speedmaster does not have a “glass”.
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…
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.
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.
I will have to agree with the top 2 since I own both
Lange 1815 Chrono, blows all the above away, finish, design, beauty, value.
The Vacheron 1955 chrono comes close.
Howard, we’re talking about iconic chronographs not the most expensive or the best finished. Different categories we’re talking about, I think the Datograph will be iconic one day but it ain’t going to trump the Daytona or the Speedy Pro.
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.
To my opinion- the Omega speedmaster is the! Iconic.
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!
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?
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.
Had a IWC Portuguese in gold but recently changed to IWC Aquatimer in rose gold chronograph absolutely stunning watch
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.
So the Daytona is an iconic watch because it’s…. popular…. K.
My prefer Watch is the Omega speedmaster Moonwatch, the Speedy all the way then Daytona,
ok Ap or Breitling….ect.
All are great selections! In addition to the El Primero, the Sinn 103 – a classic pilot chronograph – what a dial!!!
I felt that Jaeger LeCoultre Master Compressor or Extreme World Time should have made the list
Ofcourse agree I like Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Pro. and I hope I cann bay one with new Box anniversy 45 years Apollo 11.
And what about Blancpain?
Great company from 1735!The oldest one!
The name Blancpain is old. But not the current brand… It’s actually very new and not so desired by collectors/connaisseurs
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 Orologie.in 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.
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.
All great watches, but for me the Rolex daytona is number1.
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.
A.Lange 1815 chrono?
The new Patek philippe Chrono?
When I think of “iconic” chronos, I’d prefer to see a Heuer (before TAG got involved) chronograph on the list.
Think like you, HEUER with cal 11,12 and 14, crown at 9.
Lange? Datograph or 1815 chrono?
rolex daytona black dial calibre 4130
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 !
I’m with the above. Where’s the Zenith El Primero?
You mean watch #4???
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
Navitimer model has in house movement.
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.
Wow! What about Zenith’s El Primero??
giving to the fact early rolex daytona uses EL P movement
Rolex hasn’t used the El Primero movt. since 2000. It’s now an in-house chrono movement.
He did state EARLY Rolex Daytonas used EL P movement
It’s hard to argue with your selection. All are well known. AP’s Royal Oak Offshore would be on my list.
All fine watches. But how do you leave off the Zenith el Primero?
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!
omega speedy moon watch …my choice..
Agree. The Speedmaster all the way! For me, Heuer Carrera (the original ones) or Autavia would be #2