2015 was quite a year for high-end chronographs, from Vacheron Constantin’s Harmony to Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Concept Michael Schumacher Laptimer. At SalonQP we dedicated an entire gallery to the development and history of this complication, such is the thrall it holds over watch collectors and fans. We could wax lyrical about the appeals of a chronograph at length, picking up on their purpose, their lineage and their myriad associations with the wider world. Sometimes, however, all you need to do is look at the damn things. So much energy and attention gets focussed on chronograph dials – and rightly so – but chronographs are about pure watchmaking accomplishment, and what’s purer than a hand-wound movement? We photographed four absolutely top-notch examples of the form, in luscious high definition (a big hand, please, for the talented Gary Smith, who shot these movements for QP) to remind us all just what finely-tuned, exquisitely made machines they can be.
That’s not all, of course. We also found a chap to give us some rather special expert commentary on each watch. Kari Voutilainen, to those lucky enough to meet him, is the very definition of unassuming – even by watchmakers’ standards, who don’t necessarily tend to be the grandstanding type. But his mastery speaks for itself, regularly picking up GPHG awards and nominations, and his level of hand-finishing, movement construction and dial decoration place him rightly in the world’s top few watchmaking minds. At the moment, he’s focussing on artistic pieces – witness the Hisui, from 2014, which won the GPHG for “artistic craft” – and relatively simple complications like the GMR, GMT-6 and time-only Vingt-8. But he knows his way around a chronograph movement; indeed is one of very few independent watchmakers to produce one from scratch, with is his “Chronograph Masterpiece” from 2009. So when we asked him to give us some inside insight on four of the world’s finest hand-wound chronographs, from four big, big brands, we knew we were in safe hands. Here’s what he had to say:
Introduced in 1999, the Datograph marked A. Lange & Sohne’s ascent to the top table of modern watchmaking. This is the perpetual calendar from 2015 (hence the extra pusher).
Kari Voutilainen: “A classical chronograph with instantaneous minute recorder, which has a nice gold counterweight on the lever to make it poised. The chronograph parts have very elegant forms: aesthetically it is beautiful. The operating lever is pivoted on jewels, which makes it very free and avoids problems with the function of the column wheel. I assume that the start-stop function is very smooth and not tight.”
A close-up look at the Datograph's column wheel and chronograph levers.
Calibre: Calibre L951.6 flyback with date and power reserve displays, beating at 18,000 vph
Power reserve: 60 hours
Number of parts: 451
Chopard went in-house with the LUC chrono in 2014, producing this flyback model with Geneva Seal and chronometer certification.
Kari Voutilainen: “The chronograph mechanism is quite spread out and bridges are hiding springs and levers, so oiling and adjusting certainly needs more effort. Also, there is not a traditional clutch; the gear train is engaged all the time, so there might be more amplitude with the chronograph running and less once stopped. To avoid that, you must carefully adjust the friction on the fourth wheel. But once properly done, it works really well.”
Material: Rose gold
Calibre: Calibre LUC 03.07-L chronometer flyback beating at 28,800 vph
Power reserve: 60 hours
Number of parts: 300
Patek introduced the 5170 in 2010, replacing the enormously popular Lemania-powered 5070, with an in-house movement for the first time.
Kari Voutilainen: “This chronograph has an instantaneous minute recorder, which is a mechanism to be handled with care. Once adjusted, it works well, but needs a skilful watchmaker who knows this complication. The hammer for the return to zero is pivoted on jewels, meaning it is very stable and there won’t be any wear in the future. The hammer is also very free, so the return to zero function should be really precise and smooth and fast. On top of the column wheel there is a polished disk, which acts to prevent the clutch lever from disengaging from the column wheel. It means that it can’t jump the top of the column wheel.”
Material: White gold
Calibre: Caliber CH 29-535 PS with column wheel, Gyromax balance, 28,800 vph
Power reserve: 65 hours
Number of parts: 269
Breguet’s manual chronograph is based on the Lemania CH 27 movement, in production in some form since the 1940s.
Kari Voutilainen: “The Breguet is a very classical chronograph without any surprises. Certainly it will work well and last forever. The functions are easy to adjust; it has kept the concept from the 1940s, but I mean that in a positive way. You can clearly see the column wheel with recorders. The minute counter has a jumper, so it is not instantaneous.”
Material: Rose gold
Calibre: Calibre 533.3, with column wheel, Breguet balance wheel and spring, beating at a frequency of 21,600 vph
Power reserve: 48 hours
Here's Kari's own chronograph calibre. Not exactly shabby, eh? As distinctive as any movement out there, and somehow possessed of huge amounts of free space despite the trademark oversized free-sprung balance and the fact that the watch measures just 40mm. Kari's take on chronograph dial design is also totally unique, with the chronograph's 30-minute counter at 11 o'clock, and the regular hours and minutes relegated to a subdial at 6 o'clock, with running seconds at 3 o'clock.
The Chronograph Masterpiece II from Kari Voutilainen.