Hopefully by now you’ve read our list of the best chronographs for less than £10,000. That was a lot of fun to put together, and contains some absolutely incredible watches. But this is the full fat, sky’s-the-limit list: the best chronographs you can buy for £10,000 or more. Emphasis on “more” – we have some spellbindingly good watchmaking here.
As before, a word about the internal logic that has gone into this. No matter how tough the decision, only one watch can be included per brand. Sorry Patek Philippe, A. Lange & Sohne, Vacheron… that’s just the way it is. The other thing to mention is that while there are plenty of chronographs with a £10,000+ price tag from the likes of Rolex, IWC, Breitling and others, that has usually come about because you’ve swapped steel for gold. If there’s more to it than that, then fair enough. But otherwise, fundamentally it’s the same watch, so our thinking has been that unless that switch to precious metals genuinely improves the watch, that doesn’t make it worthy of inclusion on this list.
Some time back I wrote that this might just be the perfect watch, bar none, and in the interim not much has come along to dampen that hyperbole. A. Lange & Sohne makes arguably the best array of chronographs of any brand – packing in double- and triple-split timers, perpetual calendars and tourbillons, as well as the Datograph Up/Down Lumen which is just brilliant. But the pure essence of haute chronograph watchmaking is the 1815, unadorned by further complications, perfectly sized and a joy to look at.
AP recently introduced a new in-house integrated chronograph movement – something fans have been long been waiting for. It’s only being used in the Code 11:59, however, and that hasn’t grown on us sufficiently to herald it as the brand’s best chronograph. We toyed with some Offshore references – the Diver Chronograph would be our pick – but ultimately felt that you can’t overlook the Royal Oak. It’s not at its best in chronograph form – the pushers and subdials do overcrowd things a little – but a Royal Oak on an off day is still better than most other watches on their best days.
It’s easy to forget Arnold & Son makes a chronograph, which is a shame as it’s such a nice-looking thing. At 44mm it could arguably do with being a bit slimmer, but it was introduced back when that was becoming the default size for a lot of brands. The movement is a La Joux Perret calibre, exclusive to Arnold & Son, and adds a dead-beat second to the mix for extra visual theatre – with the chronograph running, the two second hands will dance around the dial, phasing in and out of sync.
Another tough choice, one that forced us to decide between Breguet’s two very different styles of chrono. On the one hand, the Type XXI – a beefy pilot’s watch with kitchen-sink design and an automatic movement. On the other, the Classique, a paean to hand-wound haute horlogerie, powered by calibre 533.3 (which shares its ancestry with the Omega 321, of Moonwatch fame). The Classique won out, partly for its gorgeous caseback view, and partly because the best pilot’s watch Breguet makes is actually the sub-£10k Type XX.
No contest at all here. Blancpain makes a fair few chronographs, and the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe is the best of the rest, but none holds a candle to the Air Command. It has taken Blancpain a while to rummage in the archives and discover an airfaring past, but when it looks this good who cares if you’re last to jump on the bandwagon. Limited to 500 pieces, it’s powered by a 5Hz movement with 50 hours power reserve, and adds a flyback for good measure.
A world-record holder, and the latest addition to a range of watches we have no hesitation in declaring the best design of this century so far. Supremely comfortable, lightweight (full titanium case and bracelet) and so stealth-wealth you could wear it daily without fear of ostentation. The second timezone is concealed in the subdial at three o’clock, and while it’s not the most intuitive or legible GMT function on the market, that’s a minor quibble.
Very few small independent watch brands make chronographs at all, such is the required investment in both time and money. De Bethune makes one of the most incredible ever designed – the Maxichrono is unique in featuring five timekeeping hands running from one central pinion, including chronograph hours, minutes and seconds. Nothing else wears like a De Bethune, thanks to its patented floating lugs system, and nothing else looks like one either – the polished 46mm titanium case is a beauty.
The other big name in indie chronographs, FP Journe also has some world-class movements in its roster. We have a lot of time for the Centigraphe, which manages to measure time down to 1/100th of a second without a super high frequency escapement (and looks seriously techy into the bargain). But our pick is the Linesport Rattrapante, a watch derived from the show-stopping Only Watch 2017 chronograph. Specifically, we’d have it in platinum with that deep blue dial and bezel.
First introduced in 2014, Glashutte Original’s in-house chrono was, surprise surprise, a bit fusty and emotionless until in 2017, the brand introduced stainless steel versions and brought the design into the 20th century. It has since added some distinctly dodgy colour options, but if you tread carefully (i.e. buy this one) you can pick up a handsome flyback chronograph with 70 hours of power that’s a little off the beaten track.
At the time of writing there are approximately twenty-seven million different Hublot chronographs, in every material from ceramic to leather. But the one we recommend unhesitatingly is the new Ferrari GT, which thanks to the involvement of Ferrari’s Flavio Manzoni, looks svelte, contemporary and distinctly automotive without being derivative. Inside is the Unico, an in-house flyback with 72 hours in the tank that, as upper-end workhorse calibres go, takes some beating.
No-one comes to Jaquet Droz for a chronograph – largely because until 2019, it had never made one. But the Grande Seconde off-centred instantly won us over. There is a gold cased, enamel dialled limited edition, which is well-executed but loses the off-set dial and crown that give the watch its personality. We’d prefer steel, especially with this silver dial and blue handset. Movements come from Blancpain (based on the F. Piguet 1185) and look great thanks to an openworked rotor.
Rich and indulgent, this is Montblanc at its best. You may be tiring of the relentless retro love-in, but the execution of the telemeter scale dial is excellent, and the hand-wound split-seconds Minerva movement (Calibre MB16.31) at the back boasts finishing that can hold its own with watches three times the price. Casing it in bronze is either maverick genius or a sop to current trends too far, depending on your view.
You can keep your £45,500 Speedmaster Moonwatch in platinum. If you’re going to spend more than £10,000 on a chronograph from Omega, it has to go on this Olympic Games pocketwatch – a restored calibre 3889, assembled from new-old-stock movements that were apparently just knocking about its HQ (!). It’s a split-seconds timer rated to chronometer levels of accuracy, limited to 100 pieces in yellow, rose and white gold.
Adding chronograph pushers to the Luminor case shape shouldn’t really work – and sure, it’s not the sleekest thing ever. But all eyes here are on that dial, which is one of the best vintage-inspired examples out there (amid stiff competition). Shades of the Minerva-powered limited editions from 2014, we think, although these run the in-house P.9100/R calibre. This is the regatta version of the PCYC chrono, with markings for fifteen- and five-minute countdowns on the minute track.
You would think this an agonising choice, spoilt as we are by Patek Philippe’s excellence in chronograph making. But with the 5959 and 5170 both retired (although this lovely 5172 lives on), the choice was simple. It has to be the 5370P split-seconds, the total embodiment of classical chronograph design – although sure, we lingered over the Aquanaut chrono for a second. There’s nothing here that doesn’t need to be, although the glossy black enamel dial with applied numerals adds lustre. Naturally it runs on a stunning hand-wound calibre, CHR 29-535 PS.
It may have been bested by Bulgari’s Octo Finissimo for thinness, but the Altiplano Chronograph is still one of the coolest dress chronographs out there. It’s just 8.24mm thick, has a 50 hour power reserve and flyback function, and like the Bulgari sneaks in a GMT function, this time on the nine o’clock subdial. Despite having such a sparse, stick-thin dial design, there are still little details – like the double-thickness markers at even numbers – that reveal themselves over time.
It’s true, the best version of the Daytona is in stainless steel, and you might think we’re in danger of breaking our own rules by including a more expensive, precious metal version. But there is one key point that allows us to slip this in: only by choosing a Daytona in gold or platinum can you have it on an Oysterflex strap. These totally change the character of the Daytona, and while it’s hardly canon Rolex, we do recommend this panda-dialled white gold number.
Even watchmakers who bring fantastic developments to the chronograph – like the A. Lange & Sohne Triple Split – tend to do so while working to a familiar base movement. Agenhor’s ‘AgenGraphe’ movement completely re-worked the entire concept, and gives the Track 1 its radial dial layout that prioritises the watch’s chronograph function above its timekeeping one. Singer has since added variants to the line-up, but to our eyes, the Launch Edition is still the winner.
Combining an annual calendar and chronograph, the Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronograph (not to be confused with the Breguet Marine Chronograph…) does a reasonable job of keeping the dial clean (subdials doing double duty for date and timing always helps) but it would look a lot better if it lost all the dial text other than the logo. Still, there’s a good watch here; we’re drawn to the oversized Roman numerals and grand feu enamel dial.
Leaving out the Cornes de Vaches reedition from this list nearly caused us physical pain, it’s such a good-looking watch. But when a company as storied as Vacheron Constantin finally creates an in-house, haut de gamme chronograph movement – and then takes it to the Nth degree with an ultra-thin split-seconds version, cased in platinum, how can you ignore it? The Harmony’s case shape isn’t for everyone, but it’s a piece of modern chronograph history.