Countdown Conversation — Chronographs
Two Wow Editors Sit Down (Virtually) to Talk About Their Respective Relationships With Chronographs
By far the sportiest of all complications, the chronograph is a favourite of this magazine, especially when the Summer issue rolls out in Singapore. Traditionally, this is the sportiest issue of WOW, although that has changed in recent years as we try to be more flexible and adaptable. For example, we are happy to acknowledge that the chronograph is more than just a vital instrument in competitive games — it is also quite beautiful and commands the attention of watch collectors like no other complication. In this very issue, we present two very different takes on the chronograph, one targeted at those who are still considering their first such purchase, and this one.
Presented as a short dialogue between the editors of WOW Singapore and WOW Thailand, you can discover that it is indeed possible to hold deeply nuanced views on a very specific subject in watchmaking, beyond merely liking something or not. As it was in issue #56, the editors’ Ashok Soman and Ruckdee Chotjinda views are denoted by their respective initials AS and RC.
RC: The chronograph is not my favourite complication, but it is one that got me into watch collecting in the first place. When I finished high school, I asked my dad for “that watch with many hands that you don’t wear anymore and left in the drawer”. That was 1998, and, of course, I did not know right away how to operate the buttons or read the subdials. Luckily, I was wise enough to look up online resources like TimeZone, ChronoMaddox (known by the original XNet URL at the time) and Zowie before causing any mechanical damage. So, unlike many watch collectors, my first experience with a chronograph was purely coincidental and sentimental. It was the watch I grew up seeing my dad wear. So what is your earliest recollection or experience with chronographs, Ashok? Or what got you started on chronographs?
AS: Birds of a feather mate…chronographs also got me into watches! Interesting that you asked for your dad’s chronograph in 1998, because the very first watch I bought was a tri-compax chronograph in 1996. Like you, I had no idea how to use the chronograph properly, and initially only wore the watch to feel good about myself — it was a celebratory purchase. Anyway, I had no idea about online resources for watches at that time, nor magazines for that matter. It was down to trial-and-error for me, plus the advice of the friend who sold me the watch. I actually used the chronograph functions as soon as I could master them, mainly to aid in my cooking experiments! I was a student then, living abroad with friends and strangers, and trying to recreate my favourite dishes from home. I guess this is why I have a soft spot for chronographs, even though my tastes have changed.
RC: I’m glad to hear that you are an actual user. I always feel a little bit sorry when someone says they don’t want to use their chronograph for fear of wear-and-tear or a malfunction – the same goes for the refusal to wear a perfectly tight dive watch in the water, but that is a subject for another discussion. Where the chronograph is concerned, the truth is I never had a real use for it though. I may activate it to time a road trip or a flight just to get a sense of duration. When not traveling, I start the chronograph when I leave home so I would know how long my dogs have been in the cage, and how badly they need their air conditioning now. I haven’t had a mechanical problem with any of my chronographs in all of these years. I will chalk that up to luck, perhaps? How about you?
AS: Unfortunately, I’ve had all kinds of problems with my chronographs, quartz and mechanical! One major issue with using chronograph functions is remembering to stop and reset. For example, while using my (quartz) chronograph to time some brown rice I was cooking on the stovetop, I simply forgot to stop the mechanism. I only stopped it the next day, when I was looking at my watches to decide what to wear. This has happened so many times, and this is the reasons I prefer to use a quartz chronograph. Honestly, the last mechanical chronograph I sent in for servicing cost me 20 percent of the price I bought it for — and this was the friendly rate! I’m glad to hear that you’ve managed to avoid similar situations since your connection with the chronograph is more emotional than functional.
RC: Ouch. Sorry to hear that. I’m wondering though if you have any preference towards chronographs with bicompax or tricompax designs. The thing is I like them all and enjoy the variety very much. Where readability is concerned, at one point I was fascinated by those with a central chronograph minute hand (think Lemania 5100). But for the past 10 years or so, with the lack of those, I found chronographs with combined hour and minute registers quite intuitive as well. Sometimes I couldn’t help but feel that the regular tricompax design with separated 30-minute and 12-hour counters makes the least sense but it has already become the face of the chronograph complication to the world, and there is no changing that. I do give extra points though to tricompax watches with timetelling hands in one execution and chronograph hands in a different colour, for example.
AS: Actually, the minute counter is the really important one so I suppose I veer towards bicompax designs, but it can be 30 or 45-minute counters. Generally, if you can divide hours into half-hour blocks, the 30-minute counter is better; this one is truly subjective though. As for that central chronograph indicator, I must say that the H. Moser & Cie Streamliner seems like it would be both useful and beautiful! But I am cautious about wild chronograph designs, because this can hurt legibility. Opaline subdials make for hard reading, for example, to say nothing of the tone-on-tone treatments. I get the point that hardly anyone uses watches for pure timekeeping, but I always presume that the chronograph sales pitch includes something about how the watch works. This is pointless if no one is going to use it!
AS: Oh, yes, people definitely bring up the screwdown pushers as a negative as far as functionality goes, but I have to say that I usually prepare to use my chronograph. That means that if I had one with this style of pushers, I would unlock it. I read a forum comment somewhere that hardly anyone needs to leap into action to time something with a chronograph so having a safety feature is not a big deal. Maybe the screw-down pushers would remind me to stop and reset! Seriously though, I am more forgiving about the style of the pushers than the display of the elapsed time. That said, some styles of pushers are actively difficult to use, being a little too flush with the case or even slippery, and that is a no-no in my books. Maybe if one has enough resources to dedicate to a chronograph collection then one could spare some space for all the important chronograph styles. I am not really in that space at the moment, but what about you?
RC: I don’t have the ambition to own all styles, but there are two or three very different chronographs on my mind at the moment. They are not priority purchases in any case. It was last year when I fell in love with the Longines Heritage Classic Chronograph 1946, but it is a little bit pricey. The Zenith Cronometro TIPO CP-2 in bronze fits my wrist nicely also — I regret not buying it when I got a good deal at Taoyuan International Airport earlier this year. Another piece that keeps returning from the back of the mind is the Sinn EZM 10 TESTAF whose modified Valjoux 7750 movement features a central chronograph minute hand in the same style as the Lemania 5100. What about you? Let me guess … something German?
AS: Well, that depends whether you consider H. Moser & Cie. German! Sort of?Definitely the more Teutonic side of Swiss watchmaking. Since you brought it up, the new Glashütte Original Seventies Panorama Date is quite fetching … and it is also square! Actually, I wanted to include it last issue for our discussion on square watches but good thing I saved it! Beyond that, I echo your thoughts on Zenith and Longines, which have some well-priced options, in their respective categories (Longines models with bracelets are a great deal). On that note, it is important to distinguish between the different watchmaking styles of various regions and countries so I will say that the German style of chronograph is always close to my heart.