What is A Chronograph?
Before we get to our list of the best pre-owned chronographs, let’s define what a chronograph is. A chronograph is a watch that can measure an elapsed time using an independent chronograph hand that sweeps around the dial. The pushers on the case serve to start, stop, and reset the chronograph hand. Essentially, a chronograph is a watch with a stopwatch function.
A standard chronograph watch normally has two pushers on the case—one to start and stop the chronograph hand and the other to reset the hand back to zero. There’s usually a type of scale somewhere on the watch as well for more precise measurement. It can be a simple 60-minute scale, a tachymeter to measure speed, a telemeter to measure distance, a pulsometer to measure heart rate, or a slide rule for complex navigational calculations. Chronographs also have counters (generally three) on the dial to keep track of elapsed minutes, hours, and one for the running seconds hand. Now that we’ve outlined what a chronograph is, let’s look at some fantastic ones.
Omega Speedmaster Professional
As the watch that went to the moon, the Omega Speedmaster Professional is without a doubt one of the best chronographs out there. Affectionately nicknamed the Moonwatch, Omega has continued to make updated versions of the Speedmaster Professional throughout the years inspired by the ones that journeyed with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during the historic lunar landing of 1969.
Omega introduced this particular version of the Moonwatch, the Speedmaster Professional 3590.50.00, in 1989. Similar to the original Moonwatch, this edition sports a 42 mm stainless steel case, a black dial, black tachymeter bezel, and a Hesalite crystal on top of the dial. What’s more, powering the watch is a manual-wound mechanical movement—protected by a steel caseback inscribed with text associated it with space exploration, along with the famed Omega Seahorse symbol. For less than $3,700, you can own one of the most famous chronographs ever made linked to an important part of human history.
Tag Heuer Carrera 1887
Heuer launched the Carrera chronograph in 1963 and it to emphasize its link to motorsports, the watch was named after the Carrera Panamericana car race. The Carrera was met with great success and Heuer produced countless versions of this important chronograph for the next two decades. In 1985, the TAG Group bought Heuer and rebranded the company as TAG Heuer and discontinued the Carrera.
Thankfully, the Carrera was brought back in the mid-1990s and continues to be a signature model for the brand available in a vast assortment of styles. A particularly modern version is this automatic TAG Heuer Carrera 1887 CAR2A80.FC6237, featuring a 43mm sandblasted titanium black PVD coated case and a black ceramic and titanium bezel. Matching the case and bezel color are the black dial and black alligator leather strap. Breaking up the all-black look of this Carrera chronograph are the flashes of red on the dial, pusher, and leather strap. As a pre-owned model, this Carrera can be picked up for less than $3,800—saving you a pretty penny compared to its current retail price.
Breitling Chronomat 41
The Breitling Chronomat was born in 1941 as a tool for engineers and mathematicians thanks to its clever circular slide-rule, which facilitated with complex calculations. However, modern-day Chronomat chronographs are almost nothing like their vintage counterparts. They’re actually based on special edition Chronomat chronographs from 1984 made for the Italian Frecce Tricolori aeronautics team with the now-customary rider tabs on the bezel. The Chronomat went on to become Breitling’s best selling chronograph model with a wide range of different editions made over the years.
For a dressier take on the sporty chronograph watch, there’s the two-tone Breitling Chronomat 41 CB0140 that marries luxurious rose gold with robust stainless steel. The 41 mm stainless steel case is home to a rose gold bezel, rose gold chronograph pushers, and a rose gold winding crown. Furthermore, the steel link bracelet includes rose gold links running through it. The dial is highly legible thanks to the white background and contrasting rose gold counters, accompanied by luminous hour markers and hands. Priced at less than $5,800, this pre-owned Breitling Chronomat offers incredible value given its rose gold details, topnotch quality, renowned name, and in-house automatic movement.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore
In 1993, Audemars Piguet unveiled the first Royal Oak Offshore as an evolution of their iconic Royal Oak sports watch. Similar to when the Royal Oak made its entrance in 1972, the Royal Oak Offshore was revolutionary for its very large (for the era) size and bold style. It quickly picked up the nickname “The Beast” and it’s generally accepted that the Royal Oak Offshore paved the way for the trend for oversized men’s watches.
What we have here is not just any ROO, but one that is part of the original Royal Oak Offshore reference, the ref. 25721ST; an E-series edition produced from 1998 till 2004. The 42 mm stainless steel case is topped with the characteristic octagonal bezel, sandwiching a visible rubber gasket. The rubber details carry on to the blue elastomer-clad chrono pushers and winding crown, while the matching blue dial includes the familiar “Tapisserie” pattern favored by Audemars Piguet. The watch runs on an automatic movement and straps around the wrist via AP’s exceptionally engineered integrated steel bracelet. While $20,500 is a significant amount of money, it is money well spent to own one of the best pre-owned chronographs out there.
Finally, we can’t have a roundup of the best pre-owned chronographs to own without including what many consider the king of them all—the Rolex Daytona. Since its introduction in 1963, there have been three generations of the Daytona chronograph: the manual-wound versions, the automatic versions based on the El-Primero movement, and the automatic versions equipped with a Rolex-made movement.
This stainless steel Rolex Daytona ref. 116520 belongs to the latter generation, running on Rolex’s famous in-house Caliber 4130 self-winding movement. It features a full stainless steel 40 mm case with a steel bezel engraved with a tachymeter scale, screw-down pushers and crown, and a matching steel Oyster bracelet. Rolex offered the choice of a white dial or a black dial. The now-discontinued Daytona 116520 was replaced by a version with a ceramic bezel in 2016, but that hasn’t diminished its appeal. In reality, the value of this all steel Daytona has steadily increased in the secondary market. So while it’s now available for less than $15,00, that number may go much higher very soon. Sporty, functional, and robust, when you’re ready to add one (more) to your collection, browse our expansive collection of pre-owned chronographs here.