The split seconds chronograph a rather special complication. The base chronograph is already more complicated than most think they are, perhaps because of it is quite common and can be quite inexpensive. But the split seconds, especially done in the “proper” way is master craft in the repertoire of a watchmaker. Much more complicated, and requires a much higher level of skill to build and fine tune than a tourbillon. Here are our recommendations for six of the best to look out for.
Throwback Sundays: Six recommendations for split second chronographs from our archives
Here are some markers to focus on what we mean by a traditional split seconds chronograph typically have the following characteristics:
- Double column wheel system – one controlling the base chronograph for start, stop, restart. And another controlling the split mechanism, for stop and catch up (in French: rattrapante). Though, we have one exception on the list with only one column wheel. And another with no column wheel.
- Can have any kind of pusher arrangement – coaxial, monopusher, or multi-pusher. We have a good mix in this list.
- Can be handwound or automatic. We have both too.
- Can be the only complication to the hours and minutes, or part of a more complicated setup with calendars, tourbillons or minute repeaters. But in the interest of focus, we have chosen 6 which are pure split seconds and only allowed one with complication.
- We like it! No exceptions to this one!
Though really, the last bullet is perhaps the only critical guiding point. So here it goes, as usual, in no particular order.
The A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Rattrapante Honeygold “Homage to F.A. Lange” is a magnificent piece from the legendry Glashütte maison. The design is very classical. The dial layout and the chronograph works architecture could have been taken out of the books from Lange’s long checkered history.
But the selection of the case material – honeygold will throw the 19th century horologist off his tracks. This material was pioneered by Lange for use in watches in the Tourbograph way back in 2010, and had exclusive of it for a time. Honeygold is harder than regular 18k yellow, pink or white gold. And have a distinctive hue which looks like honey.
Driving it, is the new 365-part, 36-jewel Calibre L101.2. Double column wheel, classical layout with three pushers on the case band. Superlative finishing, and elegant design. With a thickness of just 7.4 mm, this is currently Lange’s thinnest split-second chronograph movement.
Frank Chuo wrote in his conclusion to his review of this superb watch, and we repeat it here. But do click on the subtitle link to read the whole review:
“No matter how you slice it, the 1815 Rattrapante Honeygold “Homage to F. A. Lange” echoes of quality through and through. It features the kind of thoughtful design and finesse found only in a Lange, with a touch of anniversary fancy of course. At the risk of sounding crass, the watch is actually quite fairly priced, and, interestingly, is 1 mm thinner than the gold standard Patek Philippe Ref. 5370 (which is quite a feat considering Langes tend to always be thicker than their Swiss equivalents). It may not have been a paradigm-shifting release, but the 1815 Rattrapante Honeygold shows us that Lange’s still got it. Here’s to more amazing pieces from Germany’s finest in 2021.”Frank Chuo, Review: A. Lange & Söhne’s new 1815 Rattrapante Honeygold
The Patek Ref. 5370’s story started in this article from the paragraph above, in comparison to Lange’s 1815 Rattrapante. And we do mean it. This is the gold standard by which to compare split seconds chronographs by. The grand maison’s latest word on what this complication, seen here on its own, should be. It was they who made the first wristwatch chronometer with split seconds in 1920. They dubbed the complication rattrapante. Other common names are the French retour en vol (for “back in flight”), and perhaps the more descriptive German term doppelchronograph for double chronograph.
Sporting a grand feu enamel dial in jet black, the Ref. 5370 uses a coaxial third pusher to perform the stop and catch-up function by activating the second column wheel. The Caliber CHR 29-535 PS is beautiful, with the layout showcasing Patek Philippe’s craft.
A truly remarkable watch which has become a reference standard. A holy grail for many.
The Chronographe Monopoussoir Rattrapante is quite a different kettle of fish, but one which has redefined the F.P. Journe catalog with a vigour. The design is undeniably Journe. A unique signature in the aesthetics, with a touch of cheekiness at its interpretation of the status quo and the state of the art.
The watch features a large double leaf date display at 6 o’clock, and this alone would give purists sleepness nights, as to them, a chronograph must not have a date. But we loved this on the Chronographe Monopoussoir Rattrapante. It also features a grey, near monotone colour scheme, but with splashes of red. Another detail which would throw the purist off. But we loved that too! And the titanium case with bracelet, and an aluminium dial. We are estatic. And that the C.1518 movement itself is constructed in aluminium! Made the moon!
The movement layout is otherwise more classical – with the base chronograph dual pushers complemented by the third split seconds pusher which is coaxial to the crown. The movement is hand wound and features dual column wheels controlling the chronograph works in traditional steel. Movement finishing is excellent throughout.
This Sinn was released for their Anniversary in 2016, and we particularly like Sinn’s approach in releasing this limited edition. Instead of just having a stock chronograph, the brand has taken to great lengths to build a split second complication, a highly costly and complicated process. While retaining value by not crazy pricing.
And there is lots to love. The dial is very German. Bauhaus even. Clean, clearly marked out with good use of colour to differentiate the dual times being kept by the chronograph. The case too is lovely. Stainless steel, 42mm. Classical three pusher layout.
The movement is ETA (Valjoux) 7750 based. But engineered by Sinn to include a ratchet and column wheel lever activated split seconds function. So instead of the classical dual column wheel, this Sinn has one. Only for the split seconds mechanism. Movement finishing and decoration is not the usual off-the-mill stock level that we find Sinn watches, but a more premium both functionally and in the aesthetics department. OK, not haute horlogerie levels of earlier names on this list. But very nice for a tool watch.
This IWC was released to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar. First shown in 1985, it was the work of Kurt Klaus who sought to use the Valjoux 7750 as a base, and added his perpetual calendar module to create the first Da Vinci. To celebrate the first decade, the then young Richard Habring inserted his split seconds mechanism into the Da Vinci. And the Ref 3751 was born.
The design of the watch is controversial for many collectors. Certainly not one for everyone. Some love it and others hate it. The lugs are hinges which allow it to wrap around the wrist for a surprisingly comfortable fit. By modern standards, the 39mm case, packed with a split seconds mechanism and a perpetual calendar may be considered small, but certainly not the thickness of some 16mm.
We now consider this watch a classic.
And again, taking the cue from the previous member of this list, we come to Richard Habring. A specialist in this field. He added the split seconds to the various IWC Doppelchronographs while he was in their employment, including the Da Vinci we listed above. And the Il Destriero Scafusia, itself a monumental work where he evolved the IWC Grand Complication (which was essentially the work of Dominique Renaud and Gulio Papi who devised a minute repeater module over the perpetual calendar equipped Valjoux 7750 chronograph base). In the Il Destriero Scafusa, Richard added a split seconds works to the chronograph (the base is now the Valjoux 7760 – the hand wound version of the 7750 as the watch was to be manually wound) and converted the escapement to be a tourbillon.
And now an independent of his own, with the “Made in Austria” banner, the husband and wife team of Habrings bring us the Habring² Doppel 3 Split Seconds Chronograph. The layout is unique in that it only needs two pushers. The base chronograph is a monopusher, and the second pusher works the split seconds. The aesthetics are are also quite beautiful, with a “panda” style black dial with silver counters, and the chronograph splits colour coded with red accents.
We find this to be an remarkable split seconds watch, at a very competitive price point. The only split seconds chronograph near that price is the slightly cheaper Sinn 910. And the price difference is so small that is is for all purposes not consequential. The design of the chronograph of the Doppel 3 is more pure, keeping Edmond Capt’s original design on the Valjoux 7750/7760’s which lacks of a column wheel.
And there you have it. Our picks from our archive of what we consider to be the best split seconds chronographs. Could we have picked others? Of course. The even more traditional and classical Patek Philippe Ref. 5004 is one. As is the Lange Double and Triple Splits. Or one from Zenith’s El Primero stable. But we have intentionally limited ourselves to six. And here they are. Would you have chosen different?