Split seconds chronographs are high complications. Many respected watchmakers consider a well designed, well adjusted and tuned split seconds chronograph to be far higher degree of difficulty than the tourbillon. The precision in which the mechanism must work harmoniously together is mind boggling. But often they are neglected by collectors in favour of other complications. Here we focus on the split seconds chronographs from varying prices taken from our archive of hands-on reviews: from Sinn, Habring², F.P. Journe, A. Lange & Söhne, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin.
The Horizontal Collection
We first used the term vertical collection in reference to watch collecting in our article on the Lange Vertical Collection. We have since expanded the vertical collection series to include Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin. The concept is borrowed from wine connoisseurs, who take the vertical tasting as a tasting of the same wine from various years, for example a vertical tasting of Château Latour may comprise of wines of vintages from 1945 to 1999. Same maison, different vintages. For our horology adaptation, same maison, different complications.
Similarly, a horizontal tasting of wines would mean picking a specific vintage, and taste wines from maisons producing similar wines in that particular year. Say a 1961 Bordeaux horizontal flight could be wines from Château Meyney St Estephe, Château Calon-Ségur St Estephe, Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac, Château Léoville Barton St Julien, Château La Tour du Pin Figeac and Château Margaux, all from that year. In our horology analogy, this collection would be to pick a complication and compare different maisons.
For today, we pick split seconds chronographs. Over the years, we have reviewed many. But in this selection, we limit the candidates to only those who have just this one singular complication, and no other. And we selected them from a range of prices from a mere €5,500 to a whopping €350,000. From regular production to small limited editions.
As usual, the titles of each watch is linked to the review article for further details. Here is our selection, in order starting from the least expensive:
We begin with the least expensive in the list. At US$5,940 or €5,500, the Sinn 910 Anniversary Split Seconds Chronograph is a remarkable achievement of value for money. The movement is modified from the Valjoux 7750 workhorse base, by adding a column wheel to control the split seconds mechanism. The watch was announced in 2016, and limited to 300 pieces.
The Sinn features only one sub-dial counter, a totalizer summing up to 60 minutes of the main chronograph. The split hand only measures differences between the two timings up to 60 seconds. This is normal and the standard for split seconds chronograph. With the exception of the Lange Double Split which can measure split times up to 29 minutes 59 seconds, and the Lange Triple Split (which is also on this list) which measures split times up to 11 hours. 59 minutes and 59 seconds. But Lange remains the only maison to offer the ability to measure split timings longer 60 seconds.
Close on the value heels of the Sinn is the Habring². Their Doppel 3 Split Seconds Chronograph retails for S$10,500 or €6,750. We included this piece as Richard Habring, half of the company, is perhaps solely responsible for the democratization of the split seconds chronograph. Prior to his working on the complication, it was only offered in high priced watches. Rightly so, due to the highly complicated nature and the extreme high skill needed to adjust it properly.
But Habring, then working in IWC in 1995, introduced a method of making the split seconds more robust and easy to adjust, but also cheaper to manufacture. His split seconds module uses no column wheels, and the entire system is coordinated by cams. This was first seen in IWC’s various Doppelchronographs, culmulating in the IWC Il Destriero Scafusia where he was not only responsible for adding the split seconds to the base 7760 movement (manual winding version of the 7750), but also a tourbillon. The Il Distriero was the next step up the complication cocktail from IWC, having started with the Grand Complication which itself was created by adding a minute repeater and perpetual calendar to the Valjoux 7750 base movement.
Now a small independent operating in Austria, Habring makes the second (Doppel 2.0 in 2011) and the third generation of the split seconds. Our detailed review outlines clearly the reasons why he only introduced this in 2016, and what refinements he made on his new watch.
Then we consider the F.P. Journe Chronographe Monopoussoir Rattrapante, retailing for S$ 90,800 in Ti, S$122,000 in Red Gold, S$165,800 in platinum. Shown below in titanium, it is a whopping 10X more than the Sinn/Habring², and enters the realm of the classical split seconds chronograph. Though the Journe is many times more expensive than the previous two, it is classically constructed with two column wheels, and might even be considered a bargain! How so? Well, in 2017, the Journe Chronographe Monopoussoir debuted in the Only Watch auction and sold for more than CHF 1 million. True, that was a piece unique and it was for a charity auction, but the potential is perhaps there.
The Journe is a monopusher and was introduced in 2018 in the standard catalog. The watch features a Journe signature dial design and layout and also a large date display. The use of colour is interesting, with red elements contrasting beautifully with the otherwise grey and black canvas.
The movement is in aluminium, and unusual material for watch movements, and a departure from the more standard Journe rose gold movements. It uses a rocker in place of pushers to activate the chronograph functions, and is unique in this respect.
The next recommendation is from A. Lange & Söhne. Currently Lange is the only company to be able to offer split timings of more than 60 seconds. And they have two models which are able to do that. The 2018 Triple Split at €139,000 in platinum, and the Double Split in pink gold at €128,000. The Double Split made history when it debuted in 2004 in platinum (now discontinued) at a now very attractive price of €99,000.
The demands of synchronizing the hands in complete harmony with each other is extreme. Even a simple split seconds mechanism which have two hands attached to arbors that run one inside the other, is a level of complexity up from a classical chronograph. The Double Split is several levels more complicated, and the Triple Split even higher up the complexity scale. In the case of the triple rattrapante mechanism, this split coordination has to be perfect over three separate sets of hands: two seconds hands as well as two hands each for the minute and hour counters. For the watchmaker, the multiple arbor configurations require the ultimate in dexterity and extreme patience in adjusting the endshakes.
The draw of Lange has always been the slight twist to the conventional. And for the Triple Split, other than the unusually long split time capability, it carries this tradition with the instantaneously jumping minute totalizers. Action of the chronograph pushers are exemplary, each action requiring a light, consistent push with a satisfying click providing good feedback that the order has been executed.
On top of that the magnificently layered architecture of the movement and the use of untreated maillchort for the base and steel parts for the chronograph makes for beautiful contrast of hues, and a compelling story as soon as one flips the watch over to gaze at the movement. Mesmerising! And earns it a place on our list.
A list of this nature, especially now that we have reached the rarified levels of grail watches must include a Patek Philippe. And indeed it does. We selected the Patek Philippe Ref. 5370 Rattrapante Chronograph which is priced at US$249,200 in platinum.
Unlike the Lange with its unique offering of long split times, the Patek 5370 is a thoroughbred classical split seconds chronograph. And a complication worthy of the name.
The finishing is par excellence, as can be expected from a top drawer Patek Philippe. This Patek’s chronograph activation is light, but with a good positive feedback on each start, stop, catchup, and reset to zero. Classical in all sense of the word. The Ref. 5370 comes under Patek Philippe’s classification as a Grand Complication. The retail price is a rather steep, but Patek Philippe chronographs often do very well in the secondary market, perhaps its a well justified investment.
And the final piece in the list is the Vacheron Constantin Harmony Ultra Thin Grande Complication Rattrapante. Priced at a strastospheric US$369,200 in platinum, limited edition 10 pieces, the VC is perhaps the epitome of their savoir faire. The movement is developed from scratch, the first chronograph that VC have done so, and is based on the developmental work for the VC Ref.50260.
The VC Harmony is unique in this list to feature a cushion shaped case, which is at once elegant as it is slim and sleek. The dial design and layout is a leaf taken from the VC heritage, and magnificently beautiful and still being practical. Legibility is first rate and the operation of the chronograph pushers require a light but firm press to activate.
The VC features an ultra thin movement, itself a rare complication over the split seconds. The movement measures a mere 5.2mm thick, resulting in a case which is only 8.2mm thick. In comparison, the Lange Double Split movement is already 9.4mm in a case of 15.2mm. The finishing on the Harmony Series is immaculate and top top. The special touch in the VC is the peripheral rotor, which allows the entire movement to be enjoyed from the sapphire glass back. Together with the Patek, represent the crème de la crème of classical split seconds chronographs.
In many ways this list is very difficult to compile. There are not so many split seconds chronographs, but we had the fortune to have had extensive hands on reviews with quite a number. And from the list it is rather difficult to percolate only 6. We included the Sinn and the Habring² for the sheer value they represent. They are proposed at a price which is even less than standard chronographs with no split second functionality. For example the Zenith El Primero in Classic Car guise retails for a very similar price of US$6,700.
We included the Lange for its unique proposition of measuring long split times. And of course Lange should be a feature in any high complications list, especially one with the chronograph as the base. The Journe is in the list because it is also unique in the aesthetics, the material of the movement, and the unique activation method. While the Patek and the Vacherons were selected as the stalwarts of tradition and classical haute horlogerie.
We considered, but ultimately could not find a place in the list for what we think would be in the expanded list. The Breitling Navitimer Rattrapante (US$11,090 in steel limited and US$32,895 in 18k gold limited edition 250 pieces) is one as it might be replaced with a new model, with the onslaught of the untiring Georges Kern’s march for Breitling. And for the sheer audaciousness, the 2017 Richard Mille RM50-03 McLaren Chronograph Split Seconds Chronograph (CHF 980,000 limited edition 75 pieces) and the 2018 RM50-01 Pablo Mac Donough (CHF 900,000 limited edition 30 pieces) was considered, but thought to be too left field to be in a list like this.
What are your thoughts on split seconds chronographs. Did we miss your favourite? Tell us in the comments section below.