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Understanding the Swiss Chronograph

Chronographs are more than just a fashion statement for timepieces. However, if you’re a first-time timepiece buyer, you may be wondering what those three, or, in the case of some watches like the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Caliber 9300, two, subdials are and what they do. In essence, a chronograph gives you the function of a stopwatch right on your wrist.

On most chronograph watches, there are three dials: a “small seconds” that takes the place of the traditional second hand, the minute dial that counts up the minutes on the timer until 30, and an hour dial that counts up the hours until 12. Now, these measurements can vary greatly upon a number of factors including the manufacturer of the watch, as well as the movement that’s being used.

Why doesn't the second hand move?

So what about the traditional second hand and why doesn’t it move? Unlike a standard three-handed watch, the larger seconds hand only moves when you “start” the chronograph with the "pusher" or top button. So, in case you’re wondering, your brand new gorgeous chronograph watch is not broken just because the larger second hand isn’t moving. Look closely, a small seconds hand will be rotating away as normal.

Omega Speedmaster Racing vs. Omega Speedmaster '57

Let’s look at two Omega Speedmasters, for example. The Speedmaster Racing and '57 are just two exquisite timepieces out of over 1,000 that we carry here at Burdeen’s Jewelry - two watches from the same watch company, two watches from the same watch family. However, if you look internally, the chronographs themselves are vastly different.

An Omega Speedmaster Racing, with its Omega Caliber 3330 Movement, has three subdials: a small seconds dial on the left that is constantly moving whether the wearer is timing something or not; an hour hand subdial at the 6 o’clock position and the minute subdial at the 3 o’clock position – very similar to the traditional chronograph we described above.

Now, its Omega Speedmaster ‘57 counterpart is very different. First of all, it has a Caliber 9300 Movement also found in the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean line, making the heart of the beast inherently different from its Speedmaster Racing cousin. Plus, it only has two subdials as opposed to three: one at the 9 o’clock position, and one at the 3 o’clock position. This time, the small seconds is still at the 9 o’clock position, but both the hour counter and minute counter are at the three o’clock position.

Same watch family, different engine

These two watches are from the same manufacturer (Omega), from the same family (Speedmaster), are the same type of watch (chronograph), but the movements (3330 vs. 9300) make them look very different. However, they both do the same thing: they both have a stopwatch function.

Now, even when they have the same amount of chronographs, there can be all kinds of variations amongst chronographs. The subdials can move all around the dial of the watch – and, again, much like in the Speedmaster family, these subdials can change even within the same watch family. Let’s take a look at the Breitling Navitimer. Much like the Omega Speedmaster, the Breitling Navitimer has a long, storied history.

Today’s models also have subdials that dance about, but unlike the Speedmaster, there isn’t one that disappears.


Breitling Navitimer 01 vs. Navitimer World

Much like two of the types of Speedmasters, there are various types of Navitimers with different movements as well. 

On the Navitimer World, the subdials are located at the six o’clock (hour), nine o’clock (small seconds) and twelve o’clock (minute) positions. Meanwhile, on the Navitimer 01, there are subdials located at three o’clock (minutes) six o’clock (hours) and nine o’clock (small seconds) positions. Again, this is due to a change in movement. For the Navitimer 01, it’s the Breitling famed in-house B01 Movement, whereas the Navitimer World has a COSC-Certified Caliber 24, which is based on the ETA Valjoux 7754. This watch movement powers many fine watches from well-known brands like Chopard, Omega and more.

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