Rolex, Tissot, Tag Heuer. They are a sign of style and status. You have probably seen luxury watches with three dials on the face, or perhaps you even own one. They certainly look every bit as stylish as intended, but chronograph watches do more than stylishly tell the time. Let’s find out the purposes of those little inner dials.

The three dials on a chronograph watch represent elapsed time. One dial records hours that have passed, another tracks the number of minutes that have elapsed, and the third dial represents passing seconds but does not form part of the chronograph function. It tells the actual time in seconds. 

Watches can do just about anything these days if you consider the smartwatches that measure your heart rate, blood pressure, and the like. A person feels like James Bond wearing some of the latest creations. But chronograph watches also tell more than the time. They have been used by racing car drivers, astronauts, and naval officers for navigation purposes over the years.

What Are The 3 Dials On A Chronograph Watch?

Luxury chronograph watches are highly sought-after, yet many owners wear them without using their extra functions, possibly because they don’t understand them or know how to work the dials. An understated explanation of their purpose is that they work as stopwatches. But for a little more detail, let’s see what makes chronograph watches tick.

A chronograph watch is simply one that can perform stopwatch functions in addition to its ability to display the time. You can use it to time any activity, from the time it takes to brew your coffee to how long it takes to mow the lawn. And it does this without interfering with its standard display.

As mentioned above, there are three dials: an hour dial, a minute dial, and a sub-second dial. The hour dial usually has a 12 mark on it and the minute dial has a 60 on it.

At the 2:00 and 4.00 positions on the watch are two pushers. These serve to start and stop the timer. The top pusher starts and stops the chronograph, and the bottom one will reset it.

Resetting The Chronograph

Chronographs can either be reset manually or with a flyback. The flyback is the second pusher at the 4:00 position on the watch. With the flyback, pressing once on the pusher will send it spinning back to 12 on its own. If your watch only has one pusher, you will have to use the crown to wind the chronograph hand back to the 12 position.

For accurate time-keeping, always remember to reset the chronograph, or it will just keep measuring the time from where it left off the previous time.

Using The Tachymeter On A Chronograph Watch

Nearly all modern luxury watches come with a tachymeter on the bezel. We use this to calculate speed based on our traveling time or to measure distance according to speed.

You will use the following formula to measure speed: T = 3600/t.

T refers to the numbers inscribed on the tachymeter’s scale.

t represents the time in seconds that it takes to travel the distance, which the chronograph measures.

If it takes someone thirty seconds to drive one mile, the tachymeter’s corresponding number is 120. This tells you that your speed is 120 miles per hour.

To measure distance with the tachymeter, you must know your traveling speed. Begin at zero seconds and stop once it reads the correct speed. If you’re driving 60 miles per hour, you have traveled a mile when the tachymeter reaches 60.

Setting And Caring For Your Chronograph Watch

When you own a stunning chronograph watch, you want it to have the longest possible lifespan, so learning to take good care of it is imperative.

Setting The Watch The Correct Way

To set the time, draw the crown out to the second position. If the seconds hand stops when you pull out the crown, you could wait for it to reach zero to set the exact time. Set the correct time by turning the crown clockwise. If you turn the hands anti-clockwise, it can damage the gear train. To restart the watch, push the crown in again.

Put the crown into the first position to set the date and slowly turn it to the correct date. Watchmakers advise us not to set the date more than three hours before midnight. A pin sits on the side of the gear that moves the date disc on by 24 hours. Turning the crown quickly when the pin touches the disc can cause the wheel to jam or break.

Your watch may also have a display for the days of the week. To show the correct day, you pull the crown out to the first position but use the reverse direction of setting the date.

 The History Of Chronographs

The word “chronograph” comes from the Greek word that translates as “time writer.” Even in the ancient world, people tracked time, although then they did it by making marks on a dial. While chronographs date back to the 19th century, they gained popularity with the dawn of the automobile and aviation era.

Racing car drivers timed their laps with these gadgets and pilots have always used them to calculate their airspeed. Captains of ships and submarines have a long history of using chronographs for navigation.

An Out Of This World Rescue

The most famous rescue of all time came via a chronograph in 1970. The astronauts aboard Apollo 13 experienced an explosion in space that incinerated their onboard computers. None of their navigation equipment was usable.

One of the astronauts, Jim Lovell, explained that they had to time an essential booster burn to get back to earth safely. They used their chronographs to calculate and correct the movement of the lunar module to journey back home. And they lived to tell the tale, thanks to a “watch.”

It Is Complicated

The inner workings of a watch are complicated indeed. And watchmakers call chronographs “complications.” Any watches that perform other functions besides displaying the time are “complicated.”


Chronograph watches bring new meaning to the saying, “every second counts.” When you look down at your elegant timepiece that can time the hours, minutes, and seconds of any activity, let it remind you that time is precious. You can never turn it back, so make the most of your time.


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