What is a Pulsometer?
Perhaps you think that the advancements needed to measure body stats like your pulse reside in modern technology. Furthermore, you might think that having these capabilities at your fingertips, or on your wrist, are reserved for instruments like the Apple watch. However, it was English physician Sir John Floyer who introduced the practice of pulse rate measurement back in the 1700s. Then, it was the Pulsometer that marked the first wrist instrument to allow you to take this measurement ad hoc. Here, we explore the history of the Pulsometer, how it works, and the characteristics that make it such a unique complication along with popular Pulsometer watches from top brands.
Characteristics of a Pulsometer
- Scale calibrated from 15-30 pulses or heartbeats
Chronograph function or accurate central seconds hand
History of the Pulsometer
In 1707, Dr. Floyer and English watchmaker Samuel Watson worked together to develop the first Physician’s Pulse Watch. This model allowed medical professionals to calculate a patient’s heart rate with the use of a unique graduated dial. It also featured a lever that could start and stop the timekeeping mechanism. Thus, it served as a precursor to the chronograph.
By the next century, most physician’s offices had been equipped with machines called sphygmographs that helped measure pulse rate. However, Pulsometer watches continued to remain popular in the medical community because of their convenience and usability. These highly specialized doctors’ watches were crucial instruments in the same way the pilot watch served as a navigation tool to aviators of a similar era.
The 1900s marked the rise of the chronograph wristwatch. Early in the century, we saw the introduction of models like the Longines monopusher chronograph in 1913, Breitling’s first chronograph wristwatch with an independent push piece in 1915, and Universal Genève’s first wrist chronograph in 1917. By the 1920s, there was a resurgence of popularity of these models among the medical community. As a result, the Pulsometer came to prominence again. It continued to offer greater accuracy and efficiency than other devices available at the time.
Today, technology in the medical field and beyond has advanced lightyears beyond the Pulsometer. Like the aforementioned pilot watch has been replaced by the flight dashboard or the dive watch by the dive computer, the Pulsometer is no longer needed as an invaluable tool. However, many modern brands continue to make Pulsometer watches as part of their catalogs.
What Does a Pulsometer Measure and How Does it Work?
As we’ve discussed, the Pulsometer measures the pulse rate. However, you may still be wondering exactly how a Pulsometer works. The Pulsometer scale is similar to a Tachymeter scale. It’s typically located around the rim of the dial near the bezel, but sometimes, it’s closer to the center of the display. This scale is specifically designed to measure heartbeats per minute. Like we previously mentioned, the Pulsometer scale works hand in hand with a chronograph function. However, some Pulsometer watches lack a chronograph complication. The traditional method to measure heart rate is to count the pulse for fifteen seconds. Then multiply that number by four to determine the average beats per minute. Thus, the Pulsometer scale is usually calibrated to a base of either fifteen or 30 heartbeats. To use the Pulsometer, simply start the chronograph and count the beats corresponding to the calibrated number. Then, you can look at the position of the seconds hand on the outer scale. Here, you can determine the heart rate in beats per minute without having to perform any multiplication.
Below is a Breitling Top Time Chronograph currently in Crown & Caliber owned inventory.
Popular Pulsometer Watches from Top Brands
From the early 1900s to the past several years, there have been many popular Pulsometer watches from top brands. One of the most famous models is the OMEGA Speedmaster Pulsometer, Reference CK 2998. The brand originally released the model in 1959. Shortly after, it became first OMEGA in space on the wrist of astronaut Wally Schirra. In 2018, OMEGA recreated the model in a limited run of 2998 pieces. Another notable modern Pulsometer is the TAG Heuer Monza 40th Anniversary Chronograph released in 2016. It draws inspiration from the original 1976 Monza with the addition of both Tachymeter and Pulsometer scales. Similar to the early Longines monopusher chronograph is the Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage Pulsograph. This refined, rose gold monopusher chrono features a classic Pulsometer scale and red-tipped central seconds hand for easy legibility. Of course, Rolex would be remiss to leave a Pulsometer out of their catalog. They chose to add the function to their iconic Daytona in a limited run in the 1960s. Today, these models are incredibly rare and fetch high prices on the auction block. There are countless examples of contemporary Pulsometer watches from top brands. However, the last model we look at here is the Vacheron Constantin Harmony Chronograph. Like many others, this model pays homage to one of the brand’s early Pulsometer chronos from the 1920s. This monopusher chronograph features a unique cushion shaped case as opposed to the typical round. Its Pulsometer scale is highlighted in red around the exterior of the dial.
Shown here is one of the earlier Pulsometers on record in the form of a pocket watch that dates to around 1930. This watch sold in 2009 for $4800 CHF at Antiquorum’s Auction House. Alongside the pocket watch to the right is another Rolex Pulsometer scale featured on a Daytona. Made in 1969; this piece sold for a whopping 167,200 CHF at Antiquorum’s auction house in 2008.
Here is the new 2014 release of the Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage Pulsograph in rose gold as seen on “ablogtowatch.” The pulsation scale is located on the outer edge of the dial to add an aesthetic element.
It was not long ago, back in 2013, that Longines also decided to release an Ashmometer-Pulsometer as a throw back to its 1963 predecessor used as a medical watch. This was featured in Hodinkee back in 2013. The article shows a great visual comparison of the new and old watch, both very sterile looking using stainless steel with red and blue on a white background.