This Article is part of a series written by editors of This Article was written by: Tony Traina.

A chronograph is a versatile tool that can be used to time all kinds of things. Here’s how to use it. 

What Is A Chronograph? 


If you’re the owner of a chronograph, you know that it’s more than just a watch – it’s a versatile tool that can be used to time all kinds of things. But if you’re new to chronograph watches, or just not quite sure what all those hands and dials mean on your watch, this is the article is for you.


A chronograph is a type of watch that has a built-in stopwatch function, in addition to the normal timekeeping function. This makes it a useful tool for timing events, such as your morning run or  cooking that hardboiled egg after your jog. In order to use a chronograph watch, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the various buttons and dials on the watch.

Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch 310.

How To Use A Chronograph


Most chronographs have two buttons on the side of the case (one above and one below the crown that’s used to set the time) that are used to start, stop, and reset the stopwatch function. It’s as simple as this: 

  1. To start the stopwatch, press the top button;
  2. To pause (or stop) the stopwatch, press the top button again; 
  3. To reset the stopwatch (i.e., send the chronograph back to zero), press the bottom button


In addition to the buttons, a chronograph watch will also have a number of dials or subdials that are used to display the elapsed time. To read the elapsed time on a chronograph, you’ll need to look at these dials and add up the times displayed on each one. So, while the large, central hand will keep ticking away to keep track of the seconds elapsed, each of these subdials will tell you how many minutes or hours have elapsed since you began the chronograph. 

IWC Pilot Le Petit Prince IW3777-17

Often, you’ll see chronographs with two or three subdials. Let’s take a look at two different watches to illustrate what these subdials communicate. This IWC Pilot “Le Petite Prince” Chronograph has three subdials. First, take a look at that middle subdial, the one that has a red hand in the middle and counts to 60. That subdial is not a part of the chronograph function; it’s simply the seconds hand like you’d see on most other watches or clocks, chronograph or not. Meanwhile, the subdials at the top and bottom track the total elapsed time of the chronograph: The top subdial keeps track of the minutes (up to 30 minutes), while the bottom keeps track of the hours (up to 12 hours). 

Breitling Top Time A23310

Meanwhile, this Breitling Top Time Chronograph has just two subdials. That means it only has a subdial that keeps track of elapsed minutes, on the right of the dial. The left-hand dial is the seconds hand. As the chronograph ticks away the seconds, you’ll see the minute and hour counters start to move forward, keeping track of the time elapsed on that morning run of yours. Once you’ve reached the finish line, simple press the top button to stop the chronograph and you’ll see how much time has elapsed. Then, you can reset the chronograph by hitting the reset button on the bottom so you’re ready to time your next activity of the day (hardboiled eggs, anyone?)


Using a chronograph is simple – it’s supposed to be! – but it can take some practice to become proficient at reading the elapsed time on the watch’s dials. But with a little practice, you’ll be timing jogs, eggs, and anything else like a pro in no time.


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