Thanks to their style, practicality, and extraordinary complexity, chronographs have become a favorite of watch collectors across the world. Owning and wearing a chronograph is a pleasure, not only because of the chronograph’s attractive design, but also because of its functionality. No other type of watch allows the wearer to experience the workings of its movement in quite the same way as a chronograph.
There are numerous highly desired chronograph watches, but there are a few iconic models that stand out from the rest. Below, we’re taking a closer look at these models as we highlight the four most enduring desired chronographs.
First up on our list, we have one of the most celebrated watches of all time: the Rolex Daytona. The Rolex Daytona, a racing watch that launched in 1963, is considered one of Rolex’s best models . The Daytona is the encapsulation of what makes Rolex great. This timepiece, highly innovative at the time of its release, is versatile in style, precise in function, and excellent in quality.
The style and function of the Rolex Daytona is part of what makes the Daytona so popular-- another major factor in this model’s popularity is its rarity. When the Daytona launched in the 1960s, it had a slow start. The model didn’t sell quickly when it was released, so Rolex produced it in limited quantities. But as time went by, the Daytona started to gain traction due to the influence of the Italian watch market and the influence of a notable fan of the Daytona: actor turned racing driver Paul Newman.
The Rolex Daytona grew much more popular over the years, but the watch remained in limited supply. Even as Rolex has released later editions of the Daytona, it has remained in extreme demand, which means it’s a rare find on the watch market to this day. The waiting list for new Rolex Daytonas is several years long, and pre-owned models fetch high prices on the resale market. Vintage Rolex Daytona models, especially the 6263 and 6239 “Paul Newman” models, often reach six figure prices when they’re sold at auction houses.
Breitling’s Navitimer is a successor to their Aviator Chronomat, a pilot’s watch with an innovative multi-function rotating bezel. The Navitimer builds on and perfects the impressive functionality of the Aviator Chronomat, boasting a variety of highly accurate functions. The Navitimer can calculate average speed, fuel consumption, and climbing speeds, while also facilitating things like arithmetic and currency conversions. The Navitimer is simply one of the best pilot’s watches ever made and this luxury watch model, as attractive as it is functional, has been in demand ever since its 1954 launch.
While all Breitling Navitimers are considered desirable among collectors, there’s a particular demand for rare early editions, which feature black subdials on a black dial. Called “All-Black” models, these vintage editions were released before Breitling switched to using contrasting subdials for the Navitimer in the early 1960s.
The Omega Speedmaster is another iconic auto racing watch. Originally released in 1957, the Speedmaster was a part of a wider launch of sports watches, which also included the Seamaster 300 diving watch and the Railmaster. The sporty and stylish Speedmaster, the only chronograph in the Swiss watch brand’s 1957 sports watch launch, debuted with some signature design details that are loved to this day: its broad arrow hands and its uniquely placed tachymeter scale, which lies on the Speedmaster’s bezel.
The Omega Speedmaster was popular at the time of its release, but it reached icon status when it became the first watch ever worn on the moon. NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin wore an Omega Speedmaster Professional when he walked on the moon in 1969, and since then the Speedmaster has often been dubbed the “Moonwatch.” Omega has released a number of Moonwatch editions of the Speedmaster since the 1960s, including their Moonphase edition, alongside many other non-Moonwatch Speedmaster models.
Zenith El Primero
The Zenith El Primero is a must-have chronograph because of its fine design and its immense historical significance. In 1969, the Zenith El Primero launched featuring its eponymous movement, the El Primero. The El Primero was the world’s first high-frequency automatic chronograph movement to debut. Which automatic chronograph wristwatch movement was the first chronograph is actually a hotly debated topic, since the calibre 11 (developed among watchmakers Breitling, TAG Heuer, Buren-Hamilton, and Dubois Depraz) and the calibre 6139 (developed by Seiko) were available that same year. However, Zenith did in fact debut their El Primero movement first, as they announced it during a press conference in January of 1969.
The El Primero movement is impressively accurate, able to provide split second accuracy down to 1/10 second. It is a high speed oscillator that emits 36,000 vibrations per hour, which makes it considerably more accurate than many other chronographs, especially when compared to the other automatic chronographs that launched in 1969. The El Primero movement, a masterpiece in technical achievement, is enduringly excellent-- you’ll find an almost unchanged El Primero movement in many of Zenith’s modern chronograph watches.