2023 is already proving to be a great year for chronographs. Whether technically revised, flaunting a new design, appearing as an anniversary model, or completely redeveloped, there really was something for everyone in the most popular category of mechanical wristwatches. This includes for the chronograph collectors among Swisswatches’ readers. Therefore, when our team came to discuss the top ten watches for chronograph lovers, it wasn’t hard to agree on some highlights.
We have already discussed our Swisswatches criteria for a good mechanical wristwatch in our top ten classic collector’s watches, as well as the fact that we only judge watches that we’ve personally tried and tested. So, without further ado: on your marks, get set, go. These are Swisswatches’ top ten most important chronographs of Watches & Wonders 2023!
1. Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Platinum: ‘The Ring’
As expected, the list is topped by the new Rolex Cosmograph Daytona in platinum with a transparent caseback. Nobody really expected Rolex to relaunch its most sought-after model, for which soaring prices are being offered on the pre-owned market. Even less so expected given that Rolex usually doesn’t care much for big birthdays like the 60th of this model (otherwise fortune-telling in Geneva would be far too easy). In the five models introduced, the case and dial have been worked on so discreetly that you have to look quite closely. The most striking feature of the models with Cerachrom monobloc ceramic bezels is the stainless steel or gold ring that now encircles them. For the sake of simplicity, we will call this watch ‘The Ring’ Daytona.
Other key differences of the predecessor model Rolex Daytona Ref 116500LN compared to the new 126500LN: the white-gold hour markers as well as the subdial counter rings have become narrower, while the overall design has become a touch more masculine.
Finally visible: The Rolex Calibre 4131
The 4131 movement has been improved, particularly in terms of precision, power reserve (now 72 hours), and reliability. According to my expert colleague Gisbert Brunner, the new Rolex Chronergy escapement brings about 15% more efficiency, while the Paraflex shock protection provides yet more security.
In a charming break with tradition, the platinum watch also marks the first sapphire crystal caseback on a Daytona. Owners of the watch can admire the skeletonised winding rotor made of solid gold with the optimised ball bearings, as well as the elegantly decorated Côtes de Genève-decorated movement. In our opinion, Rolex has hidden its excellent movements for far too long, and now, one is finally becoming visible. That said, function fetishists will agree with me that a sapphire crystal back should rather remain the exception in a sports watch. Likewise, every racing car driver knows that you don’t race (important) cars with a platinum watch anyway, because every single gram counts on the track.
2. 60 years twice over: Tag Heuer also celebrates its most important watch: the Carrera
TAG Heuer surprised us in a positive way, because the Carrera chronographs released for the sixtieth anniversary of the series sit perfectly on the wrist. Our favourite is the TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph Tourbillon, one of the slimmest on the market. The complication simply looks great on this watch, and in our opinion even better than the Heuer 02 movement on the other models. If you want even more understated elegance than the 42 mm of the tourbillon, you should take a look at its blue and black sibling in a 39 mm case, which we almost didn’t want to put down. The calibre TH20-00 movement, visible through the sapphire crystal caseback, is a further development of its predecessor, the calibre Heuer 02, and also much slimmer. Despite this, these watches are amongst the cheapest in our ranking, which also applies to the tourbillon (6,500 euros for the chronograph, 23,000 euros for the chronograph tourbillon). And, of course, all of these watches are water-resistant to 100 m, including the tourbillon.
3. The most discreet chronograph of the fair
Jaeger-LeCoultre has presented once again the chronograph introduced in 1996 in a Reverso in the Tribute series (another chronograph novelty awaits us in autumn). On the front, the mechanism is only evident from the pushers, while the beautifully shaped movement of calibre 860 with retrograde 30-minute scale only reveals itself when the other dial is on show. There is no more discreet way to wear a chronograph. The watch fits beautifully on the wrist, but reading the function is a little difficult due to the open dial on the back. The two interchangeable bracelets that come with the watch are a dream: one made of leather with blue canvas on the blue model, the other made entirely of leather in the design of Casa Fagliano from Argentina, with whom the company has been working for years.
4. Start, stop, reset: entirely controlled by the bezel
Montblanc has come up with a completely new mechanism for triggering a chronograph. There will be 100 pieces of the Minerva LE 100, which not only celebrates the 165th anniversary of the subsidiary manufacture Minerva, but also the 100th since this subsidiary, famous for legendary chronograph mechanisms, has been building movements with a stop function. The centrepiece is the unidirectional rotating bezel, which triggers the start, stop and reset mechanisms. The details are still being worked on, and as expected, the watch is relatively high since the bezel has to be operated with the hands. Another highlight was the 1858 Geosphere Chronograph 0 Oxygen The 8000 Limited Edition with 24-hour indication as well as day and night displays, 290 titanium copies of which will be available exclusively in Montblanc boutiques.
5. The only watch at A. Lange & Söhne: What a chronograph!
The team led by chief developer Anthony de Haas spent six years tinkering with the L155.1 DATOMATIC calibre movement for the manufacture’s first automatic chronograph, and the result is really something to be proud of. I must confess that the Odysseus series at A. Lange & Söhne never quite caught on with me. But the desire of many collectors in 2019 to get a sportier Lange for everyday use was absolutely understandable. On the other hand, I immediately took the chronograph with dynamic zeroing of both chronograph hands (a wonderful spectacle) to heart, even if there are only 100 of them worldwide and this model will not be a small series.
The buttery-smooth triggering of the mechanism alone will make fans of this category rejoice, the integrated pushers are so discreet that you would hardly mistake the watch for a chronograph, and that for a 120 m water-resistant watch. The watch is also fully suitable for everyday use, as the week/date can be adjusted at will even when the stopwatch is running. Movement history, made by A. Lange. Anyone who has had the only existing model on the wrist for a short time, as we did at the fair, simply won’t want to give it up.
6. Monopusher with carbon fibre: Hermes turns up the heat
At Hermes, we noticed the first chronograph version of the H08 series presented in 2021 by chief designer, Philippe Delhotal (incidentally the former creative director of Patek Phillipe). The monopusher in Hermes Orange impresses with its titanium bezel and forged carbon case coated with graphene powder, which gives it a good weight ratio. In collaboration with Agenhor (Atelier Genovois d’Horlogerie), they are also developing the automatic base calibre H1837, which has been equipped with a chronograph module.
7. The first chronograph in the pilot’s watch series by Patek Philippe
We’ll get to Patek later on, but it’s worth mentioning an important chronograph reference here as well: for frequent travellers and avid flyers like me, a flyback chronograph with two Travel Time zones and the hand date linked to local time is the optimal combination of aesthetics and function. Where do such complications lend themselves better than in the Calatrava Pilot series, which was first introduced in 2015? Fans have had to wait a long time for this. Of the two variations, the Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Chronograph Reference 5924G-001 with a blue-grey sunburst dial and navy blue grainé calfskin strap particularly caught our attention.
8. A Worthy Descendant of the Zenith Rainbow from 1996 – and a large date
Zenith, the company that trademarked the term ‘pilot’ for watches back in 1888, brings back the most discreet form of the famous Rainbow chronograph from 1996 (here’s the link to our extensive El Primero article). With the Pilot Big Date Flyback in stainless steel, we are getting a worthy descendant that plays discreetly with the striking rainbow colours only in the subdial counter. What I particularly like about the new version of the El Primero calibre 3600 is the combination of big date and flyback chrono on the deeply horizontally fluted dial. Despite the 42.5 mm case diameter, this watch fits perfectly on smaller wrists like mine. Moreover, the fast switching of the big date in three hundredths of a second is absolutely worthy of the famous high-beatmovement.
9. A prototype for the future from Roger Dubuis: Monovertex Split Seconds Chronograph
Time for our penultimate chronograph nominee: the prototype of the Roger Dubuis Monovertex Split Second Chronos. No, it’s a watch that we didn’t get to wear. What’s more, in the future, it will not exist in this form. But its years of technical development will be integrated into future models over the coming years. On the one hand, this watch celebrates the comeback of the famous double chronograph with two column wheels.
The Conical Monovertex tourbillon has a 360° track, which is said to exceed the performance of the Hybris Mechanica Tourbillon developed by Jaeger LeCoultre and ensure the watch’s precision in any position. The watch was also certainly an eye-catcher, and we look forward to seeing the production model for it.
10. Parmigiani: The most elegant chronograph at Watches and Wonders
Exactly the opposite of that piece, however, is the Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda PF Split Seconds Chronograph, which for me is one of the most accomplished manual-winding chronographs of the show. Master watchmaker and company founder Michel Parmigiani is currently celebrating a second success at the fair with his new CEO Guido Terreni – and rightly so: many watches under this duo are already legends. This model, with a movement launched on the occasion of the brand’s 20th anniversary seven years ago, is absolutely top level. In this model, the movement and the solid gold case merge into a unity that has become rare today. Tenths of a second precision thanks to 5 Hz frequency, two column wheels with two different cams, vertical clutch – the calibre PF361 consisting of 309 components and a power reserve of 65 hours has earned its place.
Life beyond chronographs
Our impression of this Watches and Wonders 2023 went far beyond the best chronographs. Not that the aforementioned stunning watches with the popular stop function weren’t sensational enough, but the fair somehow felt different to us in retrospect; it was about more than the race against time.
For me personally, this fair was not so much about superlatives, but much more about refinement, details and elegance. One material in particular also stood out: platinum is the material of the moment, setting the tone in the top segment at Patek Philippe, Cartier, Rolex and also Parmigiani, closely followed by lightweight titanium. This new restraint and return to inner values appealed to us very much and was much more noticeable than pre-Covid times. That’s why the team and I endeavoured to choose watches for the second instalment that everyone at the fair was talking about, from the dealers and experts, to collectors like you!