The essence of the chronograph realises an ancient, beguiling dream of humankind and this, perhaps, can explain the ubiquity and success of this complication even more so than its many applications and sophisticated functions.
Sport is the kingdom of performance, of comparison and measurement, and in the history of many sporting disciplines a modest difference of a few thousandths of a second has transformed an athlete into a legend.
The first chronograph made by Officine Panerai dates back to 1943, the year in which the prototype of the Mare Nostrum was presented to deck officers of the Italian Navy. This long experience lives on today in the wide range of Panerai chronographs, all with designs inspired by the models created in the thirties and forties and enhanced by technical content of high quality watchmaking, developed by the manufacture in Neuchâtel in a variety of calibres enabling enthusiasts to choose the functions best suited to stopping time in their own way: Chronograph, Chrono Flyback, Chrono Regatta Countdown, Chrono Monopulsante, Chrono Rattrapante. The 2014 collection includes new and exclusive chronographs which enhance Officine Panerai’s range in this chosen area of high quality sports watchmaking.
Technically, the chronograph is a watch with a mechanism which enables intervals of time, ranging from fractions of a second to 24 hours and more, to be measured and visualised. The name “chronograph” (from the Greek chrónos, time, and gráphein, to write) was created in 1821 and its etymology recalls the origins of an instrument associated with the world of horse riders who wanted to record the performance of their thoroughbreds. The first chronograph wrote the time, because the hand deposited a dot of ink on the dial when operated at the start and finish of the time being measured. Although the hand was not stopped, the number of seconds that had elapsed between the first dot and the second one could be read on the dial.
The most fundamental development of the chronograph was made by the Swiss Adolphe Nicole, who in 1862 patented a device in which the seconds hand was stopped, returned to zero and then started again when a second measurement was required. The time intervals elapsed were no longer written, that is indicated with dots of ink, but only seen, by observing where the hand had stopped.
Celebrating a relationship which goes back to the twenties, Officine Panerai has renewed its own historic link with the Swiss manufacture Minerva, using its sophisticated calibres in some prestigious Special Editions with a vintage character. The OP XXV chronograph calibre is developed from the Minerva 13-22 calibre, a hand-wound movement 12¾ lignes in diameter with a balance wheel which makes 18,000 vibrations per hour, like the Angelus movement that was used in the first prototype of the Mare Nostrum.
The flyback function, also known as the “retour en vol”, enables the hands to be zeroed and restarted instantly, without having first to stop the hand and return it to zero. The function had its origins in the 1930s in the military area, in particular in the field of aeronautics, where pilots wearing such a chronograph found that it significantly simplified their operations.
In 2013 Officine Panerai presented the first automatic chronograph movement with flyback function developed in-house: the P.9100. Characterised by its column wheel and vertical clutch, the P.9100 calibre has a power reserve of three days, central chronograph minute and seconds hands, calendar and seconds reset. The push-piece which operates the flyback function, returning all the hands to zero when the chronograph has been stopped, is at 8 o’clock.
One of the rarest chronograph functions in high-quality watchmaking but one that is invaluable in the field of yacht racing, is the ability to precede the time measurement of the race with a countdown stage, which clearly displays the minutes and seconds remaining before the start of the race itself. In yacht races, in the pre-start procedure the yachts line up behind the start line, following the indications of the flags which mark the time remaining until the start.
In 2013 Officine Panerai presented an automatic calibre with chronograph flyback and Regatta Countdown functions, revolutionary in its simplicity: the P.9100/R calibre. Each time the countdown button is pressed, the chronograph minute hand is moved back one minute, until the countdown is set to the length desired. Then all that is needed is to operate the chronograph function which measures first, the time which remains before the start, and then, once the countdown has ended, the time elapsed since the start.
The chronograph wristwatch, as we know it today, was created in the early years of the 20th century. Nowadays, the commonest control arrangement has two push pieces on the side of the case, one starting and stopping the central hand and the other returning it to zero. In early models, such operations could also be controlled by operating the winding crown of the watch, or else by pressing on a number of push-pieces which could vary from one to three.
The first chronograph completely developed and made in the Officine Panerai manufacture at Neuchâtel is the P.2004. Hand-wound, as were the first chronographs in history, it has a long power reserve of eight days and the fundamental characteristic of having a single push-piece, at 8 o’clock. This solution makes the chronograph function quicker to use while having a minimal effect on the appearance of the case.
One of the most fascinating and useful developments of the chronograph is that enabling two measurements to be made at once, each of which can be stopped independently because it has two hands superimposed on each other. Known as the rattrapante or split-seconds function, or the “double chronograph", it enables the partial times of a single event to be measured or the times of two separate events which started at the same moment to be indicated.
The Panerai P.2006 calibre offers the functions of a split-seconds chronograph combined with another very valuable characteristic associated with the history of the brand: the long power reserve of eight days, displayed on the dial by a linear indicator. These features are made possible by the movement’s sophisticated construction with three spring barrels, two column wheels and vertical friction clutch.