Chronographs are no longer just for men: The watch industry is finally putting this complication into its ladies ranges

Laura McCreddie-Doak
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The El Primero Chronomaster Lady

Chronographs have the dubious honour of being the complication that you’re least likely to use while being one of the most complex to make. Whereas something like a tourbillon, also useless in a wristwatch, has, by sheer virtue of its appearance, a “wow” factor, a chronograph is the Plain Jane of complications. Which is why it was invariably put into a man’s watch. It was thought that because ­men understood what made this time writer (the literal translation of the word “chronograph”) tick, they could see beyond its relative ordinariness.

But then we women started taking an interest in what our watches did, so watch brands had to reevaluate their complication strategy. While Louis Moinet invented the first modern chronograph for astronomical equipment, it was Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec who developed the first marketed chronograph. He was actually asked to do it by King Louis XVIII in 1821, because the King wanted to accurately time how long the horse races he loved so much lasted.

Fast forward a few decades and tachymeters were added; chronographs became popular with pilots, using them to make rapid calculations where it was necessary to time things precisely. The flyback function (where the chronograph can be reset without being stopped first) improved accuracy further and water-resistant models were added so the function could be used by divers.

It’s an impressive history but one that has been very male-centric, which is why the new crop of chronographs is so refreshing. Take Vacheron Constantin’s Harmony Chronograph Small Model, for example. Launched two years ago, this is the first time the brand has ever put this complication in a women’s watch. The elegant cushion-shaped case softens a woman’s wrist, while the warm grey strap combined with a rose-gold case is feminine without being girly.

Also opting for the winning combination of a cushion-shaped case, diamonds and a grey strap (mink this time), is Patek Philippe. This is a brand that has led the way on putting proper complications in women’s watches through its Ladies First collection, so, having put minute repeaters, calendars and split seconds in its female-oriented timepieces, a chronograph is an almost-obligatory inclusion.

But it’s not all diamonds and interesting case shapes, if sporty is more your speed then you can’t go wrong with Chanel’s iconic J12. If you have a “precious stones at all times” policy when it comes to your wrist wear then you’ll be relieved to know this has nine diamond indices. However, the 41mm case, white ceramic case and bracelet and 200m water resistance means this is not a watch angling to be worn for cocktails.

And if you don’t like sporty styles or cushion-shaped cases, then Zenith has just the thing – its classic El Primero feminised with a splash of diamonds and with an open aperture so you can impress doubting males by pointing out to them where the escapement is (pictured).

We’ve got brands finally making chronographs that cater to women’s tastes; now all we need is to think of a female-centric way to use them. Timing contractions maybe? You can't get more exclusively feminine than that.