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Built for Speed: The Best Racing Chronographs on The Circuit

Motorsport and watches go hand-in-hand and ever since Jack Heuer built the first true racing watch in 1963 that’s meant two things: a chronograph and an associated tachymeter. No matter how you dress it up, that’s what a racing watch is at its core. That hasn’t stopped many a watchmaker having fun with the concept though and, as you’ve seen over the past few pages, horologists can be pretty dedicated to making the most accurate movements possible to time fractions of a second. Granted, in an actual race every millisecond does indeed matter, but in everyday life things are a touch more laid-back. That’s why on this round-up of cool, engine-ready chronographs you’ll find everything from good-looking, accessible timepieces to serious watches built for speed.

Tag Heuer Formula 1, £1,550 GBP

Tag Heuer Formula 1

If you were expecting a Carrera on this list then think again; I don’t have anything against the legendary racing watch by any means, but there are plenty of other vintage-styled tachymeters out there and if you’re in the market for something a little more performance-oriented, TAG Heuer’s quartz-equipped Formula 1 is for you. This latest edition in a mix of tarmac textured grey dial, black ceramic bezel and yellow highlights is about as sporty as you can get and, while it doesn’t quite have the prestige of its more grown-up mechanical teammates, it holds up in the timekeeping stakes. With water resistance of 200m, it’s also one of the most practical on this list, too.

Ref: CAZ101AG.FC8304  |   Case/dial: 39.5mm diameter, stainless steel, textured grey dial   |   Water Resistance: 200m   |   Movement: Quartz chronograph   |   Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, 1/10 second chronograph seconds, 30 minutes counter   |   Strap: Nylon fabric   |   Price: £1,550 GBP, available at Tag Heuer.

Zenith Chronomaster Sport, £7,900 GBP

Zenith Chronomaster Sport

First off, I have to put my hands up and say that the Chronomaster Sport doesn’t actually have a tachymeter, one of our criteria for a chronograph timepiece. However, the El Primero 3600 calibre movement is capable of measuring increments of up to 1/10th of a second, which is arguably much more useful in the midst of a race. Not to mention that the heritage of the El Primero movement is jam-packed with iconic racing watches and chronographs, making it an icon in its own right, brought up to modern standards in the 3600 version. The Chronomaster Sport is a fitting combination of heritage throwback and cutting-edge sporting technology.

Ref: 03.3100.3600/69.C823  |   Case/dial: 41mm diameter, stainless steel, white matte   |   Water resistance: 100m   |   Movement: Calibre El Primero 3600, automatic, 35 jewels, 311 components   |   Frequency: 36,000 vph (5 Hz)   |   Power reserve: 60h   |   Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds at 9 o’clock, 60-minute counter at 6 o’clock, 60-second counter at 3 o’clock   |   Strap: Rubber   |   Price: £7,900 GBP, available at Zenith Watches.

Omologato Fiorano Chronograph, £370 GBP

Omologato Fiorano Chronograph

With a name referencing the vintage proving grounds of the almighty Ferrari, Omologato have set the bar high for their latest retro-styled racing chronograph. It almost goes without saying that the dial would be red, with white subdials to imitate the racing numbers of 1950s speedsters. Paired with a matching red bezel in the same lustrous, high speed scarlet, the Fiorano embodies the devout racing watch brand’s unique approach to capturing the greatest eras of motorsport. Equipped with a Miyota quartz movement, it has all the style of a vintage pit lane chrono, without the price tag. It’s a lot more accessible than a track day on its namesake, that’s for sure.

Ref: FIORCH |   Case/dial: 42mm diameter, stainless steel, Fiorano Red dial   |   Water resistance: 100m   |   Movement: Japanese Miyota Chronograph Quartz   |   Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, 24-hour counter at 3 o’clock, 60-second counter at 9 o’clock   |   Strap: Black Italian grain leather   |   Price: £370 GBP, available at Omologato.

Montblanc 1858 Split-Second Chronograph Lime Gold, €49,500 EUR

Montblanc 1858 Split-Second Chronograph Lime Gold

I’m sorry but you won’t be getting this one. I feel the need to get that out of the way first because all 18 of this beautiful thing will be long gone well before you read this. The case is made from an alloy of gold, silver and iron, a unique mix that pairs very nicely with the green lettering and applied, superluminova numerals. The outer ring of digits is actually a telemeter – to measure distance – while the speed-measuring tachymeter snails around the middle of the dial. The superb monopusher movement is manual-wind which seems like a downside until you see the reverse and the movement therein. Any split-seconds (or rattrapante for the traditionalists) is impressive but here it’s finished immaculately. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a mainline version sometime soon.

Ref: 128085 |   Case/dial: 44mm diameter, polished and satin-finished 18K Lime Gold, Sunray gold dial   |   Water resistance: 30m   |   Movement: In-house calibre MB M16.31, manual wind, 25 jewels   |   Frequency: 18,000 vph (2.5 Hz)   |   Power reserve: 50h   |   Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, chronograph second-hands, split-second hand, tachymeter scale on the central part of the dial and telemeter on the exterior of the dial   |   Strap: Green nubuck alligator leather  |   Price: €49,500 EUR, available at Montblanc.

Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional, £5,370 GBP

Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional

Yes, yes, the Speedmaster went to the moon, but it’s not just astronaut approved; it doubles as a damn fine racing watch, too. It even has speed in the name! The mild revamp at the beginning of this year ensured that the first watch to tick on the lunar surface kept its vintage feel with a few throwback touches doubling as fan service (including the tachymeter ‘dot over 90’). It also, perhaps more importantly, updated the movement to the Master Chronometer certified calibre 3861. For my money, it’s all about the hesalite version, not just because it’s the original but because the slightly more subtly redesigned bracelet is a winner.

Ref: 310. |   Case/dial: 42mm diameter, stainless steel, black dial   |   Water resistance: 50m   |   Movement: In-house Calibre 3861, manual wind, 26 jewels   |   Frequency: 21,600 vph (3 Hz)   |   Power reserve: 50h   |   Functions: Hours, minutes, tri-counter chronograph   |   Strap: Stainless steel bracelet   |   Price: £5,370 GBP, available at Omega.

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Meteorite, £27,350 GBP

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona18k white gold case

If you want to talk icons, the Cosmograph Daytona is more than ready to lead the discussion. Its three subdial layout is instantly recognisable and has seen brands from every level of the watchmaking industry creating imitations of it, which they do say is the sincerest form of flattery. And while it might not have gone to the moon like other watches on this list, Rolex wanted to give it the out of this world feeling with a new dial for 2021 made of meteorite. Meteorite contains high levels of nickel and iron making for cool metallic dials that are uniquely shaped by the forces of the solar system and it suits the Daytona shockingly well.

Ref: 116519LN   |   Case/dial: 40mm diameter, 18k white gold, meteorite dial   |   Water resistance: 100m   |   Movement: In-house calibre 4130, automatic, 44 rubies, 201 components   |   Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)   |   Power reserve: 73h   |   Functions: Hour, minute, small seconds, chronograph (30-minute counter at 3 o’clock, 12-hour counter at 9 o’clock, stop-seconds for exact time setting)   |   Strap: Oysterflex rubber  |   Price: £27,350 GBP, available at Rolex.

Tudor Black Bay Chrono, £3,900 GBP

Tudor Black Bay Chrono

The Black Bay collection from Tudor might be more renowned for its cool divers like the Black Bay Fifty-Eight but with its high contrast panda dial and tachymeter, the new Black Bay Chrono is a serious bit of racing kit – let’s not forget that the brand has 50 years of experience with the humble chronograph. Of course, some adjustments were needed to get the diver in racing shape: the 41mm case and movement have both been refined to take a millimetre or two off the sapphire crystal and optimise the movement. As a finishing touch, the new Black Bay uses chronograph pushers taken from the very first generation of Tudor chronos.

Ref: M79360N-0001   |   Case/dial: 41mm diameter, stainless steel with polished and satin finish, black with silver counters dial   |   Water resistance: 200m   |   Movement: In-house calibre MT5813, Swiss chronometer officially certified by COSC, manual wind, 41 jewels   |   Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)   |   Power reserve: 70h   |   Functions: Hours, minutes, chronograph seconds, chronograph 45-minute counter at 3 o’clock, small seconds at 9 o’clock, date at 6 o’clock, stop-seconds for precise time setting  |   Strap: Riveted stainless steel bracelet    |   Price: £3,900 GBP, available at Tudor.

Richard Mille RM 11-03 Automatic Chronograph McLaren, CHF 180,000

Richard Mille RM 11-03

If you’re going to use a chronograph for racing, why not match your watch to your car? The RM 11-03 chronograph from Richard Mille is inspired by the McLaren Ultimate Series, they even have matching edition numbers, (both car and watch being limited to 500 pieces) so they come as a pair. It boasts a skeletonised, automatic winding movement with variable-geometry rotor offering hours, minutes, seconds, flyback chronograph, 60-minute countdown timer at 9 o’clock, 12-hour totaliser, oversize date and month indicator. That variable-geometry rotor means you can set the watch to race or walking mode, preventing the automatic movement from damaging itself through the vastly different wrist movements of the two activities, a useful safety feature.

Case/dial: 49.9×44.50mm diameter, Carbon TPT®, baseplate and bridges in grade 5 titanium   |   Water resistance: 200m   |   Movement: In-house RMAC3 calibre, automatic   |   Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)   |   Power reserve: 68h   |   Functions: hours, minutes, small seconds, annual calendar with oversized date, flyback chronograph   |   Strap: Rubber strap   |   Price: CHF 180,000, available at Richard Mille.

Farer Carnegie Chronograph Sport, £1,680 GBP

Farer Carnegie Chronograph Sport

The Bernina Gran Turismo is a famous race in the Alps that started in the 1920s near St Moritz and Farer wanted to capture its romance in their Bernina Chronograph Sport and the new Carnegie Chronograph Sport. The Carnegie takes a more light-hearted approach to motorsport than other chronographs, the bold teal and blue colourings reminiscent of the flair of classic rallies. But that doesn’t mean it can’t hold its own on the track, housing a Sellita SW510 BH Elaboré grade manual movement with 58-hour power reserve and equipped with a tachymeter, 30-minute counter and 12-hour counter. The movement also bears a cool geometric pattern based on the Farer monogram, furthering the 20s-30s vibe.

Case/dial: 41mm diameter, stainless steel, matte teal dial   |   Water resistance: 100m   |   Movement: Swiss-made Sellita SW510 BH Elaboré grade calibre, automatic, 17 jewels   |   Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)   |   Power reserve: 58h   |   Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, 60 second chronograph, 30 minute counter at 3, 12 hour counter at 6   |   Strap: St Venere leather with stainless steel buckle   |   Price: £1,680 GBP, available at Farer.

Chopard Mille Miglia 2020 Race Edition, £1,680 GBP

Chopard Mille Miglia 2020 Race Edition

The Chopard Mille Miglia series is so intrinsically linked to the Italian race of the same name that each year the participating teams are gifted that year’s model. The 2020 edition features a retro dial with oversized Arabic numerals that intersect with the three subdials and coated in lume with a vintage-flavour cream colour. Under the hood is a COSC certified chronometer movement, the ETA-2892 with Dubois-Depraz module with 42-hour power reserve. The vintage impression makes it a very characterful watch and its racing pedigree is undeniable with Chopard producing a new version for every Mille Miglia race since 1988.

Ref: 168589-3028   |   Case/dial: 42mm diameter, beadblasted DLC-treated stainless steel, black dial   |   Water resistance: 50m   |   Movement: COSC-certified mechanical movement, automatic, 37 jewels   |   Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)   |   Power reserve: 42h   |   Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, small seconds at 3 o’clock, 30-minute and 12-hour counters, date window between 4 and 5 o’clock, tachymeter scale   |   Strap: Black calfskin leather   |   Price: £1,680 GBP, available at Chopard.

Hublot Classic Fusion Ferrari GT, £32,100 GBP

Hublot Classic Fusion Ferrari GT

Over the past decade Hublot and Ferrari’s partnership has been one of the most prolific in the space of racing watches, with no fewer than 70 timepieces produced. And given the two companies parted ways at the end of last year, it’s a legacy that will stand the test of time. The Classic Fusion Ferrari GT from 2019 is one of the most exciting chronos to come out of the collaboration in recent years. It has Hublot’s Unico 2 chronograph movement that was developed for smaller watches, although at 45mm, there’s little small about this piece. While it might be called a Classic Fusion it feels like a totally different series thanks to its sleek sportscar aesthetic.

Ref: 526.OX.0124.VR   |   Case/dial: 45mm diameter, microblasted 18K King Gold case, sapphire dial   |   Water resistance: 100m  |   Movement: In-house calibre HUB1281 UNICO, chronograph flyback, automatic   |   Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)   |   Power reserve: 72h   |   Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, 30-minute chronograph   |   Strap: Black rubber   |   Price: £32,100, limited to 500 pieces, available at Hublot.

Jacob & Co. Twin Turbo Bugatti Furious 300+, $580,000 USD

Jacob & Co. Twin Turbo Bugatti Furious 300+

The partnership between watchmaker Jacob & Co. and legendary supercar manufacturer Bugatti is still young, being announced in 2019. However, several impressive timepieces have already emerged from the union including the Twin Turbo Bugatti Furious 300+ in 2020. To be honest, while this watch ticks the chronograph boxes and has a strong connection to high performance cars, you’d be a madman to use it in a race – but I salute you if you do. It sports twin triple-axis tourbillons, a minute repeater and a monopusher chronograph function making it a monster of haute horlogerie more at home in a showroom than on the track. But its poster-worthy status means I couldn’t leave it off this list.

Ref: TT210.29.AB.AB.ABVEA   |   Case/dial: 57mm x 52mm diameter, forged carbon and black DLC Grade 5 titanium case, smoked sapphire dial   |   Water resistance: 30m   |   Movement: In-house calibre JCFM05, manual wind, 75 jewels, 832 parts   |   Frequency: 21,600 vph (3 Hz)   |   Power reserve: 50h  |   Functions:    |   Strap: Black cordura fabric   |   Price: $580,000 USD, limited to 3 pieces, available at Jacob & Co.

Yema Rallye Andretti Limited Edition, €2,699 EUR

Yema Rallye Andretti Limited Edition

While Yema might not have the same reputation of some of the watchmakers on this list, their chronographs are well respected for their high quality at lower prices. Although, while the name you’re more likely to hear is Speedgraf, we prefer the Rallye Andretti Limited Edition, created to celebrate the anniversary of famous racing driver Mario Andretti. It’s a reissue of the Rallye chronograph that Andretti actually wore during his win at Indianapolis in 1969. It has been given the ETA VALJOUX 7753 chronograph movement with a solid 44-hour power reserve but undoubtably the highlight of the watch is its vintage styling – the two subdials housed within a dashboard motif.

Ref: YRAL2019-AAS   |   Case/dial: 39mm diameter, polished stainless steel, matt black dial with red stripes   |   Water resistance: 100m   |   Movement: Valjoux 7753 – ETA Swiss Manufacture, automatic, 27 rubies   |   Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)   |   Power reserve: 44h   |   Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, 30 minutes and 60 seconds chronographs   |   Strap: Black leather   |   Price: €2,699 EUR, limited to 1969 pieces, available at Yema.

Carl F. Bucherer Heritage Bicompax Annual, £5,500 GBP

Carl F. Bucherer Heritage Bicompax Annual

When Carl F. Bucherer released their salmond-dialled throwback racing watch way back in the halcyon days of 2019, I loved it. It was one of my favourite watches of the year. This version doesn’t have quite the same vintage feel, but it’s a far more contemporary – and dare I say, wearable – version. It still has the retro bicompax layout, the same subtle tachymeter around the edge but now offers a reverse panda look with silver subdials on black. Equipped with an in-house automatic movement, it’s a sleek, archival look with what seems like a ludicrously decent price tag. It’s another absolute winner as far as I’m concerned.

Ref: 00.10803.08.32.01   |   Case/dial: 41mm diameter, stainless steel, black dial   |   Water resistance: 30m   |   Movement: In-house calibre CFB 1972, automatic, 47 jewels   |   Power reserve: 42h   |   Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, date & “annual calendar” month display, 30-minute totalizer   |   Strap: Black calfskin leather   |   Price: £5,500, limited to 888 pieces, available at Carl F. Bucherer.

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About the author

Michael Sonsino

As Digital Editor for Oracle Time, Michael needs an eye for detail, which makes it a good thing that his twin joys in life are miniatures and watches. He's a lifelong fan of fine timepieces, especially those of a more historic nature - if it has a twist of Art Deco, all the better. Recent purchase: Seiko Prospex 1959 Alpinist Modern Re-Interpretation. Grail watch: Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921.