With their many subdials and hands, chronograph watches look complicated but learning how to use a chronograph watch can be quite straight forward.

A chronograph watch has several subdials which are used to time events. First implemented in racing, chronograph watches have become a popular statement watch for many. While they have become a symbol of status and style, their functionality remains the same as it did all those years ago – timing.

So how do you use a chronograph watch?

Triple four, Model 1 Racing Chronograph by Brooklands Watches.

Heritage of Chronographs

Before learning how to use a chronograph watch, exploring the heritage of the equipment gives some background context to the functionality and style of the watches

In 1907, Brooklands introduced the first Motor Race Chronograph accurate to 1000th of a second. This chronograph was called the Holden Apparatus and was designed by Colonel Holden & K Elphinstone and built in London.

While Brooklands hosted many types of motor racing events, routine lap times were kept using Swiss double chronograph stopwatches with a resolution of 1/5 of a second. The more accurate Motor Race Chronograph was then used for official speed record attempts.

Today the technology and components used in chronograph stopwatches have been miniaturised to fit into a wristwatch. Despite being smaller, the chronograph wristwatch is as accurate today as the finest stopwatch from 1907.  The portability and convenience of a wristwatch allows the wearer to time anything, from cars around a race track to the baking of a cake.

The Holden Apparatus

How To Use A Chronograph Watch

Chronographs in most cases either have two or three sub dials on the face. A standard layout is to have an hour dial and a minute dial. If you own a chronograph watch with three dials, there will also be a second’s dial but this is not part of the chronograph. This is the second hand for the regular time. Most watches will also have two pushers on the right-hand side of the watch face, along with the crown in the middle.

Before starting to use your chronograph watch, you will need to make sure that it is fully wound.

To start timing an event, simply press the top pusher until it clicks. This will trigger the chronograph second hand to start timing. Usually, this hand is a thin hand that is centrally mounted on the main dial. On the Brooklands Triple-Four Racing Chronograph, this is the thin red hand that sits along with the hour and minute hand at the centre of the watch face.

As the Triple-Four has a mechanical movement, this hand will move smoothly in one continuous movement across the watch face over a duration of 60 seconds. Once this hand has done a complete sweep of the watch face, the hand in the smaller minute dial will move to indicate a minute has passed. Note that the Triple-Four chronograph hands are colour coded so that they are either red or have a red tip.

You will find the minute sub dial at the top of the Triple-Four Racing Chronograph. This dial tracks 30 minutes at a time, so when the sub dial hand has circled round twice, the hand on the hour sub dial, found at the bottom of the watch face, will move to indicate an hour has passed.

When you want to stop timing the event, you click the top pusher again. This will stop all the chronograph hands moving for you to note the time taken to complete the event.

When you are finished with the timings, you can push the bottom pusher, which will reset all three chronograph hands ready for you to start again.

With the Triple-Four Chronograph, you can use it to time an event for up to 12 hours. This was the maximum time that the cars could race at Brooklands on any given day, and this restriction was put in place due to noise complaints from the neighbours. Brooklands did hold 24-hour races but they were held over 2 days and called the Double Twelve.

triple four watch from different angles

How To Read The Elapsed Time

An integral part of learning how to use a chronograph watch is learning how to read the elapsed time shown on the dials.

Each metric of time will be shown in the various dials, so all you need to do is first take note of where the hand is on the lower hour sub dial. Then moving up to the upper minute sub dial, you will need to note down where the hand is to determine how many minutes have passed, finally, you can note where the red hand is on the main dial to determine the seconds.

What Not To Do When Using A Chronograph

When using a chronograph watch, there are a few things to avoid to ensure its proper functioning and longevity.

Unless your chronograph is explicitly designed for underwater use and is water-resistant, it’s best to avoid using the chronograph’s functions underwater. Water can damage the delicate mechanisms within the watch. The Triple-Four racing chronograph watch has a water resistance of 100m, meaning you are able to wear the watch up to this depth but the crown must be screwed home to seal it and don’t use the chronograph pushers.  The Triple-Four Chronograph is not a divers watch and we recommend you keep it away from water.  The leather strap is a giveaway in this respect and will be ruined if immersed.

To ensure the pushers last, press the chronograph pushers gently and precisely. Avoid pressing them too forcefully or when not needed, as it can cause unnecessary wear and tear on the mechanisms. Additionally, continuous and unnecessary use of the chronograph functions for extended periods might strain the movement and reduce the watch’s accuracy over time. Use it when needed, but avoid leaving it running when not required. The watch mechanism is very finely balanced and it keeps better time when the chronograph is not running.

Regular maintenance is essential for any mechanical watch and this will help to maintain accuracy and extend the lifespan of the watch. This will also be a condition of the warranty on many watches, so we advise that watches are serviced at the intervals recommended by the manufacturer.

Swiss luxury watches. Model 1 by Brooklands Watch Company. Racing chronograph watch.

Purchase A Racing Chronograph Watch

There are many designs and styles of Racing Chronographs with different layouts, features and methods of operation. The Triple-Four Racing Chronograph is The Genuine Article.  Sir Terence Conran’s last masterpiece, designed in homage to his family’s love of Brooklands Circuit, and featuring details inspired by classic racers of the 1930’s.  Its racing and race timing heritage is second to none.

Discover more about the Triple-Four Racing Chronograph design and purchase it online

Swiss luxury watches. Triple-Four by Brooklands Watch Company. Racing chronograph watch.