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09/08/2022
 6 minutes

Top 3 Chronographs: From Entry-Level to Haute Horlogerie

By Tim Breining
Top-3-Chronographen-für-jedes-Budget-2-1

The watch market has countless chronographs on offer, from entry-level quality to the dizzying heights of haute horlogerie.Given the plenitude of options, it’s not easy to make a choice, no matter which price bracket you are searching in. To make things a little easier, we’ve put together a list of three outstanding chronographs at three distinct price points, each of which stands out from the crowd visually and/or technically. While these three watches couldn’t be more different, they all have one thing in common: They are anything but average. 

Tissot PRX Chronograph: High-Quality Technology at a Fair Price 

With the PRX, Swatch Group member Tissot has managed to successfully achieve what numerous microbrands have already realized on a smaller scale. This model series gives a wider audience the opportunity to own a stainless steel sports watch in the spirit of the Royal Oak and Nautilus. Anyone with even the slightest interest in this retro aesthetic will find something intriguing in the three-hand PRX series – whether 35 mm or 40 mm, monochrome or two-tone. 

If you’re looking for added functionality or an even sportier look for your timepiece, however, you cannot miss the Tissot PRX Chronograph. There are quite a few mechanical chronographs for sale below the $2,000 mark, but few of them check as many boxes as the PRX does, and even fewer do so with such attention to detail. 

Tissot PRX Chronograph, ref. T137.427.11.041.00
Tissot PRX Chronograph, ref. T137.427.11.041.00

The movement powering this timepiece goes by the name A05.H31, but the layout of the subdials gives away the fact that it is a modified version of the popular Valjoux 7753 caliber. ETA has increased the power reserve of the movement to 60 hours by altering the barrel, all while managing to preserve the proven frequency of 4 Hz.  

In terms of water resistance, a rating to 100 m (10 bar, 328 ft) is more than sufficient. Plus, the fact that this depth rating is achieved without a sealed crown and push-pieces makes the PRX Chronograph even more suitable for everyday wear and much easier to take care of.  

Last, but certainly not least, this model perfectly implements the design cues from popular 1970s icons. The watch’s integrated metal bracelet with tapered links and square push-pieces easily sets it apart from competitors in this price range. While there are countless entry-level, three-handed stainless steel sports watches on the market these days, the options when it comes to affordable chronographs is actually surprisingly small.  

If you’re after a chronograph with that iconic 1970s look, and aren’t put off by the 42-mm diameter or limited choice of dial color (white or blue), go for it.  

Grand Seiko SBGC251: GMT Chronograph With a Spring Drive Movement  

The launch of calibers 9SA5 (automatic) and 9RA2 (Spring Drive) signified the start of a new era for Grand Seiko. Not long after, the introduction of the new Evolution 9 collection and its novel design code marked the next step in the evolution of the brand’s traditional design philosophy

The collection includes everything from modern timepieces to sports models, most of which are powered by the latest generation of Grand Seiko’s in-house automatic and Spring Drive calibers. 

The Evolution 9 design code is comprised of three basic principles, the first of which relates to the Grand Seiko aesthetic. Anyone familiar with the brand, and especially its exceptional surface finishing, will know a thing or two about the way Grand Seiko watches play with light and shadow using a mix of polished and satin-brushed finishes and facets. These are always clearly delineated and executed without any distortion. 

The second principle refers to improved legibility by way of even more distinctive, faceted hands. Looking through the collection, it is immediately clear that these really do stand apart from the typical dauphine hands used on Grand Seiko’s classics. 

The third and final principle aims to optimize the wearing comfort of the timepieces by lowering their center of gravity and widening the lugs. The latter received special interest from fans, because while devotees have a lot of love for the brand, Grand Seiko’s metal bracelets have always drawn some criticism for falling short of their price point and the rest of the watch. 

But the watch I’d like to feature from this collection is the Chronograph GMT ref. SBGC251. Yes, this is a massive watch at over 45 mm across. And yes, the movement has quite a few years under its belt. This is unlikely to change unless Grand Seiko unveils the next generation Spring Drive chronograph caliber. Until that day comes, the caliber 9R86 is the only chronograph movement with hybrid Spring Drive technology (apart from the finely adjusted 9R96). In any case, it remains a horological dream. 

Grand Seiko SBGC251
Grand Seiko SBGC251

A 72-hour power reserve, accuracy nearing quartz levels, no battery, a column wheel, and vertical coupling – there really isn’t anything left to be desired with this watch. Plus, it benefits from a special aspect of Spring Drive technology that can only be realized with chronographs: Thanks to the sweeping seconds hand, you can easily measure time periods between the standard fractions of a second. This is a feature that elsewhere requires great technical prowess and a high-frequency escapement, but it’s essentially par for the course with the SBGC251. 

I am aware that all these technical refinements result in case dimensions that are simply not compatible with every wrist. However, anyone who has previously considered a Grand Seiko chronograph, but found earlier references like the SBGC203 a bit too clunky visually, will be pleasantly surprised. The price for this timepiece comes in at just over five figures. 

Singer Reimagined Track 1: One of the Most Innovative Chronographs of Our Time 

A watch released in 2017 by a Los Angeles-based vintage Porsche restorer – what? In this case, you should pay attention, because the Singer Reimagined Track 1 doesn’t just stand out with its unique design, but also with what is perhaps the most innovative, technically complicated chronograph movement available on the market today. 

Singer Reimagined Track 1 Flamboyant Red Edition
Singer Reimagined Track 1 Flamboyant Red Edition

Caliber developer Agenhor is the mastermind behind this technical marvel. Up until they developed the AgenGraphe chronograph caliber, the developer was primarily known for producing movement modules. The increasingly vertically integrated watch industry was threatening to dry up the module market, so Agenhor started working on a top-secret chronograph project with the aim of shifting all the displays to the center of the dial. They weren’t interested in making any compromises. No, the opus magnum from Agenhor accommodates numerous clever solutions drawing on a series of the manufacturer’s patents, both old and new.   

Simultaneously, there was a growing desire at Singer to release their own timepiece, but they didn’t just want it to be an afterthought or glorified promotional gift from an industry outsider. The idea arose from an exchange between Singer founder Rob Dickinson and watch designer and industry veteran Marco Borraccino. As luck would have it, Borraccino envisioned a display for the future watch that was strikingly similar to the one Agenhor was working on. When the designer reached out to the movement manufacturer, then-head of Agenhor Jean-Marc Wiederrecht couldn’t believe it: He had found the perfect partner for the movement that had already been in development for years! 

But what exactly sets the Track 1 and the AgenGraphe movement apart? 

First of all, it is a chronograph through and through. All three central hands are dedicated to chronograph functionality. The time is displayed peripherally at the 6 o’clock position. Here, rotating discs featuring the hours and minutes pass by a small, fixed pointer. 

It gets even more interesting when you look at the three chronograph hands and the technology behind them. 

The first hidden gem of the automatic AgenGraphe is just behind the dial. That is where the rotor sits, completely invisible to the wearer. All the hands pass through the generously-sized rotor. This isn’t just a technical gimmick; it affords a clear view of the rear of the movement, which is usually largely obscured by the rotor. Of course, the AgenGraphe has beautiful finishing on its reverse side.  

Inner workings of the Singer Reimagined Track 1
Inner workings of the Singer Reimagined Track 1

With three hands sharing the same access, legibility is essential. This is made possible by not just one, but two jumping hands, namely those for the hour and minute counters. Snail cams work in tandem to wind their respective springs over a longer period of time, ensuring the movement has an even, constant power output. 

Instead of the exclusive vertical coupling system, which is generally considered the most technically-optimized solution to prevent hands from jumping when the chronograph is engaged, Agenhor relies on a unique horizontal coupling solution. Here, the developer relies on friction rather than a tight fit. In addition to an applied coating, a safety gear wheel ensures the hands cannot slip, even in the event of a jolt that could interrupt the frictional contact for a fraction of a second. 

I could list several more technical innovations of this masterpiece, but it’s probably already becoming clear that the Singer Reimagined Track 1 exemplifies the meeting of high standards and perfect execution. 

Singer could have opted for a straightforward Valjoux-powered chronograph with some Porsche-inspired design cues, and no one would have given it a second thought. But what Dickinson, Borraccino, Wiederrecht, and their teams delivered instead is absolutely breathtaking.  

You can find unworn copies of the Track 1 in the mid to upper five-figure range. Pre-owned examples can be purchased on Chrono24 for less than $40,000. 


About the Author

Tim Breining

My interest in watches first emerged in 2014 while I was studying engineering in Karlsruhe, Germany. My initial curiosity quickly evolved into a full-blown passion. Since …

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