Best split-seconds chronographs for men: Race against time

These unmatched 'splitters' are right up the alley of watch enthusiasts and motorsports fans alike. Here's what you should know about the Rattrapante, or split-seconds chronograph

Navitimer B03 Chronograph Rattrapante 45

It takes a true connoisseur to really understand the beauty of a horological complication, and most watch lovers would have their favourites. Some enthusiasts swear by a tourbillon, while others love a perpetual calendar or a minute repeater. Then there are those who don't look beyond a rattrapante. 

The rattrapante is considered one of the most complicated of all the complications — a type of chronograph that has two seconds hands, and as a result, it times multiple simultaneous events, like motor racing.

The word rattrapante is a French word, derived from rattraper, which means to catch up or recapturing. Hence, timing two intervals simultaneously is what makes this complication a go-to movement for motor racing professionals. From the fastest and slowest evaluations to lap times, it does everything, precisely.

This complication proves to be effective as the rattrapante hand can be started and quickly returned to zero, and this can happen simultaneously with the main chronograph hand. You can repeatedly stop it with the help of a pusher, which right away brings the rattrapante hand to concur with the main chronograph hand by flying back to come directly beside it.

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The genesis

Early 20th century witnessed the first wrist chronographs with rattrapante hands, with its inspiration dating back to the mid-1800s. Swiss watchmaker Adolphe Nicole worked in London and in 1844, filed a patent for a system that returned the chronograph hand to zero. The 'heart' of this mechanism came to be known as the zero-reset heart cam. After 18 years, in 1862, Nicole unveiled this mechanism in a watch case. And after that, this invention became suitable to be the rattrapante hands as we know them in contemporary chronographs.

The first wrist chronographs with rattrapante hands made an appearance in 1912, but the movements were still as sizeable as pocket watches. Later, with more developments, the size gradually came down and by 1930, the timepieces with this complication started to emerge as regular wristwatches.

The evolution

The 20th century proved to be great times for the splitters when it was embraced by several luxury watchmakers like Patek Philippe, which launched its first wristwatch with a split-second chronograph. A very rare Patek Philippe split-seconds watch with the movement number 124824 and the case number 235326 was sold at Sotheby's (Lot 175) for US $29,65,000 in 2014. The development of the timepiece started in 1903 and by 1923, the ingenious timepiece was completed. 

With the functional and then-modern split-seconds watch, it was time for more of these but the plans got stuck by the Quartz Crisis of the 1970s and early 1980s, whereby mechanical watches started getting replaced by quartz ones. When mechanical watches started to gain popularity again towards the end of the 20th century, the community saw several inventive splitters powered by legendary movements like the Piguet 1181 calibre and the ETA Valjoux 7750.

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Rattrapante complication pieces were now being developed by Breitling, OMEGA, Audemars Piguet, IWC, A. Lange & Söhne, and several other luxury watchmakers. IWC introduced its first rattrapante chronograph in the Portugieser collection in 1995 when watchmaker Richard Habring developed a split-seconds module for the iconic Valjoux 7750 movement. OMEGA's rattrapante models of the 21st century were well received with its De Ville line. In 2004, A. Lange & Söhne presented a double rattrapante chronograph — the Double Split. Along with the two seconds counters, the watch also had two minute counters. Its rattrapante seconds counters and rattrapante minute counters could be stopped independently of the chronograph hands and later resynchronised again. Four years after that, A. Lange & Söhne debuted its Triple Split. With the addition of a third, separately stoppable hand pair, the chronograph and rattrapante functions could now be used for measurements that last up to 12 hours.

This year, A. Lange & Söhne debuted a new Triple Split in pink gold with a blue dial and rhodié-coloured subsidiary dials. The novelty is a follow up on their white gold edition presented in 2018. Today, as we stand in the midst of a sea of inventive splitters in the market, we take a look at some split-seconds models that are great to keep a track of lap timings, or to just enjoy the ingenious complication.

montblanc 1858

Montblanc 1858 Split-Second Chronograph Limited Edition 18

Price: Over Rs40 lakh

Montblanc's 1858 collection remains one of the watchmaker's historically inspired collections, which welcomed the new 1858 Split-Second Chronograph Limited Edition 18 this year — updated with an 18K 'lime gold' case and dial. Its large 44mm brushed and polished case has been created from a special alloy dubbed lime gold. The alloy is composed of primarily 18K gold and silver, with smaller amounts of additional iron, which together provide the pronounced pale yellow-green colour of the watch. Its chronograph placement is unusual, with one rectangular pusher above the crown which is used to activate the watch's split-second function and the second integrated into the crown that is used to set off the timepiece's regular chronograph. Its gold-coloured dial becomes one with its lime-gold shades of the case, with various green, white, gold, and black accents. Powering the lime-gold chronograph is an integrated chronograph movement — the Montblanc Caliber MB M16.31 which puts out a power reserve of around 50 hours. Limited to just 18 pieces, it's  paired with a green alligator leather strap.

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iwc portugieser

IWC Portugieser Chronograph Rattrapante Edition 'Boutique Genève' Ref. IW371221

Price: On request

When IWC launched its first Portugieser Chronograph Rattrapante in 1995, the model established traditions for its younger siblings that the brand seems to follow even today. One such modern member of the family is the Portugieser Chronograph Rattrapante Edition 'Boutique Genève' (Ref. IW371221). This timepiece flaunts a stainless steel case and distinctive feuille hands and appliquéd Arabic numerals that are both rose gold-plated. A telemeter scale is printed on the flange at the edge of the black dial, while a tachymeter scale is printed on the inner ring. Driving this robust timepiece is the hand-wound 76240 calibre movement, which delivers a power reserve of around 44 hours. The watch comes with an engraving of the title of Geneva's 1602 anthem, Cé qu'è lainô, on its caseback. The black dial sits beautifully inside a 40.9mm stainless steel case which is water resistant up to 30 metres. The timepiece, limited to 50 watches, is presented on a brown alligator leather strap with a folding clasp.

patek philippe

Patek Philippe Ref. 5370P-011 Split-Seconds Chronograph

Price: On request

Making the Ref. 5370P-011 Split-Seconds Chronograph look contemporary is its Grand Feu blue enamel dial with an 18K gold dial plate. The dial features gold applied Breguet numerals and a tachymeter scale. Driving the timepiece is the manually wound mechanical movement — Caliber CHR 29‑535 PS that offers an instantaneous 30-minute counter and delivers a power reserve of around 55 hours.

Its highly legible blue dial and a redesigned rattrapante mechanism make it stand at the head of the pack. The split-seconds chronograph comes housed in a 41mm platinum case that offers water resistance of up to 30 metres. The elegant case has been further enhanced by a concave dial and flanks with satin-finished recesses. The timepiece is presented on a hand-stitched, shiny dusk blue alligator leather strap with square scales.

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a lange and sohne split

A. Lange & Söhne Triple Split Ref. 424.038

Price: Over Rs1 crore

The Triple Split is one of the world's first mechanical split-seconds chronographs that allows multi-hour comparative time measurements courtesy the triple rattrapante mechanism for seconds, minutes, and hours. The Triple Split can precisely measure and compare single and additive times, an unlimited number of intermediate and reference times, and two concurrently started events that last as long as 12 hours — to an accuracy of one-sixth of a second. 

A Triple Split model that caught our attention with its white gold dial in grey/argenté is the Saxonia Triple Split Ref. 424.038. The dial is crafted from solid silver and embellished with solid gold appliques and hour markers. The hands are made of rhodiumed gold and blued steel. The hour and minute hands as well as the hour markers at 3, 6, 9, and 12 o'clock are luminous. Powered by the L132.1 movement, which delivers a power reserve of around 55 hours when fully wound, the timepiece comes housed in a 43.2mm case. Limited to 100 timepieces, the watch is offered on a black alligator strap.

jaquet droz la rattrapante

Jaquet Droz La Rattrapante Ref. J024533202

Price: On request

Powered by  the self-winding mechanical movement Jaquet Droz 6886 with a chronograph column wheel with rattrapante function and 22K white gold oscillating weight, the timepiece delivers a power reserve of around 40 hours. Its black Grand Feu enameled dial, with individual limited series number indicated on it, features centered hours and minutes, centered chronograph seconds and rattrapante hand, chronograph hours counter at 9 o’clock, chronograph minutes counter at 3 o’clock, and the big date at 12 o’clock.

Its rattrapante hand flaunts a red gold finish and red tip. The splitter finds its home inside a  45mm 18K red gold case which offers a water resistance of up to 30 metres. The watch is offered on a rolled-edge handmade black alligator leather strap.

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breitling navitimer

Breitling Navitimer B03 Chronograph Rattrapante 45

Price: Over Rs20 lakh

Breitling developed the Navitimer in 1952 and since then, the line has given the community some of the most ingenious chronographs. The Navitimer B03 Chronograph Rattrapante 45 has an 18K red gold case and is fitted with the robust and precise Breitling's Manufacture Caliber B03 movement. With two superimposed central chronograph hands, it can measure two elapsed times simultaneously. It finds its home in a big 45mm case, which holds its Stratos Gray dial. Its hour markers and hour and minute hands are coated with Super-LumiNova ensuring legibility in all lighting conditions The watch has a bidirectional rotating bezel with the circular slide rule that has long been associated with Breitling's Navitimers. The watch offers a water resistance of up to 30 metres. The Navitimer B03 Chronograph Rattrapante 45 is driven by the COSC-certified Breitling Manufacture Caliber B03 movement which brings to table a power reserve of around 70 hours. The watch is offered on a black alligator leather strap with a pin buckle.

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