Chronograph and chronometer Two objects in the service of time

A reminder of the difference between a chronometer and chronograph

Chronometer and Chronograph
Two different words to say two different things, pretty normal, no?

Actually, it’s two different functions that can apply to one and the same object. A chronometer is a high-precision timing device. It is a mechanism capable of keeping time, that is, of being precise. In accordance with defined criteria, it can be certified in Switzerland by the COSC, the Swiss Official Chronometer Control Organization. Whereas a chronograph, well, it’s a timekeeping device with one or more independent hands that you can start, stop and reset, to measure intervals of time. A stopwatch will not give the time, it only allows measurements, while a chronograph watch will additionally indicate the time. And to sow confusion between the two definitions, between the two timekeeping tools, chronograph and chronometer, it is entirely possible to create a chronograph movement, i.e. one able to measure a time interval, and have it certified as a chronometer: that is to say, to ensure that the movement remains precisely within the scope defined by the COSC. And to add further to the frequent confusion between these two descriptions, we use the verb “to time” to define the operation of measuring an interval of time. So, it’s simple: a chronograph is also used as a timing device! All rather confusing, and above all not a great help in telling the difference between the two. My grandfather, a watchmaker, spent his life explaining and re-explaining it. As for chronometers, in today’s era of atomic clocks that monitor each other, they have lost much of their previous importance. Who still uses a mechanical timepiece to get the exact, precise time? The word chronometer means, in terms of the COSC definition, only certain specific precision timepieces. And the required timekeeping criteria are now far from the type of precision offered by a low-cost alarm clock which is always correct to the exact second because it is tuned to a radio wave from Germany. So, let’s all repeat together: Chronometer: a precision watch, and Chronograph: a watch for measuring intervals of time. And I haven’t even started to make things complicated yet….

Seed VMF 6710 integrated chronographe

ute histoire n’est pas figée et celle du chronographe le prouve avec la récente mise à jour de la mise au point du chronographe. Dès la fin du 18e siècle, certaines montres sont dotées d’une aiguille de seconde qui peut être arrêtée. Le premier appareil nommé « chronographe » est un mécanisme permettant la mesure des temps courts en déposant une gouttelette d’encre sur un cadran. Eh oui ! Dans le mot « chronographe » il y a le mot « graphe » car il s’agissait bien d’écrire le temps ce qui a donné ce mot. La fonction remise à zéro, indispensable pour mesurer efficacement des intervalles de temps, n’apparaitra qu’au milieu du 19e siècle. C’est le début d’une utilisation massive du chronographe dans les sports, la recherche scientifique et surtout l’industrie. Le chronographe de poche devient l’outil indispensable du technicien, de l’ingénieur pour comprendre et améliorer les processus industriels. Demandez aux vieux ouvriers comment ils voyaient les fameux « pique-minutes », ces agents de méthodes qui surveillaient la vitesse de production dans les usines. « Time is money » et pas qu’un peu !

A brief history 

No history is ever completely tied down, which is proved by recent updates to the technical refinement of the chronograph. From the end of the 18th century onwards, some watches were fitted with a stoppable second hand. The first device to be called a “chronograph” was a mechanism for measuring short time intervals by depositing an ink droplet on a dial. Really! The “graph” part of the word “chronograph” is because it was effectively a way of writing down time. The reset function, which is essential for measuring time intervals effectively, did not appear until the middle of the 19th century. That was the starting point of the widespread use of the chronograph in sports, scientific research and especially industry. The pocket chronograph became the indispensable tool of technicians and engineers for understanding and improving industrial processes. Ask older workers what they thought of the famous “second-grabbers,” the time-and-method specialists who measured production speeds in factories. “Time is money” and not just a little of it!

Different measurements

As they could measure short time intervals, chronographs soon came equipped with specific scales on the dial. The principle is simple: we measure the duration of a reference cycle via the chronograph hand; once stopped, it indicates a speed, a quantity, or some other value, per hour or less. For example, by measuring the time required to cover one kilometer, it is possible to work out an overall speed in kilometers per hour. Something that can be an educational game on the highway, to check out your speedometer. And then, equipment installed by the police can also be helpful, but maybe less entertaining and occasionally very expensive. The dial will show at the start of the scale the reference base used, for example “graduated for 1000 meters” or “base 1 mile”. So, the chronograph can indicate measurements such as speed, the number of pieces produced, vital rhythms such as pulse rate or breathing, distance via a telemetric scale, stenographic speed, and so on …

Launching of new ultra-thin movements at EPHJ 2019

Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier is expanding its range of ultra-thin movements and offer of development proposals for complications and modules

Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier is launching two new designs of its flagship ultra-thin, micro-rotor caliber, the Seed VMF 5401. Contemporary or classic, we presents two movements based on the same architecture. Our company thus extends its range with this new, attractive offer.

Classic or contemporary, a movement for every watch

Takahiro Hamaguchi, Director of Development and Production, explains this approach as a real desire to offer more choices to meet current trends: “We can see that micro-brand models become strongly established, whether they are classic, hyper technical, or even avant-garde. We want to get closer to what they need, because right now they can’t access the extensive customization that normally starts from 150 pieces.” By putting our customization know-how into creating movement variants for smaller brands, we are now offering a wider choice of visually appealing combinations to better match a watch’s intended design and style.

Technical specifications Seed VMF 5401/32 & 5401/33

Ultra-thin micro-rotor calibers

The Seed VMF 5401 caliber is an ultra-thin, 2.6mm micro-rotor. This caliber with its potential for extreme personalization figures in, for example, prestigious collections by Hermès, Parmigiani and Richard Mille.
The Seed VMF 5401/32 variant offers lines and finishes from the pure tradition of Haute Horlogerie. It is intended for classic high-end models.
The Seed VMF 5401/33 variant takes on a contemporary look through new decoration technologies, with laser relief engraving combined with geometric skeletonization. Its modernity is also expressed by the anthracite color produced by galvanic treatment.

How does a mechanical movement work?

For those who may have forgotten, here is a quick refresh based on our 5401 movement in the course of assembly, and the six stages of the kinematic chain.

We illustrate this with our ultra-thin automatic micro-rotor Seed VMF 5401 movement

1. Energy source

Turning the winding crown or the wrist movements of the wearer provide the energy needed to operate the automatic mechanical watch..

automatic rotor

2. Energy store

A spring wound in the barrel stores the energy for the operation of the mechanical watch.


3.   Counting, transmission 

A set of gears brings energy to the escapement.

Gear train

4.  Distribution

The escapement transmits the energy to the balance, while counting its oscillations.


5. Adjustment

The balance and its spring determine the accuracy of the mechanical watch-

Spiral balance

6.   Display

The speed of rotation of specific gears drives each hand at the correct pace.


Developing a watch mechanism for timepieces. Why can’t it be done overnight?

Who wouldn’t think that taking 2 to 6 years to develop a mechanism that isn’t even intended to go to the Moon is maybe a little long?

And yet … Creating a new movement is a long process that can take several years. For Vaucher Manufacture, it means designing the new mechanism, making sure that it functions correctly, and then organising its construction, maintenance and durability, all without losing sight of the essential aspect of hand-made, value-added decorations. Our movements thus bring together both elements: on the one hand, a reliable and precise product, designed and produced industrially, and on the other, one with an exclusive hand-made finish. To this we can add the ability to adapt and personalize the movement, by changing the shape of the bridges, the appearance of the surfaces, or even the materials used.

The specification

You are the client and you have a clear idea of what you want. But it may not be enough. While the stage of determining the specifications of the movement to be developed will doubtless flow relatively easily concerning definition of the basic criteria:

  • the external dimensions,
  • the display and the movement’s functions,
  • the power reserve,
  • finishing options, and
  • personalisation options, and the cost price.

others will need to be monitored, re-evaluated and redefined periodically while the new calibre is being developed.

When you are developing a new movement, it takes patience

People in the business know that if you want to launch a new product with a movement developed exclusively for that purpose, you have to start early because development alone can last up to two years. Based on the specifications, the project manager will sketch the movement in two dimensions on a computer screen. It may also help him to draw some parts of the mechanism by hand. Relying on his own knowledge, on interaction with his colleagues, and research, he will move forward. Next, the movement will take shape in three dimensions on the screen. Then it becomes a question of positioning the gears, arranging the distribution of different elements, plotting their vertical and horizontal interactions and worrying about possible overlaps. For new mechanisms and innovative arrangements, he will use a laser cutter to create plexiglass models. These will allow him to check the good distribution and the effectiveness of the innovations, by visualizing the movements, the rotation and shapes of the gear teeth and the other components. These models can also help further inspire our clients by explaining the new mechanisms that can equip their watches. The project manager regularly exchanges with his colleagues, as well as with the persons in charge of future industrial production, because the manufacturing aspect of the components needs to be taken into consideration already. Once the three-dimensional modelling has been completed, each piece is drawn separately, with a precise definition of its production tolerances and adjustment. This painstaking process of developing a movement takes from one to two and a half years.

Prototyping, towards finalisation

The movement exists in three dimensions on a computer screen, models have made it possible to run ‘in theory’ checks on certain functions, and now it is time for the prototyping phase. This means initiating production of the components in small quantities, checking the manufacturing possibilities up-front with the cell of industrial team. It is by entrusting the construction to watchmaking analysts and prototype modellers that specialists can check if everything meets expectations. This means supervising the manufacture of the components, assembling them, and checking the operation of the whole. Then we can judge the play, and monitor the inertia, of the different parts in motion. Careful attention is paid to the movement’s precision, power reserve, and the efficiency of its automatic winding, as well as its strength and endurance. So, the prototypes are methodically ‘tortured’ in our laboratory, subjected to magnetic fields, and shocks; they are shaken, heated in machines to check if they still wind up automatically and are still not affected by these disturbances. With other machines, the laboratory staff will measure the wear gear axles, check for constant rates of friction and how stable the lubrication is. An ultra-high-speed camera lets them see how operations that can last even less than a tenth of a second take place. This combination of internal – and occasional external – test operations will help in the fine-tuning and validation phases of the new movement. At this point, after 3 to 4 years, the work of the project manager is at an end.

From prototype to product

In these operations lies the great difference between an industrial product and a hand-made object. After validation of the prototypes, we will organize production of the movement. We need to determine rational production processes, the finishing, define tolerances. This means thinking through the sequence of manufacturing operations, the finishing and manual decoration of each component, defining them precisely and them into work plans. The workshop managers have to ensure that the people assigned to the production of parts and movements have the right skills to produce them to the quality standards we require. Then the instructions for making the components, as well as those for assembling the set must be thought through and written down. We also need to provide the tools needed, either by making them internally or sourcing them externally, put QA protocols in place, and plan the after-sales follow-up. The supply of raw materials, tools, machines and human resource capacity needed has to be planned and committed for the possible realisation of this new movement. Here also, it means a time phase of 1 to 2 years needs to be foreseen.

Exclusive development or customization, two solutions for fully customized movements

Some stages of the above processes take place almost simultaneously, via frequent interactions. This makes it possible to maintain a reasonable timespan for a movement development at between 2 and 6 years of work, depending on the complexity of the mechanisms to be designed. For watchmakers in a little more hurry, Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier offers its own, fully customizable calibres, up to the point of elaborating a movement that is entirely matched to the DNA of your brand. Worth bearing in mind….?