Chronographs are very popular among watch enthusiasts. A remarkable number of these sporty watch icons have become true legends in the watch world. But with such a huge range of chronographs available on the watch market, which models stand out as particularly noteworthy? As hard as it is to select just a few examples from all the top-class options currently on the market, I’ll show you five of the best chronographs you can buy right now. Spoiler alert: I’ll be sharing one or two insider tips for references of watch models in high demand.
1. The Most Coveted Chronograph of All Time – Rolex Daytona
The going rate for a current stainless-steel model of the Rolex chronograph hovers around $53,000, making this iconic timepiece unattainable for most of us watch enthusiasts. But no article on the best chronographs would be complete without mentioning the Rolex Daytona. Setting aside the lengthy waiting lists and dramatic prices for a moment, I have to admit that I find the Rolex Daytona one of the most beautiful timepieces in the entire watch cosmos. Don’t you agree? What I particularly appreciate about this 40-mm chronograph is that Rolex has perfectly transported its legendary model into modern times without losing any of its iconic character. Thanks to the contemporary ceramic bezel and the polished surfaces of the case, bracelet, and clasp, Rolex’s flagship timepiece shines with new splendor.
If you prefer your watches a bit “toolier,” then you should check out vintage models from the last three decades. These still have the steel bezel and look a little less luxurious than the latest model. If you are open to the idea of two-tone watches, then the Rolex Daytona ref. 116523 could be a useful insider tip. Compared to other references, this version of the Rolex Daytona is still quite undervalued. With a little luck, you can get hold of one of these models for around $26,500 – at least, if you have that kind of cash on hand.
2. A Legendary Icon – Omega Speedmaster Professional
No other watch offers a greater and more exciting history than the Omega Speedmaster Professional. Even the legendary Rolex Daytona doesn’t quite measure up to the most storied chronograph of all time. Originally conceived as a racing chronograph, the Omega Speedmaster was chosen as NASA’s official watch in 1965. To this day, the “Speedy” is the only watch officially approved for extravehicular activities on space missions. The Omega Speedmaster Professional has seen countless great moments: astronaut Ed White wore an Omega Speedmaster during the first American spacewalk on June 3, 1965. When all systems failed during the famous Apollo 13 mission in April 1970, the chronograph was used as an emergency navigation tool and thus helped save the astronaut crew. For its contributions to space exploration, the Omega Speedmaster even received NASA’s “Snoopy Award.”
But the greatest Omega Speedmaster moment happened on July 21, 1969, when it became the first watch on the Moon thanks to Buzz Aldrin. Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon, had left his Omega timepiece in the lunar module to stand in for the on-board clock, which had broken. The current version of the Omega Speedmaster Professional is nothing less than a Speedmaster best-of, paying homage to its predecessors with details like the “Dot over 90,” the step dial, or the new bracelet. Today’s model is closer to the original than ever before and represents a true declaration of love from Omega to their legendary Moonwatch. With its extremely accurate co-axial movement and resistance to magnetic fields up to 15,000 gauss, the new METAS-certified version of the illustrious chronograph delivers in the technical department as well. And here’s a major bonus: while the Moonwatch is available to every watch lover without waiting lists, it is also extremely stable in value. For a watch of this kind, that’s hard to beat. Unlike the Rolex Daytona, you can claim this piece of watch history for just around $6,300. The only question that remains is: do you choose Hesalite or sapphire crystal?
3: The Daytona Twin – Zenith Chronomaster Sport
At first glance, it’s clear that Zenith has relied heavily on the Rolex Daytona for the design of the Chronomaster Sport. The overall look of the timepiece is so reminiscent of the legendary Rolex chronograph that you might even confuse them for one another. Notwithstanding the similarities, the Zenith Chronomaster Sport doesn’t really deserve its reputation as a Daytona homage. The watch is better described as an amalgamation of the best El Primero chronographs. Attentive watch enthusiasts will fondly recognize quite a few details that evoke earlier El Primero chronographs, which served as inspiration for the 2021 release of the Chronomaster Sport. And let’s be honest: if any luxury watch should be allowed to take design cues from the Rolex Daytona, then it should be Zenith. After all, Rolex used El Primero movements in their Daytonas until the late 1990s before ultimately switching to an in-house movement.
One of these legendary El Primero movements also powers the Zenith Chronomaster Sport. This top-class column-wheel chronograph caliber with automatic winding can measure 1/10 of a second. A sapphire crystal case back reveals the beautifully decorated movement within, offering a feast for the eyes. With prices ranging from $10,500 to $13,000, the Zenith Chronomaster Sport is a bit less accessible than the Omega Speedmaster. That being said, the modern Zenith Chronomaster Sport is undoubtedly one of the best chronographs on the market and probably the best Daytona alternative you can currently buy.
4. The High-End Chronograph – Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Chronograph
But the full splendor of this elegant timepiece unfolds before your eyes when you hold it in the sunlight. While the water resistance of 100 m (10 bar, 328 ft) and 65-hour power reserve are excellent features for a modern watch, these details fade to the background once you catch a glimpse of the beautifully decorated movement through the sapphire crystal case back. I’m certain this sight will put a smile on the face of every watch lover. With a price between $10,500 and $11,500, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Chronograph is a timepiece geared more toward experienced watch collectors. However, for this price you get a true high-end chronograph at a level of quality that would cost much more from brands like A. Lange & Söhne or Patek Philippe.
5. The Underestimated Chronograph Legend – Breitling Navitimer
Hardly any other luxury watch brand is likely to have as many top-class chronographs in its lineup as Breitling. But one thing is for sure: the most iconic of them all is no doubt the Breitling Navitimer. Originally launched in 1952 as a continuation of the Chronomat, the legendary chronograph has become an institution of the watch world. The name “Navitimer” already gives the game away: the famous pilot’s watch is more than just a chronograph that can display and stop the time. Rather, the Breitling chronograph functions as a true navigation device. The bidirectional rotating bezel doubles as a slide rule that can be used to perform a host of complicated calculations, such as fuel consumption, rate of climb or descent, and average speed.
Seventy years following the first release of the Breitling Navitimer, the bezel may be nothing more than a fun gimmick for most wearers today. Still, it is an indispensable part of the watch’s iconic design. Breitling has since expanded the offering of its landmark chronograph to include several sizes, meaning that there should be something to fit the needs of every watch enthusiast. Do you like your timepieces to have an uncompromising tool watch aesthetic? Then you should go for the 46-mm model. Are you looking for an everyday version of the famous chronograph that you can easily pair with any attire? Then the 43-mm variant could be just the thing for you. In terms of price, most watch enthusiasts should be satisfied as well: older models are available for as little as $5,300, while new models can be acquired for under $8,400. The Breitling Navitimer is a chronograph with a long history as well as an iconic design and is very likely the most famous pilot’s watch of all time.