Montblanc Celebrates 200 Years of the Chronograph With an Homage to the Very First One

·2-min read
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Two hundred years ago today, in 1821, at the horse races in the Champ de Mars, Paris, French inventor and clockmaker Nicolas Rieussec, one of the official watchmakers to King Louis XVIII, won the approval for a rather nifty new invention. Fortunately, the French Academy of Sciences, to whom Rieussec presented the machine a month later, decided to name it following scientific convention, otherwise today, you might be wearing a horseometer or maybe a chevalomètre on your wrist. Rieussec’s invention was conceived to time racehorses, you see, at a time when the sport was hugely popular among the nobs of Paris.

He succeeded in creating a clock that would track the times of all the horses in a race using ink dots drawn on revolving paper disks, one recording minutes and the other seconds. He called it a chronometer at first but the Academy of Science quickly dubbed it a chronograph from the Greek words kronos (time) and graphein (to write). The name stuck, and it dawned quickly on all that the scientific (and sporting) applications to which a reliable time recorder like this could be put were innumerable. But it was not until the arrival of a different kind of horsepower—the motor car—that the chronograph really came into its own; it has largely been associated with timing racing cars ever since. By recording the times on separate discs, Rieussec pretty much defined the look of all chronographs from then on.

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Watchmaker Montblanc has an ongoing infatuation with the achievements of Rieussec, paying regular homage to the pioneer with a series of special haute horlogerie editions in his name and made at its Minerva manufacture in the Saint-Imier valley close to watchmaking’s mecca, the Jura mountain town of La Chaux de Fonds. To celebrate the bicentenary of the chronograph, the maison has just introduced the Star Legacy Chronograph Limited Edition in white gold. A three-dimensional dial mimics the discs of Rieussec’s original machine, with revolving sub-dials moving past fixed pointers. The monopusher device which controls the chronograph function is at 8 o’clock. Elsewhere the time, including a second time zone, is displayed on a domed dial decorated with suitably retro roman numerals.

A historic limited edition with this degree of finish could easily be priced in five figures, yet as with other watches from the Montblanc stable, this one is not unreasonable. To a passionate collector of chronographs, it could well be fair game.

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