Chronograph vs. Chronometer: What’s the Difference?

Watches have come a long way from just telling time. They’re now useful tools and a way to make a style statement. Among the myriad of watch types available, chronographs and chronometers are two terms that often cause confusion among watch enthusiasts and novices alike. Even though they both start with the prefix “chrono,” they do very different things in the world of horology. In this article, we’ll explain the key differences between a chronograph and a chronometer, so you can understand their unique features and functions.


Chronograph: The Stopwatch on Your Wrist

A chronograph is essentially a multifunctional timekeeping device that combines the traditional watch movement with a stopwatch function. It allows the wearer to measure elapsed time with precision, making it a valuable tool for a variety of activities, from sports timing to aviation and even everyday use.

Key Features of a Chronograph:

  • Stopwatch Functionality: The primary feature of a chronograph is its ability to measure elapsed time with precision. It typically consists of two or three sub-dials on the watch face, each with its own hand. These sub-dials display seconds, minutes and hours.
  • Pushers: Chronographs have additional pushers or buttons on the side of the case. One pusher starts and stops the chronograph, while the other resets it to zero. This user-friendly design allows for easy and accurate timing.
  • Versatility: Chronographs are highly versatile and are used for a wide range of activities, including timing sports events, cooking, tracking exercise duration and much more.
Bulova Curv chronograph watch model 98A232
Bulova Curv Chronograph Leather Strap Watch 98A232

Chronometer: The Precision Timekeeper

A chronometer, on the other hand, is not about stopwatch functions but rather precision timekeeping. An official testing institute awards chronometer status to a watch that meets strict accuracy standards. In essence, a chronometer is a highly accurate timepiece that maintains consistent and precise timekeeping in various conditions.

Key Features of a Chronometer:

  • Precision Certification: To earn the title of “chronometer,” a watch must undergo rigorous testing and meet specific accuracy criteria set by COSC, the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres). These tests evaluate a watch’s performance in different positions and temperatures, ensuring it maintains accurate time. If a watch is awarded the certification, it is accurate to within +6 and -4 seconds per day.
  • Stable and Reliable: Chronometers are designed to provide reliable timekeeping, regardless of external factors. They are ideal for professionals who require accurate time references, such as pilots, navigators, and scientists.
  • No stopwatch: Unlike chronographs, chronometers do not necessarily have stopwatch functions or sub-dials. Their focus is solely on displaying the time accurately. A chronometer will usually also have the word chronometer marked on the dial.


Ball Engineer Master II Skindiver Heritage with blue dial and stainless steel bracelet model DM3308A-S1C-BE
BALL Engineer Master II Skindiver Heritage Blue Dial Chronometer watch model DM3308A-S1C-BE

Conclusion: The Difference Between a Chronograph and a Chronometer

The primary distinction between a chronograph and a chronometer lies in their intended purpose. A chronograph is a watch equipped with a stopwatch function, making it a versatile tool for measuring elapsed time. On the other hand, a chronometer is a high-precision timekeeping device that has undergone stringent testing to ensure it maintains consistent and accurate timekeeping.

When choosing a watch, it’s essential to consider your specific needs and preferences. If you require a stopwatch function for timing events or activities, a chronograph may be the better choice. However, if you prioritize precise timekeeping in various conditions, a chronometer-certified watch is the way to go. A watch can of course be a chronometer and a chronograph delivering both excellent timekeeping and have a stopwatch function. Ultimately, both chronographs and chronometers have their place in the world of horology, catering to different requirements up to professional standards.