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Should I run my chronograph all the time?

by J.Peter

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Monday Myth Running my chronograph all the time will cause it to wear out sooner. Is this true? Short Answer: No

There are many different kinds of chronographs: Quartz, Mechanical, Two function, Three function, Column Wheel, Cam, Sliding Clutch, Vertical Clutch, integrated, modular. What do they have in common? For all of them the answer is no, running your chronograph all the time will not cause it to wear out sooner.

A chronograph is a watch which has an additional complication which allows you to record elapsed time, usually by pressing a button to start the timer and to stop it.

ETA 251.272 ChronographThere are two basic quartz models of chronograph. One has 4 or 5 motors (one for the time of day, one for the seconds counter, one for the minute counter, one for the hour counter, and one for the division of seconds if equipped.) The second kind has a standard quartz movement with a mechanical module added on to the dial side of the movement adding the chronograph function. Running either of these all the time will cause your power cell to deplete faster but the forces are so small that the parts aren’t going to wear out any sooner because you are using them. These parts will need to be serviced the same time as the other quartz components.

Mechanical Chronographs have much greater forces throughout. The basic movement has a fairly large spring providing power to the gear train forcing it to rotate. When not properly lubricated and/or dirty these parts can be ground into nothing (see post on servicing). With each gear the forces are reduced. The chronograph mechanism is usually driven by the fourth wheel (whose forces are not terribly great) and as we continue through the chronograph mechanism the forces get smaller and smaller. When a watchmaker services these components he cleans and lubricates them in such a manner so that they should be able to run for 5 years without causing any wear (assuming the watch remains clean and dry). We apply the same principles to the chronograph section as we do to the regular gear train. Since the forces are smaller in the chronograph train it should be able to withstand the same period of service. When the chronograph is disengaged the wheels don’t turn (and therefore don’t have any chance of wearing) but when it is engaged they don’t turn any more than the base movement. Your base movement will begin to wear out or stop working well before the chronograph parts begin to wear.

With a vertical clutch chronograph like in Seiko chronographs or the Rolex 4130 the clutch actually slips when the chronograph is stopped, potentially causing this part to wear more when the chronograph is stopped than when it is running. This part is still designed to perform well for the same service interval as the rest of the movement.

The bottom line: Have your watch serviced every 5 years by a qualified watchmaker and nothing will wear out, chronograph or otherwise.

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