Part of what makes chronographs such fascinating mechanisms to collect is that they are a type of active complication. That is, it’s not passive, it’s not something that you simply stare at and appreciate, such as in the case of a moonphase or tourbillion. It is part of the reason why minute repeaters, while having relatively minimal practical or functional use today, are such incredibly wonderful complications to wear and appreciate – because you activate a lever and hear it chime. It brings one closer to the watch, closer to the watchmaker who conceived and birthed the design, and closer to a time when the watch was used for what it was designed for.
That’s why I believe chronographs, which are likely the most common type of complication outside of the date function, evoke such strong desire in collectors. It’s because we want to know what the pilot, artillery officer, doctor, or driver around the racetrack felt like when he wore that watch. We want to bring ourselves closer to that moment in history when there was a need to engage that complication, and begin timing an event – an event that was possibly of the utmost importance, whether racing around the track, taking the pulse of a patient, or knowing when to break formation in an airstrike. Really, in today’s world, there’s hardly a need to use that 50-70 year old mechanism on your wrist. But the fact that you can use it, and sometimes you actually do use it, makes a chronograph, perhaps subconsciously, one of the bastions of watch collecting.
…And lets face it – they look so damn cool on the wrist.
A Split-Seconds, or Rattrapante, is a complication that’s not only far rarer than a normal chronograph, it is one designed for specific incidences when a typical chronograph cannot suffice. Imagine if you need to time a sequence of sub-events that lie within an overarching event – lap timings in a race, coordinating a series of flight maneuvers… you need a complication capable of calculating split timings. Why not a split-seconds pocket watch? Because you not only need to time an event, you also need a means to coordinate. Hence part of the reason why split-seconds watches are so much rarer than your typical chronograph – it was not only an incredibly complicated mechanism to produce and service, but the occasions that required them were far more extraordinary than those requiring a simple chronograph. No one is sure of the exact number, but there’s likely not more than 500 vintage split seconds chronographs out there in the world today across the Venus and Valjoux families, and the very few from brands such Patek. That means that there was approximately one split seconds for every ~10,000 ordinary chronographs produced. And that’s one reason why it’s nigh-impossible to find ads for these chronographs, as compared to the relative ease of finding ads even for the rarer models of Rolex or Omega – it’s simply because they were not targeted at the mass consumer. These were not timepieces that attempted to market themselves as watches with a diving or astronautical heritage, to be sold to the customer who fancied himself as a diver or astronaut… these watches were sold or given directly to the people who needed them to do what they needed to do. You’d find that a large number of these complications were given to either military or racing personnel – simply because these professions needed the use of such a complication.
Here’s a watch that’s not like a Rolex 6263 or an Omega 2998. Here’s a mechanism that sits at the very top of the hierarchy of chronographs. Here’s a watch that contains, in every tick that goes by and that had gone by, a story… it is perhaps not a story known to us, because stories without audiences are lost to time, but you can be sure that someone, somewhere, had once used this watch for something that could not otherwise be accomplished, without the watch on his wrist. And that’s what makes collecting split-seconds a far more interesting journey than most other types of watches.
For a closer look at such a chronograph, take a look at one of our featured watches, by clicking here: https://mentawatches.com/product/tourneau-split-seconds-chronograph/