A Tale of Two Rattrapantes

The Duality of Time: A Tale of Two Rattrapantes

Derived from French, “rattrapante” is interchangeable with “split-seconds chronograph” and is one of the most complex complications to create in watchmaking. Designed to measure intervals of time that begin at the same time but end at different times, split-seconds chronographs are extremely intricate and highly expensive.

By Roberta Naas
Special Correspondent

In the world of horology, where precision meets extreme function, the split-seconds chronograph stands as a testament to both innovation and purpose.

Often referred to by its French name, “rattrapante” (which essentially means “catch up”), these timepieces embody the pinnacle of mechanical engineering, offering a sophisticated solution for timing multiple events simultaneously.

A Brief History of the Rattrapante

The inception of the modern chronograph – much like a stopwatch – can be traced back to the 19th century, when Swiss horologist Adolphe Nicole made groundbreaking advancements and, in 1840, patented a mechanism that allowed users to reset the seconds hand to zero, laying the foundation for the three primary functions of the modern chronograph: start, stop, and reset.

However, it wasn’t until 1862 that Nicole, in collaboration with Henri Férréol Piguet, unveiled a chronograph capable of performing these functions without disrupting the timing mechanism.

The evolution continued, and eight years later, in 1870, Joseph Winnerl introduced the precursor to today’s split-seconds chronograph in a pocket watch. Winnerl’s innovation featured two seconds hands, stacked one atop the other – a concept that would revolutionize timing in various fields.

It was not until 1923 that the first rattrapante chronograph wristwatch was unveiled by Patek Philippe (that watch sold at an Antiquorum auction in 1999 for approximately $3 million).

Until 1992, most rattrapantes utilized two chronograph modules via a two-column-wheel system to operate the two hands. (Although it should be noted that, in 1992, Richard Habring developed a split-seconds mechanism that uses a lever and cam system and offers a somewhat more “attainable” price point.)

Understanding the Split-Seconds Chronograph a.k.a. the Rattrapante

Essentially, the term split-seconds chronograph can be a bit confusing, as the watch doesn’t actually split the seconds (beyond the 1/5th, 1/10th, or 1/100th-of-a-second that it is programed to time to) but splits the two seconds hands the watch is equipped with.

When the timing device of the chronograph is not in use, a second chronograph seconds hand is tucked beneath the upper, visible chronograph seconds hand. When the timing device is engaged, the two hands can split so they can act independently of one another – allowing for the timing of multiple events that start at the same time but have different durations.

The functionality of a split-seconds chronograph is a marvel of engineering. With one push button (typically located on the case at 2 o’clock), both hands start simultaneously, initiating the timing of multiple events.

The split-seconds (or lower) hand can be stopped independently with the press of another pusher even though the other hand continues timing, which enables the wearer to view the end of the first time (on the lower hand) and the end of the second ending time after they press a button to stop the second chronograph seconds hand. Another press of the extra pusher and the lower chronograph seconds hand that was stopped catches up to the upper hand that is still moving.

Only once the lower split-seconds chronograph hand and the upper main chronograph seconds hand are stopped can the entire mechanism be reset to zero.

The rattrapante is an extremely difficult movement to manufacture, with only a handful of the finest manufacturers capable of creating them – often with prices over $100,000. Because there is so much information being tracked, split-seconds chronographs are more often than not classic in looks, replicating old-world-style stopwatches. Conversely, though, some avant-garde brands prefer an extremely sporty design.

That is why, today, we’re taking a look at the intricacies of a classic rattrapante and a three-dimensional open-worked split-second chrono.

Parmigiani Fleurier Toric Chronograph Rattrapante

This year marked the return of the beloved Toric to the Parmigiani Fleurier lineup – with a decided contemporary yet elegant flair. The newest Toric Chronograph Rattrapante, crafted in 18-karat rose gold with a coffee-colored rose gold dial, is a study in refined classicism.

The 42.5mm case of this split-seconds watch houses the brand’s PF361 movement with a double column-wheel beats and integrated split-seconds chronograph. The watch boasts 285 individually hand-finished and assembled components and beats at a high frequency of 5Hz. It offers 65 hours of power reserve and one-tenth of a second precision.

Predominantly, the movement, which is visible via a transparent sapphire caseback, is made in 18-karat rose gold – a rarity in watchmaking. Additionally, Parmigiani Fleurier readily admits that this movement is more difficult to build than a tourbillon – making the rattrapante a highly coveted complication in the Parmigiani Fleurier lineup.

The aesthetics of this watch are equally as masterful as the movement. The coffee-colored rose gold dial is finished with an incredible hand-grained motif against which the applied indices offer a marked sophistication. The subsidiary dials are tone-on-tone, and the fluted bezel of this favorite collector’s series completes the evocative look.

Even the pushbuttons on the case are nicely integrated and rounded to avoid any harsh angles. The watch is finished with an alluring vintage-hued antique-white nubuck strap. Sadly, only 30 pieces will be made and each will retail for $145,200.

TAG Heuer Monaco Split-Seconds Chronograph

With its beloved auto-inspired Monaco watch series, first unveiled in 1969, TAG Heuer has regularly defied the boundaries of design and innovation. The square timepiece has always embodied the avant-garde ethos of the brand – and does so now more than ever with the new TAG Heuer Monaco Split-Seconds Chronograph made in honor of the 55th anniversary of this model.

Offered in blue or red editions, this remarkably advanced timepiece eschews the concepts behind “the classic look” in favor of sporty high-performance panache, all for only $138,000.

Built from grade 5 titanium and ultra-lightweight (totaling a mere 85 grams), the newest Monaco Split-Seconds Chronograph’s case is fused with a box-like sapphire crystal that allows for viewing of the movement thanks to the open-worked dial and skeletonization of the all-new TH81-00 mechanical split-seconds chronograph movement.

That 5 Hz movement, created in partnership with movement manufacturer Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier, is also crafted entirely in titanium and is one of the lightest automatic movements ever made by the brand. The movement and its finely finished oscillating weight and checkerboard center bridge are also visible via a sapphire crystal caseback.

While the blue version boasts a 41mm titanium case in its original hue, the red version features a 41mm black DLC (diamond-like carbon) coating. A tour around the dial showcases three counters: the minute chronograph counter at 3 o’clock, the seconds counter at 6 o’clock, and the hour chronograph counter at 9 o’clock. The applied indices are coated with white Super-LumiNova, as are the hour and minute hands.

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