chronographe suisse

“Le Chronographe De Poche Suisse”: an unprecedented work

The book references all watchmaking brands to have produced chronographs, namely 200 brands and it includes detailed presentations of 80 of them. A must-read.

By Laetitia Artal

Written by Joël Pynson, this book is the proof of his passion and extensive knowledge of the history of chronographs. It was introduced to the press and watchmaking aficionados at the MIH (Musée International d'Horlogerie) in La Chaux-de-Fonds, where "Chronométrophilia", an association of watch enthusiasts, has been based since its creation 40 years ago.

Le Chronographe de poche suisse

Chronométrophilia: historical publisher

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the association decided to publish and give away to its members this book instead of a December 2015 edition of its traditional newspaper. Derived from the Greek “Chronos” (god of time), “metro” (measurement) and “philos” (friend), "Chronometrophilia" was founded in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1975 by the same corporatist circle behind the watchmaking Museum in La Chaux-de-Fonds.

Le Chronographe de poche suisse

Since its inception, the association has had a panel of watch aficionados, watchmakers and even curators. Its aim is to gather experts and collectors and to foster the exchange of scientific, historical and artistic information related to watchmaking. All year round the association organizes thematic visits for its members coming from all around the world. They include visits to private collections, exhibitions, company tours and even trips abroad.

Chronographs over the years

This remarkable book travels through time and details the different stages of the evolution of chronographs. And so, it appears that the first chronograph was invented in the18th century, when scientists sought to achieve a high degree of precision in time measurement mainly for astronomical observations. The book lists the first systems that were programmed to calculate time lapses and proceeds to define, with examples, the difference between timers and chronographs. In addition, it goes over the creation of modern chronographs through the various inventions of famous watchmakers.

Le Chronographe de poche suisse

"With the documents we have today, it is safe to say that everything was set to create the first modern chronograph in 1861: Pouzait could stop and reset a seconds hand; Sarton could measure time lapses without stopping the watch; Moinet mastered resetting; Rieussec knew how to use an inking needle and even gave it a name; Perrelet could start, reset and overtake jumping hands; Jacob could craft split-second hands on ordinary watches; Winnerl could "catch up" thanks to a heart-shaped cam and Adolphe Nicole had designed and patented a single-pusher three-time chronograph system that Henri-Férréol Piguet was the first to produce".

1862-1890: The first Swiss chronograph manufacturers

This chapter explains the rapid interest the Swiss watchmaking industry expressed in the production of chronographs, a prestigious complication if ever there was one. The author also analyzes the reasons why this industry chose to produce such watches.

Le Chronographe de poche suisse

The 1890-1920: Chronographs in the industrial era

This period saw substantial changes in Swiss industrial production, mainly due to American competition. "There was significant demand for chronographs in various fields –military, sports, science and industry. As a result, they became much more accessible and started to be produced in mass. From then on, Le Locle, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Saint-Imier and the surrounding areas produced simple, functional and affordable pocket chronographs".

1920-2000: from pocket chronographs to the wrist-chronograph era

After World War One, the production of chronograph calibers stopped almost altogether. Only some prestigious brands such as Patek, Philippe et Cie and Vacheron Constantin continued to produce exceptional pieces for their fortunate customers. That is when wristwatches took over, whilst sports counters were produced until in the 1980s.

Le Chronographe de poche suisse

This chapter also focuses on anonymous chronographs. Joël Pynson was able to identify 62 and to find out where they were produced. For some of them, Pynson even identified the potential style of the watchmaker that produced them.

Other chapters are also filled with details about sports chronographs and Swiss watch schools. The book, one of a kind and complete in a way that is almost unheard of, deals with technical aspects in other chapters.

Le Chronographe de poche suisse

A particularly well-informed researcher and expert

Pynson is an ophthalmologist and biomedical researcher in Toulouse. He has been a fan of watches for more than 20 years and knows his ways around the Neuchâtel regions as he frequents the library of the study center at the "Musée International d'Horlogerie" (MIH). He has also met collectors in Europe and in the United States, as well as written numerous articles on the subject, which are published regularly, particularly on the internet.

To write his book and carry out the huge research it required, Pynson had the support of some people with a close connection to the Swiss watchmaking history. For example, there was Marco Richon, president of "Chronométrophilia", known for his books about Omega whose museum he curated for for several years. The historian was very helpful for the chapter about the role chronographs have played in sports timekeeping.

Le Chronographe de poche suisse

Jean-Michel Piguet, known for his expertise in history, is today still co-curator of the MIH. Former editor in chief of the "Chronométrophilia" bulletin, he has written numerous articles and books. For Pynson's book, he drafted a complete glossary of chronograph terminology. That was a first. Lastly, Antoine Simonin, former Director of the WOSTEP, now historian and publisher of watchmaking books, added his expertise in publishing and history to the technical horological advice the other gave. It should be noted that the undeniable quality of the photographs found in this book is also the result of a committed and passionate approach. Indeed, Pynson called upon the services of Michel Viredaz, vice-president of "Chronométrophilia", who applied subtle and meticulous treatments to the photographs.

"Le chronographe de poche suisse", by Joël Pynson

Editions Chronométrophilia www.chronometrophilia.ch

Distribution: Editions Simonin, Dombresson www.booksimonin.ch