How to Read and Use Chronograph Watch Complications

That flashy new chronograph on your wrist does more than tell time. Its intricate scales and subdials can track speed, distance, heart rate, and more. But without knowing how to use these complications, your watch is missing out on its full potential. This guide will teach you to unlock all the unique functions of your chronograph watch, so you can time events and track vitals like a pro.

What is a Chronograph Watch?

A chronograph watch is a timepiece with stopwatch capabilities built right in. Chronographs allow you to precisely time events and record elapsed time with the push of a button. Initially used for auto racing, today, you can buy modern chronographs from watch brands worldwide for sports, navigation, and everyday use. The defining feature is the stopwatch function, controlled by pushers on the case.

Reading the Chronograph Dial

When you first look at your modern chronograph watch, the intricate display of subdials and scales can seem confusing. But reading the chronograph dial is easy once you know what each component does.

The main dial with the watch hands displays the regular time. The smaller subdials are for the chronograph (stopwatch) functions. Here’s a quick guide to decoding them:

  • Seconds Subdial: This measures elapsed seconds when you start the chronograph. The hand makes a full rotation every 60 seconds.
  • Minutes Subdial: Tracks the elapsed minutes while the chronograph is running. The hand moves slower and makes a full rotation every 60 minutes.
  • Hours Subdial: Records cumulative elapsed hours when the chronograph is active. Depending on the watch, the hand completes one full rotation every 12 or 24 hours.

Reading these subdials together gives you the total elapsed time measured by the chronograph stopwatch. With some practice, you can quickly read the various dials and record events down to the second!

The next key to mastering your chronograph watch is learning to use the chronograph function. Let’s move on to starting, stopping, and resetting the stopwatch.

Using the Stopwatch Function

Now that you know how to read the chronograph dials, it’s time to put them into action with the stopwatch function. Starting, stopping, and resetting the chronograph is easy once you know the right buttons to press.

Most modern chronographs have pushers at the case’s 2 and 4 o’clock positions. The pusher at 2 o’clock starts and stops the chronograph. Press it once to start timing, and press it again to stop.

The 4 o’clock pusher resets the chronograph and returns all the hands to zero. After you’ve stopped the timing, press this reset pusher to ready the chronograph for the subsequent measurement.

Here are a few tips for accurately using the stopwatch:

  • Make sure to start timing from a standing zero position. Reset after each use.
  • When stopping, read the accumulated time right away before resetting.
  • Practice with a known timed activity like a minute of jumping jacks to get the hang of starting, stopping, and resetting.

With some hands-on experience, using the chronograph stopwatch function will become second nature.

Decoding the Outer Scales: Speed, Distance, and Heart Rate

In addition to the stopwatch function, chronograph watches have outer scales that provide even more utility for timing and tracking. Here’s a quick guide to using them:


The tachymeter scale lets you easily measure speed based on travel time over a fixed distance. Start the chronograph when beginning travel, stop it at the end, and read the speed on the tachymeter scale with which the second hand aligns.


The telemeter scale helps calculate the distance to an event like lightning or artillery fire. Start the chronograph when you see the event, stop it when you hear the sound, and the telemeter will display the distance in kilometers.


A pulsometeruses a chronograph to check heart rate quickly. Start the timer and count 15 heartbeats. Stop it and read your BPM on the pulsometer scale.

With practice, you can leverage these scales to calculate speed and distance and monitor your heart rate on the fly with your chronograph watch.


A chronograph watch places impressive timing capabilities right on your wrist. While originally created to precisely time auto races, these functional complications now accompany everyday life. So unlock your chronograph’s full potential. Time activities down to a split second, calculate speed and distance and monitor your heart rate. With practice, your chronograph won’t just impress – it will make you faster, more efficient, and better informed in everything you do.