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Watch Education What is a Rattrapante Chronograph?

A common watch function, particularly found on a sports watch, is the chronograph. Today, a chronograph is associated with being a stopwatch, allowing you to start timing an event, stop and repeat. There are many different uses for a chronograph, including recording one’s pulse and calculating distance.

Rattrapante Chronograph

One word often seen in relation to chronographs is rattrapante. What you may not know is what this means in relation to your chronograph.

What is a rattrapante? It is another way of calling something a split seconds chronograph, but not to be confused with a fly-back chronograph. This means that you are able to time two intervals at at time. The word rattrapante is a french word, deriving from rattraper, which means to catch up or recapturing. In appearance, a split-seconds chronogaph is only slightly different from a single chronograph.

A distinctive feature seen on the rattrapante chronograph is the two sweeping seconds hands, stacked on top of each other until split.

Using a Rattrapante

When you activate a typical chronograph, the sweep hand tracks elapsed times adding up the minutes. What if you wanted to precisely time intermediate events but still keep track of an overall elapsed time? Rather than having multiple chronographs, this is where the rattrapante comes in. It times the same event that begins at one time but does not finish together.

Activating the chronograph begins the sweeping hands in tandem. Once the first event happens, you’ll use a pusher to stop one hand while the other continues tracking the overall time. At this time you record the time and push the button again to make the stopped hand catch up to the running hand. From here, you would repeat until your events are tracked and the overall time is finished.

Until the hands are stopped and split they run together, thus giving the name split-seconds or rattrapante. In many models, the two hands are differentiated by different tail shapes or colors.

Brief History of the Rattrapante

In the mid-1800’s, Adolphe Nicole invented a chronograph function that was able to be re-set, allowing for successive measurements. From this point, Patek Philippe created a split seconds chronograph that took 20 years to complete production and sell, from 1903 to 1923. This was not only the smallest at the time, but it was most likely the earliest known split seconds wristwatch, they had already been in pocket watches.

Prior to 1992, the split-seconds mechanism was operated with two column wheels, essentially two chronograph modules in one. This created an expensive and had to regulate movement. This all changed at Baselworld when IWC released the Pilot Doppelchronoraph designed by Richard Habring. He designed the split-seconds mechanism above the Valjoux 7750 movement to be operated by a lever-and-cam system. This can be seen by the additional pusher found at 10 o’clock, which splits the sweeping hands.

Modern Models

Today, you’ll find more and more brands producing rattrapante chronographs. While they may take on other names, such as double chronograph, doppelchronograph or split seconds, they all feature the same unique second chronograph hand. Some brands choose to use modified movements while other brands take the design in-house.

Omega De Ville Co-Axial Rattrapante

This complicated Omega Co-Axial Chronometer has incredible presence on the wrist. The watch was released in 2008 and was a departure from the typical Omega lineup. This watch features three chronograph pushers, with the usual chronograph start/stop and reset at 2 o’clock and 4 o’clock with the rattrapante pusher found at 10 o’clock.

The watch features a rattrapante, chronometer and is a co-axial movement. There is a unique style to the watch, sometimes known as the Chronoscope style by Omega enthusiasts. There are overlapping chronograph registers as well as a multi-date window. Watch our full video review for complete details on this Omega De Ville Rattrapante!

Panerai Luminor 1950 Rattrapante Titanio PAM 427

In 2012, Officine Panerai released the PAM 427, Luminor 1950 Rattrapante Titanio celebrating the Transat Classique. Panerai has been a long timer promoter of sailing and this timepiece represents their 2012 partnership. The watch is a limited edition of 500 pieces and features the Transat Classique 2012 engraving on the caseback.

The rattrapante features a vertical clutch and twin column wheels, found on the caliber P.2006. Rather than being a 3-pusher rattrapante, there are two pushers at 8 o’clock and 10 o’clock; labeled C and R respectively. The first hand is controlled by the button at 8 o’clock while the second is controlled by 10 o’clock.

IWC Double Chronograph Edition Antoine de Saint Exupery IW3718-08

IWC is no stranger to aviation-related timepieces, and this Antoine de Saint-Exupery Pilot’s watch is no exception. IWC collaborated with the Antoine de Saint-Exupery Youth Foundation to honor the author of The Little Prince.

The watch is the only rattrapante in the pilot’s watch line, making it even more unique than just it’s tobacco brown dial and engraved caseback. The rattrapante seconds hand is finished with a red tip to help differentiate the hands. Just like the Omega, this watch features 3 pushers with the one at 10 o’clock stopping the second chronograph hand. Watch our full review for complete details on this limited edition timepiece!

A. Lange & Sohne 1815 Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar

The perpetual calendar split-seconds chronograph is considered the ultimate combination of complications even through it may not be the most complicated (such as minute repeaters or tourbillons). At SIHH in 2013, A. Lange & Sohne released the 1815 Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar. It is a traditionally styled watch and features blue steel and rose gold chronograph hands.

The caliber L101.1 powers this watch with over 630 individual pieces and two individual column wheels for the chronograph and rattrapante. Unlike other complicated watches in the Lange catalog, the Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar sits at 14.7mm thick. This watch was released in both platinum and rose gold.

Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph 5204P-001

A combination not often seen (but seen here from two different brands) is a perpetual calendar double chronograph and yet, Patek Philippe makes it look flawless and easy. The 5204 replaced the 5004 in 2012 after it had been in production for about 15 years. With the 5204 taking over, the case size did get slightly larger, 36.7 to today’s 40mm. This opens up the dial and is a reasonable modern size.

The 5204 is powered by the CHR 29-535 PS Q movement beating at 28,800 vph, built in-house. The split-seconds chronograph system underwent a change in this new movement. A “swan-neck” isolator system controls the split seconds hand which allows it to move quickly in both directions as opposed to the previous “octopus wheel” turning unidirectionally with a bulkier isolator wheel spring. In 2016, the watch was released in rose gold.

About Emily Smith
Emily loves the history of watches and loves learning how they work. While she enjoys the look of vintage watches, she is excited to learn about new models and to build her collection.

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