The Switching Wheel – A Delicacy Inside The Chronograph

18. Mar 2022
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Wristwatches and especially those with stopwatches, the so-called chronographs, have been an integral part of the Erwin Sattler collection for some time now. After the development and presentation of the extremely exclusive Classica Secunda chronograph (with its functions controlled by a single pusher in the centre of the crown, positioned between the two lower horns of the case), a classic two-pusher chronograph was launched one year later. Called the “Chronograph Classica Secunda II”, it contained a finely refined automatic movement with a so-called chronograph cam control. By way of explanation, the cam controls all possible functions in stopwatches. Movements with this constructional solution are generally considered to be extremely functional and reliable. Developed from the idea of simplified production with safe function, they can be found in most chronograph calibres today and enjoy an excellent reputation.

However, a chronograph with control of its stop functions by means of a column wheel is both a visual and technical specialty. This component, also known as a column wheel, is identical in function and reliability to the version with a cam control, but is much more difficult to manufacture due to its complicated construction and the much smaller tolerances permitted. The wheel controls the functions “start”, “stop” and “zero setting” precisely, and addition stops (restarting the measuring process after it has stopped) are also possible. Not to be neglected, of course, is the visual appearance of a chronograph with a column wheel. Because of its upwardly projecting columns (usually between 5 and 9) and the flat ratchet wheel underneath, it is immediately apparent that the manufacturing process of such a chronograph is extremely elaborated and complicated. In earlier times, both columns and the ratchet wheel were independent, separate components; only in the more recent past production methods have allowed them to be made in one piece. In the new Erwin Sattler Chronograph II S, the ratchet wheel is visually accentuated by the blued wheel and the mirror-polished end faces of the columns, making it a highlight when looking through the glass of the case back. The true connoisseur, however, appreciates another peculiarity of the ratchet wheel chronograph, compared to the version with a cam, the feeling when pressing the two pushers. This process is much smoother, gentler and also requires less force, making the use of the stopwatch a real pleasure!

Blued column wheel
The Chronograph II S

Historically, all these facts originally go back to an invention by Nicolas Rieussec. In 1822, this Parisian watchmaker presented his first timewriter, literally translated as chronograph (formed from the Greek “chrónos” and “gráphein”) to the public. In fact, it was, in the truest sense of the word, a time writer. With the help of ink, the measured time was visibly recorded on the dial. Later, it became a common practice to call devices whose hands could be stopped to measure the time chronographs – and this is still the case today.


Later in history, in 1844, the Swiss watchmaker Adolphe Nicole developed the first chronograph in which it was possible to make the hands jump back to zero after a stop. The first use of heart-shaped discs made this function, which is taken for granted today, possible. Of course, there are many other skilled watchmakers who, in the later course of history, invented further details, improved them or made them ready for serial production. Still to be mentioned here, however, is the Breitling company, which has invented the first chronograph with control of the stop functions via two independent pushers. This development was introduced in the 1933s and made the above-mentioned addition stops possible for the first time. In this context, it is also worth mentioning that all early chronographs were of course equipped with the aforementioned column wheel. The variant with a chronograph cam mechanism was only introduced in various newer calibres from 1937 onwards, as a result of a development by the Dubois-Dépraz company.

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