Here at EWC we have the opportunity to examine a diverse range of watches at various price points. While many brands have access to some of the conventional chronographs, in addition to carrying those, the EWC team gets to handle some of the most exclusive and rare chronographs in the industry. Whether you yourself are in the market for one of these higher-end products, or you merely are interested in admiring the art of high horology, today we are going to examine several of the most exceptional chronographs that we have handled. Enjoy!
A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Rattrapante Honeygold 425.050
A large part of the success of Lange is owed to their mastery of manually wound chronographs. While the Datograph is the most popular and the 1815 is the most affordable (albeit still over 50k), one of the lesser known options is the 1815 Rattrapante Honeygold, reference 425.050. Released in a limited production run of only 100 examples as part of the “Homage to F.A. Lange” collection, the 1815 Rattrapante is the only split seconds chronograph the brand has produced without other complications.
Unique aesthetics abound, from the black dial, to the unconventional movement finishing style with a blasted surface finish rather than Glashütte stripes. The gilt handset and case in contrast with the black dial help to cultivate a warmth and a vintage aura that none of the other references quite have. This piece gives a glimpse into the boutique style of finish found on Lange watches, the pinnacle of high horology chronograph production.
Patek Philippe 5270P-014 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
It’s difficult for a watch to follow the Lange 1815 Rattrapante, but the Patek Philippe 5270P gives it a run for its money. The most recent reference in the line of legendary perpetual calendar chronographs, the 5270 features an in-house manually wound movement and all the beauty that affords. Over 450 parts have been meticulously hand finished, and thankfully, this watch has no automatic winding capacity, meaning that enthusiasts can enjoy an unobstructed view of the gorgeous movement.
In addition to the noteworthy caliber CH 29-535 PS Q, this reference has a beautiful fumé green dial, tapering from a rich green at the center to near black at the outskirts. This approach to dial finish is relatively new for Patek Philippe, yet it feels at home alongside the intricacy of the movement. When I first heard that Patek had created a fume dial, I was concerned that it would distract from the movement, but after seeing the photos and then handling the watch, my concerns were quickly assuaged. This is a high class piece and it is perfectly executed for a modern collecting audience.
Patek Philippe 5172G
Following up with yet another Patek (it’s difficult to limit it to only one), the 5172G is a vintage homage to early design details from Patek Philippe. A salmon dial, syringe hands, applique Arabic numerals, subsidiary dials finished with concentric snailing, and a stepped case, all converge to create one of the most visually appealing chronographs on the market (of course this is subjective, but I’m speaking for myself). Looking at this piece, you begin to appreciate that high end watchmaking (say in the 50k+ price segment), is all about the details. The way a stepped case is finished, the numeral and handset choice, the dial color, etc., all play pivotal roles in the way that the watch presents itself. In this case, we have a modernized 41mm case proportion and a classic dial aesthetic.
Within the 5172G is the manually wound caliber 29-535 PS (note the same base as the perpetual calendar chronograph — the “Q” on the 5270 refers to quantieme for perpetual calendars). While in this configuration the movement has a bit less depth, it’s nonetheless a show stopper. I personally believe that the 5172 is one of Patek’s greatest contemporary releases, and hope they continue to create these traditional vintage inspired designs.
F.P. Journe Octa Chronographe Ruthenium Edition
A discontinued chronograph from F.P. Journe, the Octa Chronographe Ruthenium Edition is one of Journe’s most subtle designs. The dial is well balanced between the time and the chronograph functionalities, and a date is presented towards the top of the dial. This particular variant of the celebrated model is especially valuable, with ruthenium coated dials and movement, limited to only 99 pieces. The Octa Chronographe was Journe’s first chrono (later replaced by the Centigraphe), but it is one of the best manifestations of Journe’s design available within his collections. It’s a shame this model is no longer made today.
For this list of high end chronographs to be complete, we would need to include a Journe, and in my opinion, this is the best Journe chronograph. The combination of the ruthenium’s gray with the white dials and black strap is elegant, refined, and dressy. This is everything you could possibly want in a chronograph plus more.
Rolex Daytona “Leopard”
The ref. 116598 SACO “Leopard” Daytona is one of the boldest models the brand has ever created, with a bezel featuring 36 cognac-colored sapphires, diamond hour markers, and an unusually striking leopard-patterned dial and leather strap. Each end link is set with 24 diamonds in an attempt to replicate the aesthetic of a leopard claw. The case is made from solid gold further contributing to the piece’s heft and presence on the wrist. The resulting Daytona was produced in extremely limited quantities and offered exclusively to top collectors of the brand. With its avant-garde design and extreme rarity, the Leopard has become a fan favorite among Rolex enthusiasts.
The “Leopard” Daytona is not for everyone. The model demonstrates the second path that watches may take to achieve six figure status (gemstones). A gem-studded statement piece with incredibly limited production is a winning recipe for collectors. Regardless of your taste, the exclusivity of watches like these makes them quite desirable in the pre-owned market.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph LeBron James
A special edition from Audemars Piguet in honor of legendary basketball player, the Offshore Chronograph LeBron James Edition has to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing combinations of tones on any sports watch. A gray dial and strap are contrasted with a rose gold mid case and hour markers. The look is so crisp and clean, it looks interestingly dressy in spite of its massive presence. One chronograph pusher on this piece is diamond-studded, a feature quite uncommon.
There’s a consistent interplay between sport construction and luxury finish that blend together on this watch. On the one hand, you have the overbuilt aesthetic, sports DNA, and large proportions. On the other hand, the watch is precious metal, has diamonds, and is startlingly well finished. Sometimes when brands experiment with these types of combinations it works well, other times it fails. This is one of the times it works well. In fact, it works quite well.
F.P. Journe Centigraphe Souverain Boutique Edition
Next up is a watch with one of the best combinations of colors in the game, the Journe Centigraphe Souverain. Specifically, this boutique edition couples a rose gold case with a pure black dial. To top it all off, a warm brown band pulls together all the hues from across the watch.
The Centigraphe emerged from a challenge from then director of Ferrari Jean Todt, who was searching for a chronograph capable of timing down to the level of precision needed for motor sports. After years of development, Journe introduced the Centigraphe, which could record in intervals of 100ths of a second. No one had ever seen a watch like this, and while every edition is quite scarce, the boutique special edition pictured here is one of the most desirable variants ever produced.
Rolex “Big Red” Daytona 6265
The Daytona’s reputation precedes it. This reference, in particular, is especially coveted by diehard collectors. Made back when the Daytona was hand-wound, the just less than 38mm masterpiece is named for the large lettering “Daytona” above the six o’clock written in bold red. This example is especially beautiful, with its darkened subdials popping out of the slate steel colored dial.
This reference made a number of upgrades that helped solidify the Daytona’s position as a true sports piece. With the 6265, Rolex returned to screw-down pushers, a steel bezel inscribed with the tachymeter scale, and a twinlock or triplock crown for added dust and water protection. Within the 6265’s steel case beat a Valjoux caliber 727, used until 1987. The 6265 captures the aesthetics of early Rolex chronographs during a pivotal point in the evolution of the Daytona as a model line and an icon.