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An Icon of the Track

An Icon of the Track

By J. Heffner | @pinaplwtchs

The story of a nearly forgotten chronograph that remains a legend amongst enthusiasts

 Last year I published “Speed, Precision and One of Omega’s Greatest Terrestrial Timepieces”, a piece for the Craft & Tailored Journal. Among the racing-watch icons of the 20th Century discussed, the Chronostop is one I believe deserves a second look.

Omega is of course famous for their moon watch, period. As the moon landing went down in the history books as one of the most impressive feats of mankind, the timepieces worn by those astronauts launched to icon status in the watch world. It’s a marketing ploy still used to this day, and I could never imagine a day when Omega isn’t synonymous with extraterrestrial travel.

Still, we aren’t here to rehash the one-trick pony of Omega, but instead, our discussion will examine the first cousin of the legendary 42mm Speedmaster.

“The Speedmaster’s design remains an immovable object, left nearly untouched for half a century of consistent production by Omega, which has made it an incredibly recognizable watch. However, there are distant relatives within the Omega family that you’ve undoubtedly heard less about, but deserve your attention — like the Omega Chronostop. Even serious watch hobbyists and Omega fans may have seen a Chronostop and the real serious ones may even know a bit about its history, but when you dive into its quirks, it’s hard not to wonder why these watches aren’t more popular.”

- An introduction to the Chronostop

My affection for the Chronostop began years ago (admittedly when they were much more affordable), and I’ve yet to see the mainstream appeal that I feel these watches deserve. They’re an excellent buy for enthusiasts at all levels, represent some genuine history, and feature a complication often found in much pricier watches (especially from a luxury brand).

Today, consider this a chapter 2 of the Chronostop conversation - a brief yet informative reminder that some of the coolest vintage watches out there are still under the radar and readily obtainable.

Precise, Reliable, Innovative

The Olympics games are often marked with watches for the occasion, even to this day. In the watch world, different timepieces are noted as instrumental to the timekeeping and commemoration of these historic events. In 1964, it was Seiko’s 5717 reference, and in 1968, the Chronostop.

A phenomenal and early example of the ‘racing’ variant

Introduced by Omega in 1966, this model was aimed towards being a more affordable and fun chronograph with a market reach greater than that of the beloved Speedmaster. Sure, there are considerably different complications between the two, still, both are a part of the Omega chronograph family. Originally intended as the newest member of the Seamaster line, they quickly carved a corner for themselves in the back of Omega’s catalog.

The Chronostop’s design was undoubtedly futuristic at the time, and through today’s lens, it’s still retro. You may disagree, the combination of colors, font, and carefully finished shapes remind me of the Los Angeles ‘Googie architecture’ of the 20th Century.

My appreciation of the Chronostop’s innovation is far from singular. In 1967 it was awarded the top prize for a sports piece in the Fédération Horlogère Suisse competition. The following year it would become the official timekeeper of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, just one year prior to Omega’s trip to the Moon. This stretch of three years remains arguably the golden age of Omega sports watches.

In 1970, these watches were fitted with the Omega caliber 920 movement, a slimmed-down version of the venerable 861 caliber. These simplified chronograph movements lend themselves to the overall utility of the Chronostop.

The 865 caliber was also common in these pieces

Timing Meters, and Kilometers

The Chronostop’s reach as a sports watch wasn’t limited to the Olympics. Often, it was a choice piece for those in motorsports. Consider the utility of a 60-second chrono and a simple, purpose-driven design for someone in the cockpit of a race car.

Omega took the concept of utility one step further by introducing a variant where the dial is rotated 90 degrees. While this may be slightly annoying during everyday use, it made reading the time much easier at a glance as one’s hand is firmly grasped to a steering wheel. These were tools, meant for high visibility and ease of use, without a frill in sight.

In the late 1960s, you could track down a Chronostop for sale at a prestigious Türler boutique. Omega also produced a much rarer variant specifically for the Italian market that featured an integrated bracelet and rounded ‘UFO’ case. I feel this variant is the most beautiful, and simple of the lineup. Sure our tastes may differ, but that still doesn’t explain the lack of mainstream popularity behind these pieces.

I feel that the story of the Omega Chronostop is one that’s almost forgotten. This, however, doesn’t make its heritage any less impressive. While its design is polarizing, its history touches on much of what we value in the watch space - craftsmanship, speed, and the desire to innovate. With this I leave you with a quote from my article nearly a year ago that’s still just as relevant to the Chronostop conversation -

“Despite its impressive accolades and innovations, the Chronostop references remain orphan models relative to their space-bound cousins in the Speedmaster range. Understandably, we all know about the watch that went to the moon — it was an event that consumed the entire world. But that doesn’t justify how rarely we seem to discuss the stories behind the Omega timepieces that were tasked with remarkable terrestrial pursuits.”

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