Is It Bad To Run A Chronograph Complication All The Time?

Rob S. from Murrieta, California USA asks:

I have several Chronograph watches (both quartz and automatics). Is there any caveats keeping the chronograph running 24/7? Thank you and love your site.

James L. says:

Excellent question! One I suspect many chronograph wearers don't know the answer to, as it can easily slip under the radar.

In regards to mechanical timepieces (manual winding or automatic), all you need to know is that a chronograph function is a type of complication, which of course draws its power from the mainspring in the movement via an escapement. If you run the chronograph a lot, it will draw down the power reserve of your mainspring more quickly than if it isn't engaged. On a manual winding watch, this is more noticeable outright, whereas the perpetual motion of your wrist on an automatic would be less so. However, if you leave a fully wound automatic piece with the chronograph engaged in a static position, you will notice a similar draw down in power more quickly than if the chronograph wasn't running.

Wear-and-tear on the internal components would similarly be sped up - but unless you were truly running it ALL the time, I doubt it would make a huge difference in your normal service intervals. Best to check with the manufacturer of your timepieces to get the recommended service schedules if you haven't already. Chronographs are, after all, tool watches, and provided they are quality timepieces to begin with, they are designed to be worn and used - so use them!

With regard to quartz, the answer is similar - there would be a similar draw-down on power from the battery, but probably negligible depending on the timepiece and grade of the battery. Moving components might also require more frequent lubrication if the chronograph function was perpetually engaged.

*It is important to note that the above answer is intended for modern chronographs. Vintage watches can have age-related wear-and-tear issues which could affect the operation of the timepiece if it hasn't been properly serviced and restored.

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  • This answer is incorrect. Running a mechanical chronograph all the time will not reduce the power reserve of the watch. It will drag the amplitude of the balance down which may affect the time-keeping. In a quartz watch, like those powered by say, the ETA 251.272, running 24/7 will half the battery life.

  • This answer is incorrect. Running a mechanical chronograph all the time will not reduce the power reserve of the watch. It will drag the amplitude of the balance down which may affect the time-keeping. In a quartz watch, like those powered by say, the ETA 251.272, running 24/7 will half the battery life.

  • Oklahomaultrarunning

    I’m glad that I read this before I asked a similar question regarding mechanical / automatic chronographs. I wear a Timex digital chrono that has 100 lap / 100 hour feature.
    Last week while recording laps, I got to 60 , ( total elapsed time was about 24 hours) but then forgot about the watch.and chrono in ON position. When I checked it tonight, the watched recorded a 61 lap with elapsed time of 75 hr + mm for a total elapsed time of 99:59:59.
    I wondered about a tuning fork watch, or a watch that winds by wearing movement.

  • JackForster

    If the question is about mechanical chronographs then the answer, is, “it depends.”  Generally speaking running any complication that draws power from the same mainspring that powers the timekeeping train will reduce balance amplitude –sometimes enough to affect rate stability.  It may also produce excessive wear depending on the construction of the chronograph.  A traditional lateral-clutch chronograph has tooth profiles on the coupling and chronograph wheels designed to optimize speed of engagement, but it’s a triangular tooth profile not intended to run constantly (going train teeth usually have what’s called an epicycloidal tooth profile, or some modern variation, designed to let the teeth engage each other with rolling rather than sliding friction.)  Vertical clutch chronos are generally thought to not have these problems, although some watchmakers dislike _any_ friction-coupled mechanism in a watch on principle and I’ve heard some say that the chronograph seconds hand can actually drift if you let it run for long enough.  Some traditionalists don’t care for vertical clutch chronos on aesthetic grounds as well –they are generally less fun to watch in action –and on, as it were, moral grounds, as the spring-actuated clutch is generally something that is replaced rather than serviced.  The latter is perhaps less compelling an objection; parts are often replaced at service.

  • GalaxyGuy

    I have a related question, and thought maybe it would be appropriate to post it here.  Is it bad for a mechanical watch to run the chronograph until it reaches it’s last recordable time?  That is, if I have a chronograph that only has a 30 minute totalizer –let’s fantasize that it’s an ALS white gold chrono 🙂 –, is it harmful to the watch to run it for the full 30+ minutes it would take for the chronograph to reach the maximum time that it can measure?  Thanks in advance for your replies!

  • GalaxyGuy There’s no problem at all, any more than there would be a problem with letting the minute hand on a watch go around more than once 😉 .  With respect to the original question, the main issue with letting a chronograph run 24/7 is that in a traditionally designed, lateral clutch chronograph, turning on the chronograph will cause a drop in balance amplitude –this isn’t an issue if the watch is more or less fully wound, or if it’s an automatic with a full power reserve but I suppose it’s possible in theory that you might notice an effect on timekeeping as the power reserve runs out.  One of the supposed advantages of a vertical clutch system is that the difference in power required from the mainspring is much less, chrono off vs. on, than in a traditional lateral clutch system; some people object to the vertical clutch on aesthetic grounds though (certainly, the older, lateral coupling system has charm, history, and visual appeal on its side.)  The teeth on the coupling and chronograph wheels (gears) on a traditional lateral clutch system aren’t really optimized for long term running either –they’re a different shape than teeth in the timekeeping gear train (going train) as they’re optimized for faster, smoother engagement of the going train with the chronograph train rather than for minimizing friction.

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  • tknospdr

    I just got a Planet Ocean Chrono and the instructions from Omega say that you can use the chrono as a secondary time zone. I’m guessing from this that there is little worry about running it 24/7. As such I’ve been running mine for the past 4 days and it’s still only gaining about 1 second per day.