We’re right in the middle of this year’s Olympics in Rio, a spectacular celebration of sports and international relations. Watches and timing are intrinsically linked, with winning margins potentially coming down to the tiniest fractions of a second. As such, accuracy and precision are vitally important to determine who will be taking home the gold medal. Today, we will take a look at sports watches and their relationship with the Olympics.
The official timekeeper of the Olympics is Omega, a brand steeped in history and heritage. Their involvement in the games can be traced back all the way to 1932, where they used split-second mechanical stopwatches for their timing. It didn’t take much longer for technology to advance, with electronic timekeeping making its debut at the 1948 Winter Olympics. The accuracy of measurement has increased significantly over the years, with modern Omega timing equipment able to measure down to a single millionth of a second. One of our favourite Omega's in stock is this commemorative piece made to celebrate the XVI Olympics in Melbourne, 1956.
Whilst a modern Olympic standard timing system is not something that could ever be practically used in a wristwatch, you can have the same movement concept as the early days of the Games. A split second chronograph (also referred to as Rattrapante) is a visually impressive complication, allowing the user to measure an interval whilst the main chronograph is still running (i.e creating a “split” in the timing). Rattrapante chronographs are noticeable for having an extra pusher in addition to the usual chronograph pushers. One great example of a Rattrapante chronograph is this IWC Portugieser.
You might remember the heroics of Ben Ainslie and the Team GB sailing squad at the 2012 London Olympics. There is another subset of watches designed specifically for sailing called regatta chronographs. These are designed for the unusual format of yacht racing. Typically, there will be an agreed countdown before the start of a race (for example, five minutes). The yachts must not cross the start line before this countdown is complete, so if you can accurately time the countdown, it’s possible to gain an advantage by crossing the start line precisely at the end of the countdown. Rolex’s Yacht-Master II is an excellent example of a watch that can take advantage of this, and is technologically advanced enough to program in a specific countdown (a first for a mechanical sports watch).
If timing down to a fraction of a second is more your cup of tea, then there is no finer mechanical choice than Zenith’s famous El Primero. This legendary chronograph movement is high-beat, with the watch ticking ten times every second (or 36000 times per hour). That means the chronograph function is accurate to a tenth of a second, most impressive for a mechanical watch. We love this triple calendar variant, an exceptional level of complication for the money.