It is unlikely that this debate will ever be resolved, just like most watchmaking discussions. No one can settle the debate but it is important to know what you’re getting into when you enter the world of chronographs.
To begin with, collectors do have a clear preference – call it bias if you will – towards integrated calibres. This is not due to any one reason, but the cost of developing a calibre completely from scratch does play a role. This may please collectors of means but it doesn’t mean everything created this way will be extraordinarily expensive. Rolex Omega Breitling Tudor are able to offer their integrated chronograph movement at attractive prices (despite the fact that they may not be available). In particular, the Rolex Daytona is popular because of its price-to value ratio. The so-called market price is always comfortably (or uncomfortable depending on your point-of-view) above the retail price. It is for this reason that we have opened the entire section of the Daytona. This chronograph, both new and vintage, may be the most desirable and valuable in the world.
Remember that the integrated chronographs can also be column wheel or cam-activated. You can find an example of a calibre for an integrated chronograph that uses a simplified chronograph mechanism in the Valjoux 7750 (another name). This calibre, like the legendary Lemania, uses a similar cam-lever system. Note that this is the precursor to the Omega Lemania movement, which was used on the moon.
What about the modular movement then? It also depends on the manufacturer of the calibre and the person who is making the most noise. Grand Seiko’s modular chronograph is perhaps the most significant in recent history. This is, of course, the Tentagraph, but this watch could change the minds of collectors. The watch joins TAG Heuer, Breguet and other brands with historical and modern models. Hublot, Grand Seiko and TAG Heuer are unlikely to share a space together, despite the fact that their brand names are close in alphabetical order. The only exception is the modular chronograph due to the HUB1242 in-house HUB movement launched in 2009. It was actually the last time that a modular clock sparked the interest of so many watch enthusiasts. Now, however, with the HUB1280 upgrade, few people are mentioning the modular construction. Another comparison that might be appropriate is the IWC Doppelchrono. This watch uses cams throughout and adds split seconds via a module. No one mentions the modularity here.
The most popular chronograph movements of today are integrated. The Rolex 4213, the Zenith El Primero as well as the Patek Philippe calibre CH29-535PS are all examples. Zenith actually went to the extent of developing a base mechanism from its El Primero which powers the Defy skyline today, for example. It’s an anomaly.
The primary difference between a mechanically integrated calibre and one that is modular is the way the chronograph feature is integrated in the overall movement. It is a matter of how the chronograph parts are positioned within the movement. In an integrated mechanical chronograph the chronograph feature is directly built into the base movement. The watch movement was actually designed as a chronograph. For example, where the fourth gear goes influenced the design. The chronograph components, such as the coupling clutch and reset mechanism, are fully integrated into the regular timekeeping component of the movement.
A chronograph module, which contains all the chronograph components, is added to the base movement in the modular system. This is similar to adding a calendar module to the base movement. Or, a module of a integrated chronograph could be added as 7750 is to 7751. The most important thing to remember is that modular refers to and means something different. In our Agenda article on chronographs (from which this story originated), we called the MT5813 caliber modular. It is indeed modular, but the chronograph in question is integrated. The chronograph module is usually identified by the placement of the chronograph gear train on the dial side. This allows for a less exciting caseback view. Caseback views can fool casual observers into thinking there are less parts than with an integrated chronograph.
As the chronograph modules need to communicate with the pushers, it is more likely that they will be positioned along a different direction than the crown. The crown will, of course be aligned to the main movement. The misalignment of pushers with the crown is a deal breaker. Once you notice it, you will be annoyed to no end. Tentagraph shows that the issue of alignment is not always present. The experts say that the modular chronographs tend to be thicker. You know the Lemania 7100 and calibre 7750 are not thin and chic.
This article was first seen on WOW’s Autumn #70 Issue.
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