If they could have any, I mean ANY super power from the Marvel or DC Universe, most guys end up going with Superman. Because unless you’ve got a super soaker full of Kryptonite irradiated spring water, his power pretty much trumps everyone else. Batman? He’s just a psychotic rich guy in fetish gear with cool toys. His Bat ass would be and has been indubitably kicked in every one of their encounters. Wolverine, Adamantium claws and bad attitude ain’t gonna do dick against Kal-El. Sorry bub. But there’s a downside to being Superman. Imagine having to control yourself all the time lest you wreak spontaneous destruction on mankind. Sneeze too hard and a building comes down. High five someone too forcibly and they’re in the ER needing reconstructive surgery. And let’s not even get into the implications related to sex. Seriously. It’s enough to give you, super hero or not, a nervous frickin break down. Because let’s face it the joy of being human is being able to cut loose every once and a while. Drink a little too much tequila, wear a festive sombrero, go a little nuts and participate in some super regrettable behaviour. Why the hell not? Shee-iiit. Even the Amish have Rumspringa. Superman? Rumspringa he has not. I’d be a nervous wreck.

Ask me the same question and I’d take Barry Allen aka The Flash’s super speed abilities. High school PE? You could eat a slice of pizza while playing dodge ball and still decimate the biggest gym class bullies. “Feel my wrath beeyatches.” In fact with a modicum of training you could parlay your ability straight to innumerable tennis Grand Slam victories or even being world’s greatest boxer. Cause aint no body’s gonna hurt what they can’t touch. Cue Hammer dance.  Or if you’ve got any musical inclination at all imagine the guitar solos you could rock. In-cen-di-ary. And in your downtime you can still chill on your couch watch Star Trek Discovery Uber eats Korean fried chicken and drink beer all weekend long wearing a flannel onsie printed with cats. Because you cause choose when and if you want to be fast. You’re the master of speed and time.

Mastering Continuum: The Split Seconds Chronograph

Close to super human in ability, in the watchmaking world there is one complication that gives mankind the greatest empowerment over time and that is the Split Seconds Chronograph. But hang on. A split seconds chronograph is not as name implies a timepiece that shatters the second down into fractions. Basically any chronograph beating from 2.5 Hertz good for 1/5th of a second to 5 Hertz, which divides down to 1/10th of as second will already achieve this for you. What a split second chronograph does it allows you to stop and record an intermediate time or lap time. And yes like a lot of the major accomplishments related to high watchmaking it came about from the aristocracy’s dissolute penchant for gambling. Specifically horse racing and the need to record lap times.

OK to understand what a split seconds chronograph does, we first need to understand how a normal chronograph functions. A chronograph is essentially a second gear train that rides on top of the time telling mechanism. In most chronographs the wheel that drives the continuous seconds indication is fitted to an axis with a second wheel up top that drives the chronograph. This engagement can be switched on and off like a clutch. When it’s switched on it engages the chronograph seconds wheel that’s located dead center and attached to that big ass seconds hand on the dial.

First Apart, Then Together Again

An extra pusher on the left side of the case is the first clue to identifying a split seconds chronograph
An extra pusher on the left side of the case is the first clue to identifying a split seconds chronograph

When the chronograph is activated the chronograph seconds hand starts to spin around the dial. In turn, it drives a minute counter, which in turn drives an hour counter (if one exists). So, on the dial side of a watch this means when you start the chronograph all this info gets set into action. When you stop it checking the big seconds hand and where is sits relative to the small divisions on the dial will give you a reading of seconds and fractions of a second. The minute counter also called a totalizer will total the number of minutes that have elapsed. You get the picture. It’s a stopwatch function in your wristwatch.

Not one central chronograph seconds hand, but two
Not one central chronograph seconds hand, but two

But what if you’re a racecar driver or an afore mentioned dissolute aristocratic gambler and you want to check a lap time of your car or horse without affecting the over all timing of the race. Well unless you had a separate stopwatch you’re shit out of luck. That was until the advent of the Split Seconds Chronograph, where there is a button either a pusher on the left side of the case or integrated into the crown. Want to record a lap time? Simply hit this button and you’ll see what you thought was a single chronograph seconds hand is actually two hands running together! Suddenly they’ll split apart like Jean Claude Van Damme’s legs between two semis. The split second hand stops so you can record the lap time while the chronograph seconds hand keeps on truckin’. Hit the button again and they jump back together without missing a beat. This action, one of the visually coolest in all watchmaking is what provides this complication its evocative Gallic sobriquet “Rattrapante” or “to catch-up.”

The splitting of the hands is a sight to behold
The splitting of the hands is a sight to behold

What you need to know is that a traditional rattrapante is incredibly hard to set up. Like NASA scientist building Stradivarius violins in zero gravity using chopsticks kind of hard. It is commonly said that after the minute repeater, a watch that plays the time musically on demand, the split seconds chronograph is the single hardest complication to master. And that is why these watches are incredibly rare with only a handful of companies the most famous of which is Venus that created these movements. A vintage Rolex with a split seconds chronograph? It will cost you 3 million bucks. A Patek Philippe with this function they start at 300 grand. Basically they were crazy expensive. That was until sometime in the late ’80s when IWC started toying with the idea of creating the most reliable, bullet proof, user friendly and accessibly priced split seconds chronograph in the world.

IWC Doppelchronograph

The thing with IWC is that has always striven to endow the highest traditional complications with a greater sense of functionalism while making the price of these complications far more accessible. It achieved this with the incredible fully synchronized perpetual calendar designed by Kurt Klaus, it did this with its modular minute repeater mechanism and with its mysterious tourbillon. Says Kurt Klaus the brand’s former technical director, Revolution hall of famer and watchmaking demigod, “It has always been IWC’s way to pursue functional innovation. The split seconds chronograph is an incredible complication, but in the past it involved a great deal of repeated fine tuning to set up properly and they were also somewhat fragile and susceptible to damage.”

Richard Habring and his wife, Maria
Richard Habring and his wife, Maria

So how did IWC create the greatest revolution in the evolution of the Split Seconds chronograph? The idea came from a young engineer named Richard Habring (who would later created the Bourdon tube depth gauge equipped IWC Deep One)

How a Split Seconds Works

Let’s first look at how a split seconds chronograph works to understand where the challenge lies. On the very top of the chronograph movement sits the split second bridge while features the split seconds wheel and the split seconds brake mechanism, which look like two pincers. When you hit the split seconds button a column wheel or in the case of IWC a switch cam triggers the pincers to clamp down on the wheel causing the split second wheel to freeze and the split second hand on the dial to stop abruptly.

OK all that makes sense. But how do you get the split seconds hand to catch up with the running chronograph hand? That is where the magic happens. The split second hand is normally locked in place with the chronograph second hand. This happens because fixed to the split wheel is a return lever which is engaged with a heart shaped cam fixed to the chronograph wheel. Now when the split second wheel stops the lever continues to run around the edge of the heart cam because it is fitted with a jeweled roller. The return lever is under tension from a spring bar. So that when the split wheel is released the spring loaded return lever will immediately leap back to the lowest point of resistance against the heart cam which matches up with the hands running together.

Split seconds brake mechanism
Split seconds brake mechanism

The problem is that it is incredibly hard to get the tension on the return lever just right. Too much tension and you get rattrapante drag or a drag on the entire movement which will cause it to loose time or even stop when the underlying torque from the barrel can’t overcome the resistance caused by the spring tension. But too little and the hands won’t snap back together.

Habring solved this with two key solutions. The first was that he changed out the solid spring bar, to a small, coiled spring like the type you find inside a pen. Just way smaller. This gave a much greater elasticity to the return lever. The second is that he built his split second mechanism on top of the baddest most bulletproof tractor of a movement, the Valjoux 7750. To read more about this movement and how it was instrumental in saving the watch industry click here.

The Doppel

When the Doppelchronograph was launched in 1991, it was nothing less than a revelation and a profound statement of purpose. At the time only a handful of manufactures such as Patek Philippe using a modified manual wind Lemania CH27 and Blancpain using a Frederic Piguet automatic caliber 1186 even offered split seconds chronographs and all of these were stratospheric in price. IWC’s Doppel or “Double” emphatically declared, “There is no complication we are not capable of improving and offering at a better price.” It was an incredibly bold flinging down of the gauntlet that would reach its ultimate expression in their first grand complication, Il Destriero Scaffusia or “The Warhorse of Schaffhausen” also amazingly built on a Valjoux 7750 base.

Today people forget that in addition to being the first industrially fabricated and totally robust – you could press the buttons all day long and even in the wrong sequence – split seconds chronograph the legednary Doppelchrono also defined the aesthetic blueprint of IWC’s entire Pilot line. It would not be until 1994 that IWC would introduce the “simple” Pilots chronograph or Fliegerchronograph in both steel and ceramic based on the Doppel’s design.

As such, the first watches reference 3711 (with domed sapphire made from 1991 to 1995 ) and 3713 (flat crystal introduced 1996) are some of the most important watches in IWC’s history.

Doppel chronographs were sold on both leather straps or a unique and highly adjustable metal bracelet. We’ve got a stunning 3713 on the original “rice grain” bracelet right here. Check out how its tritium dial has aged a desirable cream patina.

As a side note, the watches were also made in yellow gold with both black and white dials and today these precious metal Doppels represent some of the rarest and coolest watches in the modern history.

The Ceramic Doppel Chronograph

46 mm is also the diameter for the ceramic Doppel Top Gun, which uses a fighter plane motif on the seconds hands. The IWC Doppel Chronograph Top Gun referenced 3799-01 made it silver screen debut in 2012 starring on Jeremy Renner’s wrist in the Bourne Legacy. What’s cool about this movie is the watch actually plays an instrumental part and is key to several scenes in particular when used by Rachel Weisz.

The IWC Doppel Chronograph Top Gun

46 mm is also the diameter for the ceramic Doppel Top Gun, which uses a fighter plane motif on the seconds hands. The IWC Doppel Chronograph Top Gun referenced 3799-01 made it silver screen debut in 2012 starring on Jeremy Renner’s wrist in the Bourne Legacy. What’s cool about this movie is the watch actually plays an instrumental part and is key to several scenes in particular when used by Rachel Weisz. We’ve got that exact watch for sale right here.

IWC’s incredible split second function naturally gravitated to some of the brand’s other iconic models including the Ingenieur and the Spitfire.