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Chronographs were developed in the 19th century with the increasing necessity to measure short periods of time and performances, such as horse races. As for chiming and astronomical complications, chronographs have been an Audemars Piguet specialty since the inception. Audemars Piguet’s vintage chronograph wristwatches are among the rarest in the world, with only 307 examples made between the 1930s through the 1950s.
A chronograph is a complication that measures and displays continuous or discontinuous spans of time without affecting the watch’s time-keeping functions. A centre chronograph hand is started, stopped and restarted at will, then returned to zero by activating one or more push-pieces. A chronograph is complex in technical terms; one-fifth of a second takes years to master!
Split-seconds chronographs are fitted with an additional second hand that can be stopped in its tracks in order to measure an intermediate, or to maintain a reference time. When activated at the start of a race, both hands begin together. The split-seconds hand can be stopped at any moment to measure a time, while the chronograph hand continues its course. At a simple press of a push-piece, the split-seconds hand jumps back in unison with the chronograph hand.
The flyback function on a chronograph enables to reset and instantaneously restart the chronograph hands without having to stop the chronograph first.
In 2010, Michael Schumacher challenged Audemars Piguet engineers to create a mechanical wristwatch that could measure multiple consecutive lap times on the racetrack, without having to restart the stopwatch at the end of each lap. This could only be done digitally before! Five years later, the Manufacture released the Laptimer, featuring a single chronograph with flyback function driving two central sweep-seconds hands that can be controlled independently via three push-pieces.
This patented mechanism features no fewer than three column wheels. One of the column wheels, located at six o'clock, controls the chronograph sequence; while the two other wheels, positioned at twelve o'clock, control the complex laptimer sequence.