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Horological Archetypes: Breitling No. 100 Chronographe-Compture

The first two-pusher chronograph was a simple yet industry-changing evolution of the monopusher, quickly adopted by Patek Phillipe and Vacheron Constantin, then by Rolex and Omega.
By Allen Farmelo
Jan 01, 2023

The two-pusher chronograph is the most iconic of chronograph wristwatches, and it is among the most iconic wristwatches of all time. There are various types of two-pusher chronographs, but we will be considering the classic configuration with the crown at 3 o’clock and the pushers at 2 and 4 o'clock which operate standard stopwatch functionality (as opposed to fly-back or split-seconds chronographs, for example). The arrangement of the sub-dials may differ among two-pusher chronographs, but the basic outer form and functionality creates the archetype. 

Though chronographs had been around since the mid-1800s, it was only in 1934 that the first two-pusher chronograph appeared, the Breitling No. 100 Chronographe-Compture. After that, the two-pusher configuration quickly appeared in nearly every watch collection and quickly became the norm it remains today.

1934 Breitling 100 Chronographe - Photo Timeline

It often surprises modern collectors to learn that prior to 1934 pretty much every chronograph featured one pusher. First simply known as chronographs and watches that stop (eventually stopwatches), we now call these monopushers. Today monopushers are far more rare in the vintage and new markets, and almost always more expensive when built into modern watches. Monopushers are also somewhat more difficult to build, especially those which send the pusher through the center of the winding crown, which was also the norm until Breitling moved the single actuator up to the 2 o’clock position prior to 1934 – as if in anticipation of the two-pusher No.100.  

1934 Breitling Chronograph. Image Breitling

In the first few decades of the 20th century, Breitling was on a creative tear with chronographs, which were becoming more in demand as automobiles and planes became swiftly ubiquitous. Once Breitling had moved the chronograph actuator out of the crown to its own position, further functional separation appeared almost inevitable. The monopusher could become two pushers: one at 2 o’clock to start, stop and restart the timing function, and one at 4 o’clock to reset the hands to zero. Unlike a monopusher, which offers only sequential start-stop-reset functionality, a two-pusher allowed for as many start-stop-restart sequences as needed. 

This functionality is very handy for tallying intervals, taking a pause in whatever is being timed, and so on. Resetting to zero required the same number of actuations as when using a monopusher, so there was nothing lost and quite a bit gained with the two-pusher Breitling had developed.

Aesthetically, the two-pusher chronograph was something entirely pleasing. This configuration presented symmetry that suited watchmakers and their clients while also making something of a statement about the complexity of the mechanism – which has always been a bragging point for any mechanical watch (or its owner, we might say more accurately). 

Patek Philippe 130 Chronograph. Image Sothebys

That the two-pusher chronograph was a high-profile complication is evidenced by the rapid adoption by Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, two of the international standard-setters of the early 20th century. In effect, if Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin validated a complication, then it was destined to become an industry norm – which is exactly what happened. It was also in the hands of Patek and Vacheron that the potential elegance of a two-pusher chronograph was brought forward in what remain some of the most collectible and, frankly, beautiful chronographs ever produced. Both brands went straight to miniaturizing the complication so it would fit into the then stylish smaller cases.

Vacheron 1955 Chronograph – Tachymeter Scale. Image Vacheron

Rolex and Omega were also quick to adopt the two-pusher chronograph, if not quite as able or willing to achieve elegance with it as Patek and Vacheron were. The larger size and technical nature of both Rolex's and Omega's first two-pusher chronographs reminds us that at the time there was nothing stylish about wearing a tool watch from one of these brands. That wouldn't be the case until the 1960s.

Rolex 2508. Image Philips

The Rolex 2508 was the brand’s first two-pusher model, in full production by 1936, and rather large at 37mm. The Daytona was many years away, and it’s difficult to see much of an aesthetic connection between the 2508 and the Daytona, which went on to become perhaps Rolex’s most important model. 

Omega was quick to the market with their larger reference 2393 two-pusher chronograph, which was rather technically oriented as evidenced by the larger dial used to display many timescales. The smaller reference 2077 two-pusher chronograph was water resistant. Both ran the venerable caliber 33.3 engine, which was produced well into the 1950s. 

Omega 2077. Image Christie's

The technical nature of Omega’s early two-pusher chronographs set the stage for the Omega Speedmaster which trounces even the Daytona as the most important and, arguably, most popular two-pusher chronograph of all time. Having gone to the moon with NASA, the Speedmaster represents to this day an ideal of mid-century mechanical design, and it was the Omega x SWATCH MoonSWATCH of 2022 that inspired the world to go bananas for two-pusher chronographs – not that this iconic format needed added appeal, but it sure got it, this time in plastic, which is perhaps befitting of the 21st century. 

Navitimer Ref. 806 mark 1.1. Image Breitling

Despite the hegemony of Rolex and Omega in the 20th century, Breitling's legacy as one of the most important developers of chronographs can't be overlooked, especially the company's acclaimed Navitimer of 1954 which retained the complexity and sense of purpose of the original No 100 Chronographe-Compteur. The Navitimer remains among the most sought-after vintage chronographs, and the current Breitling catalog is full of Navitimers ranging from recreations of the earliest models to wildly colorful gold interactions and boundless limited editions. All of them carry the basic form and functionality of the original two-pusher chronograph.