Do You Need A Flyback Chronograph?

A. Lange & Söhne Datograph flyback chronograph (courtesy

Do you need a flyback chronograph? No. What you need is food, water, shelter, coffee and the love of a good partner. What you want… My name is YOUR NAME HERE and I’m a watch addict. We’ve discussed the ways to control your addiction. So let’s press on, but only once!

You only need to press the flyback chronograph’s button once to reset the stopwatch function – that starts again!

That’s it. That’s what defines a flyback chronograph (a.k.a., the Retour-en-vol and Taylor System chrono). You press the start button once to start the timer, then, when you need to time another event, press the same button to restart the timer. The chrono’s second and minute hands “fly” back to zero and begin again, without interruption.

A flyback chronograph uses a special heart-shaped cam and a set of levers to control the chronograph hands. When you press the start button, the chronograph hand begins to move, driven by a separate gear train from the watch’s main timekeeping mechanism. As the chronograph hand moves, it pushes against a lever that pivots around the heart-shaped cam.

Brietling invented the flyback chronograph. Longines patented their mechanism in 1936, the same year Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics (much to the chagrin of one Adolf Hitler). I doubt it appeared soon enough for the Yanks to use a flyback chrono to time Mr. Owens laps, but the watch certainly found favor amongst pilots.

Fairchild Fairchild 22 C7F (courtesy

Distance = speed X time. When you’re piloting a plane, you change direction – and occasionally airspeed – at certain waypoints.

The flyback was ideal – as opposed to a standard chrono where you have to use two buttons three times in a set order to reset the timer (stop, reset, start). At a time when you can’t afford to get it wrong or, equally, take your eyes off your other instruments.

1936 Delahaye 135 CS GP (courtesy

Race drivers and their crews also loved them some flyback. And then… digital instruments. Putting the FBC into the realm where all handed watches now live: an antiquarian device appreciated for its mechanical excellence, beauty and nostalgia.

Bonus! The cam-actuated flyback isn’t as complicated – and thus expensive – as split second chronos. Easier to fix as well.

If you “need’ a flyback, there are plenty of options. The $369 Yema Meangraf Super Y70 (no commission on any links) features a Seiko VK64 Mechanical-Quartz hybrid movement.

“The time measurement complication is operated by a quartz movement while the chronograph’s hand is controlled by a mechanical module that ticks multiple times per second, perceived by the eyes as a sweeping motion.”


If you want to spend more money for a purely mechanical piece (e.g., the $82,950 A. Lange & Söhne Datograph at the top of the post), has hundreds for sale from all the big name manufacturers (e.g., Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, etc.).

Why not a standard chrono? Because history.


  1. I love a flyback chrono! The feature is handy, and it is good to know that I’m not going to screw up the movement if I forget to stop the chronograph BEFORE resetting it. Now that smart watches are so dominant, if I’m going to buy a quartz watch, I want either a great design, or a little bit “extra” (like a flyback chronograph movement) inside the case.

  2. Rob, do you think A. Lange will EVER addressed here?

    Honestly, like there’s at least 10 Jewish (or Jewish-heritage, ie Jewish dad but gentile mom) wouldbe buyers, whose money could EASILY cover the publicist who’d right the statement and website portion about A Lange’s business from 1933-1945, and then some. How stupid are A Lange’s leaders? Plus, if they can do “sustainability” like their website has a section for, they can at least somewhere admit their behavior in the Nazi era.

      • Why do you say so so surely? Like an inside source, or rumors that the heirs are unrepentant or even sympathizers?

        I mean don’t they realize how many hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of dollars, they lose over this? They’re a low volume OEM, and are vulnerable to economic downturns.

      • At least their website kinda admits something:

        “So, from 1941 [Barbarossa], Walter Lange attends the renowned watchmaking school in Karlstein in Austria’s Waldviertel region. Yet the same thing happens to him as it does to so many others of his generation: NAZISM, war and occupation [such victims] turn the life he had planned upside down.”

        And the fall of Berlin Wall was “the end of an involuntary hiatus of over 40 years.”

        They were VICTIMS!!

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