Inside & Out: Graham Chronofighter Vintage GMT
How I Got This Watch: I contacted Graham watches to request a review of a watch and was given a selection of color options for the Chronofighter Vintage GMT. I chose black. I wore it for two weeks. This is not a paid review.
The Graham Chronofighter combines two useful complications; the chronograph and the GMT.
There are dozens of different complications to consider when designing a watch, but they are rarely of any use to a modern owner. A minute repeater has not been practical since indoor lighting became common place, a mechanical alarm can be replaced by a free app and a tourbillon? The tourbillon has never been practical. Yet even with the aid of modern technology, the tangible nature of certain complications still brings us joy. Seeing the hands of a chronograph leap into action or the stoic procession round the dial of a GMT hand still manages to worm our way into our hearts. The GMT complication has always been one of my favorites as it is exceptional practical, even a modern age. But to fully understand the importance of the GMT complication, you have to go back, way back.
Before satellites and GPS, long distance navigation was difficult. The great seafaring nations of the world of the 1600 could cross oceans but mapping their journey and their destination relative to their home was more challenging. Using lines of latitude, the horizontal lines that wrap around the earth, for navigation dates back to the Ancient Phoenicians (600 BCE). By measuring the angle of certain stars (Polaris in the Northern Hemisphere and Cruz in the Southern Hemisphere) with a sextant, you could find your latitudinal position, but this only gives you half an answer. For example, my current line of latitude is shared by Gibraltar, Las Vegas, Tokyo and Tehran. To know where I am on this line of latitude, I need a vertical line to bisect it.
The Problem With Longitude
Finding longitude has been a challenge that persisted for nearly a millennia. Unlike latitude, there is no North Star that chart your position against, and the vast swaths of ocean made it impossible to measure distance. In the 16th Century, a Dutch Polymath called Gemma Frisius stated having accurate clocks aboard ships could solve longitude. By comparing one clock set to home time against one set to local time, the difference between the two could be used to figure out the distance traveled. Combine this with your latitude and voila!, overseas journeys for trade and discovery could now be accurately charted. The only problem was that there wasn't a clock in existence that would be accurate or durable enough to last for weeks at sea without the time changing.
Over the next 200 years, every country with a navy and merchant fleet tried to make an accurate clock.
In 1714, the British Parliament created the Board of Longitude and offered a prize of £20,000 to anyone who could solve the longitude problem. Little did they know that it wouldn't be an Oxford educated mathematician who would crack the problem, but a self-taught carpenter and clockmaker from Yorkshire called John Harrison. It was Harrison's 4th marine timekeeper, known today as H4, that could keep accurate time at seas. H4 was completed in 1759 and worked flawlessly on its test voyages to the British controlled West Indies.
With longitude solved, ships were able to sail across the ocean and know where they were heading. As long as their ships chronometer remained accurate and they could find the right star, they could know where they were. The nations of the world eventually agreed that Greenwich, England would be used as the Prime Meridian, the reference point where longitude is measured from. By the late 1880s, the world was split into 24 time zones, with each 15 degrees of latitude moving East or West from Greenwich adding a one hour time difference. Of course, there are exceptions for very big or very small countries. China has one timezone for the entire country and the Chatham Islands adds an extra 45 minutes onto its time difference.
When commercial airlines started using jet airplanes in the 1950s, it changed everything.
Pilots now needed a fast and reliable way to know the reference time of their location. It hadn't really mattered when flights were slower, but now the sky was getting full of planes travelling at unbelievable speeds. One of the biggest airlines was Pan American World Airways Inc., otherwise known as Pan Am. They approached Rolex to make a pilots watch that would allow them to see another timezone at a glance. In 1954, Rolex created the GMT-Master. It set the standard for what a GMT complication would look like for the next 70 years.
The solution to tracking another timezone is remarkably simple.
The going train of a watch spins the hour hand once round the dial every 12 hours. To create a GMT hand, a gear was added to the going train that span another hand at half that speed. This third hand would take 24 hours to rotate around the dial and with a rotating reference bezel, a seperate timezone could be displayed. Early GMT watches had the GMT hand linked to the hour hand so it would only display the current time in 24 hours. It was only through use of the rotating bezel that a second timezone could be displayed.
Very little has changed about the design of the GMT complication but there are now two main types of GMT watch available. The first is where the GMT hand is independently adjustable from the hour hand. This allows the GMT hand to be set to any time and therefore a rotating bezel is not required to display a second timezone. My own Zenith Captain Dual Time has as GMT hand seperate from the hour hand and has the 24 hour reference printed on the dial.
The second type is where the GMT hand is linked to the minute hand with the hour hand remaining stationary. The minute hand is span round with the GMT hand slowly following along behind it. This is closer to the original design of the GMT complication as it is crucial to have a rotating bezel to display the second time zone. Personally, I much prefer the first method as it is far more convenient for making quick changes to the GMT function without disrupting the time of the watch.
It is worth pointing out that a GMT complication and a world timer complication are not the same thing. A world timer complication displays all 24 time zones concurrently on the dial, represented by a single city from that timezone (London for GMT, Paris for GMT +1, New York for GMT-5, etc). A inner ring, marked with a 24 hour scale, rotates around the dial allowing each timezone to be read at once. A GMT can only display one or two time zones at once, depending on the type of GMT hand, and has no inner ring or city list.
During his first attempt to create an accurate marine timekeeper, John Harrison sought financial help. Harrison went to his friend and fellow watchmaker George Graham, who loaned him 200 pounds to help finish the timekeeper. Graham was an accomplished watchmaker in his own right, having invented the cylinder escapement and the orrery.
Whilst George Graham may not have played a huge role in the discovery of longitude, his generosity to a fellow watchmaker certainly helped. Graham's name has lasted throughout the centuries and now is reborn in the form of Graham 1695. In 1998, Eric Loth brought new life into the names of centuries old watchmakers, namely George Graham (Graham 1695) and John Arnold (Arnold & Son).
The Graham Chronofighter Vintage Range Was Released As a Celebration of the 15th Anniversary of the Graham Chronofighter Series
The Chronofighter range is one of the two main lines that Graham make, the other being the Silverstone. The Chronofighter is instantly recognizable because of the left-handed design and trigger chronograph. The trigger positioned at 8 o'clock activates and stops the chronograph with the pusher at 10 o'clock resetting it. As a lefty, I wear my watches on my right wrist and over the years I've gotten used to contorting my wrist to activate chronographs. With the Chronofighter, I don't have to.
My thumb, or the outside of my pointer finger, can push the trigger with ease and it is very comfortable, ergonomic design thoughas it was on the 'wrong' wrist, I can't attest to how it feels to wear it on the left wrist. To further enhance this excellent design, I'd like to see Graham step-up their chronographs movements to include a column wheel. The activation was not harsh, but that feather-weight touch that comes with a column wheel would have been sublime. The CAM chronograph isn't bad, but it requires a tad more force than I would like. One minor quibble is that the chronograph central seconds hand on my review copy didn't reset back to 12 o'clock exactly. Instead it rested on 0.2 seconds into the chronograph track. I'm sure this is just a small flaw on the watch I wore but it is worth keeping an eye out if you are looking to buy a Graham.
Compared to the rustic, military green of the Chronofighter Vintage Nose Art Anna, the Vintage GMT looks quite modern.
Compared to the regular Chronofighter range, the Chronofighter Vintage GMT does have a vintage feel. There is less experimentation with date window placement, hour marker design and case construction, but it is not a 'heritage style' watch, in vein of the new Seamaster 300 or Tudor Black Bay. It has some vintage feeling aspects, namely the trigger, the catherdral hands and double date window but it looks like a modern watch.
The size of the watch makes it feel much more a modern watch, than a vintage. Its 44mm in diameter and 15mm in weight so dwarfs even the larger vintage pilots watches that it is inspired from. Paradoxically, the watch wears smaller on the wrist whilst still feeling quite hefty. The short lugs reduce the footprint on the wrist but the relatively tall case and the trigger still create the impression it is a large watch.
Setting the GMT is done through the crown with the hand independent of the date function, hour or minute hand. The slight overlapping bezel, combined with my unfamiliarity with the trigger/crown guard, makes changing positions of the crown difficult. Maybe this gets easier with practice (or maybe I just have fat fingers) but once the position has is found, the crown is large and knurled enough to make setting and winding easy enough.
The black ceramic, unidirectional bezel is easy to grip thanks to the slanted, knurled finish on its perimeter. The inward taper of the bezel allows for a good grip and makes it seem smaller than it actually is. I do like how the knurled grooves on the bezel are interrupted by a small, smooth finish before starting again. It doesn't add anything to the functionality of this watch but from an aesthetic perspective, I like it. The 24 hour scale is easy to read though I would have preferred a red highlight to make the 24 hour mark more noticeable. It would only make a split second difference when rotating the bezel but a split second difference on a luxury can make all the difference.
There is also a little too much play in the bezel for my liking. It's a very, very small point but this watch costs several thousands of dollars and it bears to note the imperfections, no matter how minor.
There are 4 color options available: green, brown, black and blue. Each feature red highlights on every 5 minute marker on the dial, as well as for the Chronofighter text, the tip of the chronograph hand, the chronograph minute hand and the GMT hand. Maybe I need to get my eyes checked, but when worn on the wrist, I found the chronofighter text hard to read when there wasn't direct light on the dial. As I type this, I'm sat in a room lit with natural light, but unless the watch faces a window, I can't make out what it says.
Each color variant has a sunburst dial that evokes an aged dial. The darker perimeter fading into the lighter center like an watch that has seen too much sun. The dial of the Chronofighter Vintage GMT is excellent, especially the balance between the complications and hour markers. The two chronograph registers are large, but don't dominate the dial and the over-sized 6 balances out the larger Graham name and double digit date display. My one critique of the dial is that the date display would have been better placed 6 o'clock.
As the central seconds hand bisects the date in two, it amplifies the fact it is two seperate windows. This hairline fracture is enough to make reading it just a bit awkward. The watch is fitted on a thick, black leather strap with white contrast stitching. The strap doesn't taper but is comfortable enough to wear. The buckle is ludicrously big, even for a watch this size, and will act as a fingerprint magnet the more you wear it.
The Caliber G1733 is a Graham modified ETA Valjoux 7750, the same base movement seen on the Chronofighter Anna but with an added GMT module. It beats at 28,800bph and has a 48 hour power reserve and is decorated with the traditional Geneva stripes and blued screws. You can get more elaborate decoration movements for the same price, but the decoration isn't the selling point of this watch. It's the unique case design. Graham are capable of making some high-end movements as part of their Geo.Graham line, so if you're looking for more finishing then look there.
What I've learnt during 2017 is that I've begun to like more and more watches that take chances. There is no such thing as a perfect watch so why not aim for being unique whilst you inevitably fall short of perfection? There are a few quibbles I have with the Graham Chronofighter Vintage GMT (One being its name is a mouthful) but the fact that for the last 15 years Graham have been trying to create a new kind of chronograph speaks to me at a volume that deafens me to its flaws.