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What Is a Flyback Chronograph? 

July 29, 2019

BY Paul Altieri


Chronographs are one of the most popular types of watches out there – just think of the Rolex Daytona. However, regardless of whether or not the stopwatch function actually ever gets used, chronograph watches are often coveted for their style, which is markedly sporty thanks to the addition of pushers on the case and counters on the dial. However, chronographs come in different flavors. In addition to standard chronographs, there are also mono-pusher chronographs, rattrapante chronographs, and flyback chronographs. You may have heard of the term, but if you’ve ever asked yourself, What is a flyback chronograph? then read our handy guide to find out.  

Flyback Chronograph

The Yacht-Master II is a special type of flyback chronograph that is specifically designed for regattas.

The Difference Between a Chronograph and A Flyback Chronograph

First the basics. Essentially, a chronograph watch is one that permits the wearer to time an elapsed event via a stopwatch function. The chronograph hand is typically at the center of the dial, taking the place of the traditional seconds hands. Subsequently, the running seconds is moved to a smaller sub-dial. Other sub-dials can also include a minute counter and even an hour counter to record how much time has passed. 

Flyback Chronograph

The Rolex Daytona is a traditional chronograph that can measure events up to 12 hours in length.

A standard chronograph watch normally has two pushers on the case. One pusher (customarily at 2 o’clock) serves to both start and stop the center chronograph hand. The other pusher (normally located at 4 o’clock) resets the chronograph hand back to the zero position when pushed. A perfect example of a standard chronograph watch is the Rolex Daytona.

On the other hand, a flyback chronograph pares down the process of restarting the chronograph complication from three steps to one step. Just like a standard chronograph, you push the start pusher to activate the complication. However, with a flyback chronograph, you can skip the hand-stopping and restarting steps altogether, and just push the reset pusher while the chrono hand is running and you’ll see the hand “fly back” to the zero position. Not only will the chronograph hands return to zero when the reset button is pressed, but they will also immediately resume running so you can continue timing the next event.

Flyback Chronograph

A flyback chronograph allows users to simultaneously reset and restart the chronograph function with the push of a single button.

Rolex’s other chronograph watch – the Yacht-Master II – is a regatta timer, and is an example of a chronograph with flyback functionality. However, this being Rolex, it is not your run-of-the-mill flyback chronograph, but rather one that boasts a programmable countdown timer, a mechanical memory, and a fly forward function. So, pressing the pusher at 2 o’clock on the YMII deploys the red center chronograph hand and if you press the 4 o’clock pusher before the hand gets to 30 seconds, it will fly back to zero. But, if the chrono hand has passed 30 seconds, it will fly forward to zero. 

Furthermore, the center chronograph hand is used in conjunction with the programmable countdown timer located at the center of the dial. Therefore, you set the timer using a specific number from 1 to 10 minutes and deploying the chronograph hand will activate the countdown – but should you need to fly the chronograph hand backward or forwards to zero (to synchronize with a race clock, for instance) that can be done by pressing the pusher at 4 o’clock. 

Flyback Chronograph

Unlike a flyback chronograph, the stopwatch function on the Rolex Daytona must first come to a complete stop before it can be reset.

To summarize: a standard chronograph like the Rolex Daytona uses two pushers to start, stop, and reset the complication, and the chronograph must first come to a stop before the hands can either be reset or started again to time a new event. A flyback chronograph can return the chronograph hands to zero and immediately start timing a new event, without ever needing to stop or restart the chronograph. Additionally, among the various flyback chronograph watches out there, the Rolex Yacht-Master II is a notably complicated example, because it combines a flyback chronograph complication with a programmable countdown timer that can remember the set countdown duration from one timing instance to the next.

Flyback Chronograph

Unlike most flyback chronograph watches, the Rolex Yacht-Master II counts down rather than up, and allows users to adjust the countdown duration.



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