Who can we thank for inventing the stopwatch?

There had been several thousand years of tradition when it comes to measuring time before we have reached the level we find ourselves at today.

A modern stopwatch similar to those found on antique pocket watches

The inventors who were around in the 18th and 19th century were those who advanced the field, creating more and more advanced devices, until they were at the point of being able to create a new style of clock, one that’s sole purpose was not to tell time, but to measure a specific amount of elapsed time from the moment when the clock mechanism was activated.


This device is what we know as the stopwatch.


Who would have thought that an invention like the humble stopwatch would be shrouded in such levels of controversy?


Well that is in fact the case, because historical records show that there were a number of inventors who contributed to its creation. The first mentioning of the original movement that can measure standard time as well as having the ability to use a stopwatch feature came from 1776. A Frenchmen by the name of Jean-Moyes Pouzai, was at the forefront of this, with his plans under the name “Chronograph” highlighted the addition of stopwatch features on the traditional mechanic plans of an original style clock. However, it was his methods of displaying results that cause some to wonder, given that they were immensely different in comparison to modern stopwatches. Pouzai recorded time by writing the amount of pun movement on a piece of paper.


Next to stake a claim was Englishman George Graham who created a movement could start and stop very precisely, so quick in fact, that it could start and stop as fast as one sixteenth of a second. Sadly, for Graham, he never had his creation patented, meaning that today, his creation is largely forgotten.


It wouldn’t be for another half a century that the first major public showcase of Chronograph took place, following King Louis XVIII requesting information on how fast his horses are running around the racetrack.


Substantial work carried out by inventor Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec gave him the chance to showcase his invention, a Chronograph that was used during the famous Champ de Mars horse race event. And it was this movement that allowed race officials, present public and royal guests to view run times for each individual horse taking part in the race. Thanks to this, the stopwatch created by Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec meant he has been awarded the “father of the chronograph” title.


Ever since then there have been a plethora of wrist, pocket, desk or table, and pendant watches that have benefited from the addition of a stopwatch, to add to the primary function of telling time.


If you would like to look at some of the antique pocket watches with Chronograph that Pieces of Time have on offer, why not view tour catalogue?