Why Do Watches Have Three Dials?

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If you find yourself in possession of a watch with three dials, it is likely a chronograph watch. In fact, the word “chronograph” means “time reading” in Greek, so there is little wonder why these types of watches are used in various sporting events and for people in certain occupations, including for car racing and even for submarine or diving maneuvers.

This is also why chronograph watches are accurate down to the tenth of a second. The manufacturers of these watches know that they’ll be used for more than just telling time, so they want the watches to be as accurate as possible.

What Is a Chronograph Watch?

A chronograph watch has multiple dials and was invented in 1816 for tracking astronomical events. Chronograph watches are also known as three-dial or multi-dial watches because many of them have more than just three dials.

These sub-dials, or auxiliary dials, can be found on other watches as well, but they are most common on chronograph watches because chronograph watches were specifically made for multiple dials. It is easy to get confused with watches that have more than one dial, but just as with anything else in life, it becomes easier with a little bit of practice.

With a chronograph watch, you can figure out exactly how many seconds are passing and how to time certain events down to the tenth of a second. The dials on these watches are pressurized and can be started, stopped, and reset to zero individually, which can be a huge asset when you’re trying to get an exact time that a certain event occurs.

Simply put, chronograph watches do much more than just tell you the hour and the minute, so if you need to time speed or distance and you need the time to be exact, this is the watch that you want.

How to Read Three Dials?

The three dials on a chronograph watch will tell you the number of seconds passing in a minute, the number of minutes passing in an hour, and other timing information. In fact, chronograph watches are extremely precise so if expert timing is an important part of your life, nothing is as good as a chronograph watch. There are three, sometimes four, sub-dials on a chronograph watch and they include:

  • The thinnest third hand: this hand stands still until you start to use your watch to time something. It will go around in a circle to show you that the feature is on and working properly.
  • The far-left sub-dial: more often than not, this is the seconds timing, so it will tell you how many seconds have passed since you first started your timing.
  • The uppermost sub-dial: this is your minutes indicator. It is there to tell you how many minutes have passed in that particular hour.
  • The lowest dial: this bottom sub-dial is your hours indicator, which means when 60 minutes have gone by, the hand on this dial will move to the “one” position.

Many times, chronograph watches are used as stopwatches, which is why they are made to be so exact when it comes to timing. Indeed, if timing a certain event must be exact and as accurate as possible, chronograph watches can’t be beat.

How to Use Chronograph Functions?

For most chronograph watches, you’ll start using it by pushing the top button, at which time the small thin hand will start to sweep. As soon as this happens, the chronograph functions will start to track the time. Once it hits 60 seconds, the top dial moves one minute, which of course equals to 60 seconds.

Then, when the top dial hits 60 seconds, that’s when the bottom dial starts to tick. So, for example, if your bottom dial says “one” and the top dial reads “six,” you’ll know that one hour and six minutes have passed since you pressed that top button. You can then look at the second tracking dial in order to determine how many seconds are passing.

The good thing about a chronograph timer is how easy it is to use. If, for example, you stop your timer, it will tell you exactly how long that particular activity took to happen. If you want to clear it out so that you can start all over again on another activity, simply push the button a second time and it will reset itself.

If you’ve ever used one of those old-fashioned stopwatches, you’ll already be familiar with how to use a chronograph watch. In many ways, chronograph watches are simply stopwatches with a few other features thrown in for good measure.

Let’s say that you’re timing something and you stop the watch, and you see the number ten on the top hand, the number two on the bottom hand, and the number 50 on the far-left dial. This simply means that the amount of time that has elapsed since you started timing the event is two hours, ten minutes, and 50 seconds. Once you get used to where all of the dials are located and what they mean, it is simple to determine how to read them. and it becomes much easier with time.

While chronograph watches can look a little different depending on the brand and model, most of them have three dials that are there to help you time things. Pushing the top button on the right-hand side of the watch will get the timing started, so if you need to keep track of elapsed time or distances traveled, a good high-quality chronograph watch will never let you down.

These are accurate watches that are popular for good reasons. Remember that once you see that thin hand sweeping or moving, you’ll know that the timing part of the watch itself is working right.


Seeing three or four dials on your watch can be intimidating, but once you learn what each of them is for, they’ll be a lot less stressful for you to use. If you have an important event planned and need to make sure you operate the watch correctly, the best thing to do is practice before the actual event arrives. This is the best way to make sure you feel comfortable with the watch and its functions when the event finally arrives.