A lot has been written over the last couple of years on split seconds chronographs, largely due to the fact that Phillips has sold two extremely important examples by Rolex in recent times. The reference 4113 from Rolex is known to have only been made in 12 examples, all of which it is believed were delivered to Italy to the motor racing community. The watches are super cool due to their substantial size of 44mm and they are rare chronos – pretty much the perfect storm for a Rolex wristwatch and therefore they require very deep pockets to acquire.
However, the Rolex 4113 wasn’t the only split second chrono to be marketed to the Italians, the Eberhard Split Seconds or Rattrapante (the French term for a spilt seconds complication) was an important watch from an important brand in Italy.
Driving the Demand
Split seconds chronograph watches were developed by Eberhard in the end of the 1930’s as tool watches for gentlemen drivers. These were the glorious days of motoring when British Bentley Boys, European Princes, Indian Maharajas and South American millionaire playboys were competing in daring races around the world, such as the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio, in their privately owned vehicles.
These sporting gentlemen needed a watch that could accurately measure lap times and Eberhard answered this need with the ‘pre extra-fort’ split seconds chronograph. The very large size of the dial afforded great legibility and the split seconds function was useful to the motor sport community for the reasons mentioned above.
One of the world’s leading experts on Eberhard is Italian watch dealer Alessio Zenga. I asked him about Eberhard and, in particular, the split seconds chronos. “To the best of my knowledge these watches, just like the Rolex split seconds ref. 4113, were only made for the Italian market. While the successive generation of Eberhard chronographs, introduced at the end of the 1940’s, was identified by the model name ‘Extra-Fort’, the split seconds watches did not have a specific model name, so collectors have coined the name ‘pre extra-fort’. This is more or less the same reason the term ‘pre Daytona’ was coined for Rolex chronographs not featuring a tachymeter bezel.”
So what exactly is a rattrapante or split seconds chronograph? Well, in pretty simple terms it’s a stop watch chronograph with two centre sweep seconds hands that can be used to measure a number of events on one device. Let me give you an example. You want to time a multi-lap race and need a number of results – the overall time of the race, individual lap times and average speeds.
On a rattrapante watch you can start the chrono as normal to time the full length of the race using the first second sweep seconds stopwatch hand. Additionally you can use the chronograph button that is in the winding crown to stop the second sweep seconds stopwatch hand to time the first lap, press the button again and the seconds hand catches up with the first hand and you can stop it again to measure the next lap and so on. Clever stuff and a must-have for the racing world! Without this function you would need a few stopwatches!
The Eberhard split seconds chronograph is powered by a modified Eberhard 1600 caliber. This is a 16-line movement exclusively produced for Eberhard by Valjoux. The Valjoux reference for the movement is Valjoux 65, which was a double column wheel split seconds chronograph movement featuring Eberhard’s proprietary sliding pusher pause function.
Bulang and Sons Style
We have found a beautiful example of an Eberhard split seconds watch in yellow gold with black gilt two-register ‘snail’ dial. The case is impressive at 40mm and the watch is triple signed with the case, dial and movement bearing the Eberhard name. The hinged caseback reveals the freshly serviced movement.
One of the stand out features of the watch is the large crown with the integrated pusher. Its a trademark look that is pretty much unique to the split seconds watches. The patina and gentle aging of the crown on this Eberhard is lovely – certainly not a look that can be rushed, but rather a long slow process. The quality of the case manufacturing and the olive shaped pushers and the way they effortlessly glide into the case is a work of art.
This is a seriously cool watch. Bernhard Bulang has always had a fascination with these large cool watches. “I remember the first time I handled one – it was many years ago during an auction weekend in Geneva. I was at the Four Seasons at a Christie’s viewing and we were taking a break and having a coffee on the terrace. A prominent Italian collector walked in wearing a steel Patek Philippe 1518.” These watches have always been one of Bernhard’s most favourite. What happened next is what stuck with him most though: “He came over and said hello and then produced from his trouser pocket a Rolex reference 4113 split seconds chrono. I held the watch and tried it on and was totally blown away. Ever since I have viewed these early split seconds watches as special and unique. To offer this here at Bulang and Sons is a delight for me.”
Check the watch out here in our shop.