A Short Guide to Watch Scales

(3 Minute Read)

The scale. An ancient piece of equipment used for centuries by bakers, masons and shopkeepers alike. Given their usefulness, it was only a matter of time before they made their way into the world of watches. We know that vintage watch scales can be difficult to read, especially if you’re just getting into vintage timepieces or you’re new to scales on watch dials. To make things easy, we’re going to break down the most common vintage watch scales - so you can tell your Tachymeter from your Telemetre and Pulsometer.

The Tachymeter

To the untrained eye, the tachymeter can look confusing. We’re here to help.

Often found on the bezel of the watch, the tachymeter measures your speed using time travelled over a fixed distance. It’s used by starting the chronograph at a specific point, before stopping it again at a second reference point. You then read the scale where the hand stops to give you your speed. Sound confusing? Think mile markers on a road.

While some scales are different, the standard tachymeter starts at the 7-second mark at 500 units of speed. However, some can be found to start at 6-seconds/600 units or 9-seconds/400 units.

Other variations on the tachymeter have the scale sit around the outside of the dial, as an internal instrument, instead of on the bezel.

While many watches feature this stunning and functional complication, one of our favourites is the Heuer Carrera 3647 T, which you can see on our product page by clicking the link.

The Tachymeter - Time Rediscovered

The Telemeter

Less often seen than the tachymeter, the telemeter is used to measure anything that you can see before you can hear. Lightning is the classic example, as the telemeter measures the distance of the storm from the wearer.

With a graduation that’s based on the speed of sound (taken to be 343 m/s), the telemeter uses the second hand to measure the time sound takes to reach you from the observed event. All you need to do is start the chronograph when you see the event, and stop it when you hear it. The second hand will then inform the wearer of their distance from the event. Some watches graduate differently to others, so it’s important to stay wary of the stated units of your watch.

While it’s not always the most accurate measurement (as sound travels at varying speeds), this tool has been relied upon by explorers and war fighters alike.

Want to see an example of a telemetre dial? Have a look at the Heuer Telemeter Chronograph Valjoux 23 we had for sale. 

The Telemeter - Time Rediscovered

The Regatta Timer

For centuries, those at sea have used watches to keep them safe and on time. They have quite literally kept the world going. However, the Regatta Timer isn’t used in the merchant navy, it’s a scale that’s been adapted for racing.

Sailing races don’t start from standing, and so must use a moving start. To do this, a regatta timer can be used where each competitor will mark their watch at the sound of a horn, or the sight of a flag, and use the subsequent countdown. The typical racing countdown, and therefore Regatta Timer, lasts for five minutes, but can occasionally be ten.

As sailors are often busy doing other things, these scales are often bright and contrasting in their design.

While many use digital watches for this these days, there’s something very satisfying about using a traditional, watch based Regatta Timer.

If you want to see the beauty of these Regatta timers we’d recommend the Heuer Skipper Ref. 15640, from 1972 - a stunning example of the functional and elegant Regatta Timer.

The Regatta Timer - Time Rediscovered

Want more articles straight to your inbox?

Sign up to our VIP newsletter for notifications on new articles, priority access to stock & exclusive offers!

The Pulsometer

Moving into the more eccentric and complex vintage watch scales, the pulsometer is put in place to measure your heart rate. Sometimes known as the ‘doctor’s watch’, this is a scale that has saved lives, it’s not just a pretty decoration.

While some scales are multi-purpose, the pulsometer has a single goal. Once you’ve found a pulse, start the scale. Count the number of beats stated on the scale and stop the chronograph after they have passed.

After the stated number of beats, the second hand should point to a number on the scale, which corresponds to your beats per minute. While this may seem somewhat pointless, without needing to do multiplication, it reduces the space for human error, therefore potentially saving lives.

The Pulsometer - Time Rediscovered

The Decimeter

Have you ever wondered why time is measured to 60 seconds per minute? Have you ever wondered what time would be measured in hundredths, like the metric system? This is why the decimeter was created.

Used for scientific purposes, the decimeter can translate time into a decimal - and has been used in laboratories and the production industry in order to calculate production costs and assembling time.

With a more niche appeal, the decimeter is found as smaller scales on the dial, making use of separate measuring hands, as the second hand continues to count the seconds.

The Decimeter - Time Rediscovered

So, now you know a little more about some of the most popular vintage watch scales. Whether you’re looking to impress your friends with your newfound knowledge, or go into your next purchase a little more informed, now you know your telemetre from your tachymeter!

Still want to see more watch scales?

Why not take a look at some of the watches we have in stock, featuring the watch scales mentioned in the article?

Heuer Carrera 3647 T
'Red Tachy'

Breitling Top Time Ref. 810.3 Reverse Panda

Enicar Ocean Pearl Ref. 072-01-02

%HHours
%MMinutes
%SSeconds
%-dDays
%HHours
%MMinutes
%SSeconds
%-wWeeks
%-dDays
%HHours
%MMinutes
%SSeconds
%HHours
%MMinutes
%SSeconds
%-dDays
%HHours
%MMinutes
%SSeconds
%-wWeeks
%-dDays
%HHours
%MMinutes
%SSeconds