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The 9 Best Citizen Chronographs - A Buyers Guide

Posted on November 13 2020

Citizen Chronograph Watches

 

Citizen is one of the giants of the watch industry. This Japanese manufacturer markets its own comprehensive range of watches as well as producing movements for other watch companies. Chronographs are central to the Citizen brand, but the number of models can be overwhelming.

In this post, I’ll give you a little of Citizen’s back story and then highlight what I believe to be the nine best chronograph models currently available. From a large number of similar models, I’ve narrowed it down to nine watches that best cover the brand’s offerings.

There’s a selection of modern pieces using cutting edge technology, vintage-inspired models and a couple of interesting collaborations. But first, let’s have a look at the brand and why you may want to own a Citizen watch.

The History of Citizen Watches


Although originally created in Switzerland in 1930, the aim of Citizen from its inception was to sell watches to the Japanese market. After an initial transfer of technology from Switzerland, the company then took over existing watchmaking facilities in Japan.

The company has been at the forefront of technological advancement in watchmaking. Specifically, the transition from mechanical to battery-powered quartz movements. From there Citizen has created a number of innovative watches, with the Eco-Drive collection now being a core part of the brand.

They’ve also expanded the Citizen corporate group. You may have already seen that I’m a big fan of Bulova watches. They’re now owned by Citizen and that acquisition has lead to its own innovations. But for watches marketed under the Citizen brand, the Eco-Drive technology is probably the term that you’re most familiar with.

What is Citizen Eco-Drive?


The concept of Eco-Drive watches is simple. The watch movements are designed to convert both natural and artificial light into energy to power the watch. Initially developed in the 1970s, this technology has allowed Citizen to produce watches that never need a battery change. This environmentally friendly technology has proven popular and has won the brand environmental protection awards - learn more about Eco-friendly and ethical watches.

Understandably, Eco-drive models now dominate Citizen’s product range.

 



Citizen Miyota Movements


By owning Miyota, Citizen has a hand in one of the biggest movement production factories in the world. By 1999 the Calibre 2035 quartz movement had achieved an accumulated production of 1.7 billion units.

My preference is for mechanical movements and Miyota make the 9000 and 8200 series. They’re used in Citizen’s own small mechanical collection and by a myriad of other brands, including many microbrands. However, Citizen’s chronographs are normally quartz or Eco-drive powered.

The Best Citizen Chronograph Watches


Citizen has a lot of chronograph models in its range. There are some, like the Atomic watches, that have the most up to date technology, and others that have retro styling. My personal preference for the classically styled models, but I have included some of the contemporary designs too.

 

Citizen Eco-drive Chronograph AT2390-82A

 

The first watch that I’d like to present is an attractive black on white model - a panda dial.

This is a popular look that originated in the 1960s and has had something of a resurgence in recent years. The simple colouring is functional and legible but also works stylistically. The pattern instantly gives a chronograph a vintage feel, and as I noted here, vintage-style panda dial chronographs are among my favourite watches.

At 40mm this watch isn’t sized like a vintage model. It’s built for modern tastes, and this is enhanced by the use of an Eco-drive movement. Despite the modern touches, there is still a strong vintage look that differentiates the watch from others in the Citizen line.

It has a busy dial, but the contrasting sub-dials have stopped it feeling cluttered. The use of markers rather than numerals for hours has also simplified things a little. It’s a nice piece that successfully combines both vintage and modern elements.

Citizen Eco-Drive AT2390-82A

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 11mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Eco-Drive movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 



Citizen Bullhead Racing Chronograph Watch

 

Everyone who collects watches has a few that they’ve sold on and then later regretted. For me, one of those was a vintage Citizen Bullhead. It was a beautiful racing style chronograph that I picked up cheaply at a flea market and sold to fund the purchase of something else.

So I’ve got a soft spot for Bullhead watches. By Bullheads, we mean chronographs that have the pushers on the tops of the case, rather than at the side. They create a set of horns on the watch.

It’s a vintage style that has been recreated by a number of brands, including Citizen and fellow Japanese company Seiko. Bullhead watches are bold and unusual and this racing chronograph is a great example.

The design is based on an older model from 1973 which gives the watch a real authenticity. Its full title is the Tsuno Chrono Racer which supports the idea that is a sports watch. It's 45mm wide and a chunky 16mm thick, so it’s quite a substantial watch. There are also the pushers adding further size.

There’s a lot going on with this model, to the point where it’s hard to take it all in. As well as the chronograph features there is also a power reserve dial - remember, it’s also a light-powered watch. At first glance, did you even notice the date wedged in between one and two o’clock?

But it works. It does exactly what it’s designers set out to do. It’s a chronograph straight out of 1970s motorsports and that’s a winner for me.

Citizen Promaster Bullhead AV0071-03A

  • 45mm Diameter
  • 16mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Eco-Drive movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance



Citizen Sport AT2460-89L Watch
This is another sporty model that is slightly reminiscent of a Breitling Navitimer - they have similar colouring and tachymeter. Like the previous two watches, it also has a vintage edge.

There’s a couple of design points that drew my eye to this watch. The bezel and the crown both hint at an aviation theme and the deep blue dial and white subdials create a revere panda look. The red accents work well too.

The mineral crystal is domed, in keeping with a vintage aesthetic and at 43mm it’s not oversized. Quite a few of Citizen’s chronographs are very busy - as we’ll see with the Red Arrow’s model. But on the whole, I prefer a little more simplicity.

This watch does have the subdials cutting into the numbers, which normally I don’t like. But it’s not jarring or even particularly noticeable. It allows the numbers to be large and bold and the subdials to retain some symmetry.

Citizen Sport Eco-Drive AT2460-89L

  • 43mm Diameter
  • 11.5mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Eco-Drive movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 



Citizen Promaster Divers Watch

 

Like Seiko, Citizen is strong when it comes to divers watches. They have a good selection of watches including this ISO-compliant model.

The first thing that you’ll notice here is the green bezel. The green bezel/black dial combination is a popular colour palette, most famously used on the Rolex Submariner Kermit. It adds flair to this watch.

Probably the next element that you’ll notice is the size. At 46mm this a large watch, certainly above average. It is, however, relatively slim.

The point of this watch is a practical functionality that is most evident in the specs. It has a light-powered movement that never needs a battery change. It also has the chronograph functions that run on a highly legible dial. As noted above, it is also an ISO-compliant diver’s watch.

Rather than emulate a previous design from Citizen’s back catalogue or hark back to a previous era, this model is a tool watch to be used now. It’s large, tough and reliable.

Citizen Promaster Diver CA0715-03E

  • 46mm Diameter
  • 10mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Eco-Drive movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance

 



Citizen Red Arrows Chronograph Watch

 

When I think of Citizen chronographs, this is the kind of watch that I picture. A busy, modern watch with an array of different functions. This collaboration with the RAF’s Red Arrows is exactly that kind of watch.

So far I’ve concentrated more on the vintage-inspired pieces, but this watch has a contemporary aesthetic. There’s a lot to take in. It has the typical chronograph functions, with the subdials modelled on an aircraft cockpit. Indeed, one of the sub-dials actually resembles a Bell and Ross watch.

There’s also a 24hr chapter ring and an internal rotating bezel with world timer features. And of course, a date window.
Still, it’s an attractive watch and the Red Arrows logo is tucked away on the dial. There are also red accents that reference this collaboration. Turning the watch around you can see that there is the Red Arrows badge on the case back.
It's a busy, but tidy watch, with the added appeal of the Red Arrows link.

Citizen Red Arrows CA0080-54E

  • 43mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Eco-Drive movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 



Citizen Spiderman Chronograph Watch

 

Another interesting collaboration, this time with Marvel. There are a few watches featuring Marvel characters in the collection, with the Spider-Man model being among the best.

One of the things I like about this is the subtly. The Hulk model has a giant green fist punching thorough the dial - it’s fun and childish, just not for me. The Spider-Man piece, however, is restrained and weaves the references in more naturally.

The colours are there - red and blue like Spider-man’s suit - and there are web’s built into the dials pattern. But, you have to look closely to see the design points - the logo on the bottom sub-dial for example. I find this more satisfying. Like the Red Arrow’s watch, the case back also includes a larger logo.

In terms of specifications, there are no surprises. It’s 44mm and has the Eco-Drive movement and a mineral crystal.

Citizen Spiderman CA0429-53W

  • 44mm Diameter
  • 11.2mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Eco-Drive movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 

Citizen Eco-Drive CA0641-24E Watch

 

As much as I enjoy the collaborations and quirky designs, this is the type of watch that I prefer. A straightforward, classic Chronograph design, with a hint of retro styling.

There’s not a great deal to say. It’s a style that you’ll already be familiar with, and the main feature that differentiates it from other manufacturers, is the Eco-Drive movement. It’s just a good looking watch which does the little things well.

I mentioned that I favour chronographs where the sub-dials don’t cut through the numbers. On this model, the numbers at the foot of the dial overlap the sub-dial - a much better choice.

The racing strap is another small point that ultimately enhances the whole watch. It adds a small sports element. As does the orange on the top sub-dial.

This is a really nice watch that works precisely because there’s no single feature that takes away from the whole.

Citizen Eco-Drive CA0641-24E

  • 44mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Eco-Drive movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 

Citizen Chandler Chronograph Watch

 

Again, I want to highlight a watch that takes its design cues from the 1960s and 70s. It’s a lovely piece with a rich blue dial and silver sub-dials. It has symmetry and simplicity - two features I value in a chronograph.

Additionally, it has an internal tachymeter scale that allows the outer bezel to be plain and sloping. All nice touches that mean that it wears a little smaller than the 43mm case would suggest.

I particularly like the clean design that is dominated by stainless steel. With the plain bezel, silver sub-dials and the Milanese strap, it has silver as the primary colour. That allows for the blue dial and orange hand, while still maintaining the dressier style.

Other little touches - the domed crystal for example - finish off the overall design. It definitely works for me.

Citizen Chandler CA7020-58L

  • 43mm Diameter
  • 13.6mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Eco-Drive movement
  • Domed Mineral Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance



Citizen Eco-Drive CA7040-85L Watch

 

The final watch I want to highlight takes us from Vintage to Retro.

Straight away you’ll notice the retro case shape. It’s actually only 40mm wide and 11m thick, so it’s less chunky that it looks. Once again, there’s a great contrast between the blue dial and the stainless steel case. What also appeals to me is the knurled crown. It gives the impression that this is a rugged watch.

The dial and hands have an aviation feel - the marker at 12 o’clock reinforcing this. The dial is well laid out, with the bold numerals are worked around the sub-dials.

It’s not as dressy as the last model, but it has its own strong styling. More 1970s than 1960s, but just as versatile.

Citizen Eco-Drive CA7040-85L

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 11mm Thick
  • 19mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Eco-Drive movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance


Conclusion


Citizen makes a large range of watches, covering most styles. They’re particularly strong on diver’s watches and, I’d suggest, also chronographs. There can be a tendency for them to release large, modern, complex models. Some of these, like the Red Arrow’s collaboration, work well.

However, what interests me more are the classically styled and vintage-inspired models. They’re often over-looked and Citizen may not be where you’d first browse when shopping for this type of watch.

As I’ve demonstrated above, Citizen makes some great, very well-designed Chronograph watches. Most benefit from the use of Citizen’s own Eco-Drive technology, meaning that they never need a battery change and have less impact on the environment.

The 9 watches featured here should give you more than enough inspiration to take a closer look at the brand.

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