Displacement rates of normal faults deduced from stratigraphic data are often unreliable. Here we calculate the velocity of motion on a normal fault from the variations in accommodation potential on both sides of the fault within a high-resolution time-frame established by biostratigraphy and physical stratigraphy. Our example is the Ornon normal fault bounding the Early Jurassic Bourg-d'Oisans Basin formed during Tethyan rifting. We show that motion on the fault was discontinuous when examined at high resolution and over a long time interval. During a first interval (Hettangian to Sinemurian Arietites bucklandi zone) a low rate of displacement (=202–423 m Myr−1) coeval with diffused extensional deformation throughout the sedimentary basin is observed. A second interval of localized deformation (Early Sinemurian Caenisites turneri zone) is characterized by higher rates of displacement on the fault (1846 m Myr−1). Our results concur with recent numerical models identifying the main stages of extensional deformation.