The Zenith El Primero is quite simply one of the most important chronographs in watchmaking history. As we all know, chronographs have been around since the 19th century but it wasn’t that long ago that automatic chronographs were introduced. It was only as recent as the 1960s that there was a push to invent an automatic chronograph and while Zenith can be considered the first, it wasn’t quite that straight forward.
The El Primero is a legend within its own right however, there is a much debated story behind it. During the early 1960s there was a race on to see who could create the world’s first self-winding (automatic) chronograph. There were of course a few companies that shared an interest in claiming this technological breakthrough: Heuer/Buren-Hamilton/Breitling. However, there were also a couple of silent watch manufactures working on this advance too: in the Far East was Seiko, who were busy working on their own version and then there was the company from Le Locle; Zenith. While there is a debate on who was first, there’s no doubt that Zenith were first to announce the El Primero, with three different references. The A384, the A385 and of course the model that is the basis for this revival, the A386.
Over the past few years, Zenith have revived some forgotten timepieces, but this year sees them introduce something completely new to the El Primero line-up. The newest addition to the Chronomaster Original line, one of the most distinctively El Primero design elements is inverted: the traditionally creamy-white dial bearing three counters in shades of grey and blue is rendered black for a more dramatic look. It marks the first time that a black tricolour dial appears in the 38mm steel case originally designed for the A386 in 1969. Much like the Chronomaster Sport line, which features both white and black tricolour dials, the Chronomaster Original line is now completed with a historical white tricolour dial and a bolder, more modern black tricolour dial. By making the base black, the other elements also had to be inverted form white to black and vice-versa, including the date wheel in the trapezoid window at 04:30, as well as the 1/10th of a second and 10-second chronograph scales.
Without disrupting the unique aesthetic of the A386 and its multiple scales, the Chronomaster Original perfectly integrates a 1/10th of a second chronograph into the design. Truly like no other chronograph, the Chronomaster Original features a central red chronograph second hand that completes one rotation of the dial in 10 seconds. The chronograph hand steadily advances every 1/10th of a second, allowing for intuitive fractional time measurement.
Sharing the same overall silhouette and proportions as its historical predecessor from 1969, the Chronomaster Original is crafted in a 38mm round bezel-less steel case with a raised and domed crystal. The pump-style chronograph pushers, the faceted lugs and the mix of radial brushed and polished surfaces throughout are indistinguishable between the past and present models. The steel bracelet has also been redesigned, replacing the open “ladder” design of 1969 with solid links, though it would’ve been nice to see this bracelet used again. That said, there is an option of a vintage-inspired leather calfskin strap with pin buckle.
When released in 1969, the El Primero A386 housed a chronograph calibre able to beat at 36,000 vph or 5hz – making it at the time the world’s first high-frequency movement. The Zenith x Watches of Switzerland Group Chronomaster Original Limited Edition picks up the story. It’s powered by the El Primero 3600 calibre, which delivers a 1/10th of a second chronograph, a date window between 4 and 5 o’clock, and a 60-hour power reserve. This movement is visible through a sapphire case back, offering the wearer a glimpse of the levers and gears.
The Chronomaster Original with black tricolour dial joins the line as a permanent part of the collection, available at Zenith boutiques and authorized retailers around the world. The Zenith El Primero Chronomaster Original with black tricolour dial will retail for £8,800 – for more information visit zenith-watches.com