It’s an important year for Zenith, the LeLocle-based watchmaker celebrates the 50th anniversary of its legendary El Primero movement. Though a clutch of watches have been launched to mark this anniversary, the highlight is the solid gold “revival trilogy” – a trio of watches that pay tribute to the original A386 reference from 1969.
When the El Primero was launched in 1969, it was an industry game-changer. In the 1960s the race was on to create the first serially manufactured automatic chronograph. The winner of this accolade remains a contentious and polarising issue, with Seiko, Zenith and a developmental group comprising Hamilton-Buren, Breitling, Heuer and Dubois Depraz all staking a claim.
Whatever the truth, Zenith achieved a PR victory of sorts by having the ingenuity and foresight to name their candidate the El Primero, Spanish for ‘The First’. Ref. A386, unveiled at the Basel fair in 1969 was the first automatic chronograph with a high-beat movement, its escapement boasted an extremely fast oscillation rate of 36,000vph (the most common frequency for modern mechanical wristwatch movements is 28,800 vph).
As far as aesthetics go, the golden jubilee editions are faithful reproductions of the 1969 original. In designing this vintage series, each component of an original El Primero chronograph was digitized so as to ensure accurate reproduction of its properties. All three models are 38-mm-wide case made in a choice of three precious metals – yellow, white or rose gold. The watch is 12.6 mm thick and is water-resistant to 100 meters.
The watch is fitted with domed sapphire crystal and has mushroom-shaped chronograph pushers. A notable exception to the original design is the presence of the sapphire crystal caseback and an updated crown with the brand logo. It would have been rude not to reveal the lovingly finished high-beat chronograph movement. All three models have the same lacquer dial with three-colored counters, a tachymeter scale on the periphery of the dial, baton-shaped rhodium-plated hands and a date window at 4.30.
The revivals editions are powered by the current version of the El Primero Caliber 400, a self-winding movement that beats at 5 Hz. It has an integrated column-wheel construction and a ball bearing-mounted central rotor that lets it amass a power reserve of 50 hours when fully wound, significant for a high-beat movement.
Nods to the past continue with a brown or black rubber-lined alligator leather strap depending on the model fitted with a buckle made of the same gold as the case, as well as with the composition of the case. Also part of the package is a bright red travel pouch, like the one from 1969, as well as a microfiber cloth adorned on one side with an El Primero chronograph movement plan and on the other with a picture of the original user manual. All three are issued in 50-piece limited editions with a 50-year guarantee. The watches are priced at CHF19,900 each.