September 3, 2022
Although the enthusiast landscape is constantly shifting and tastes naturally change over time, few luxury brands in the watch industry can match the sort of hot streak Zenith has enjoyed in the past several years. Although the marque has long been celebrated by collectors and hardcore watch cognoscenti, Zenith’s mix of horological expertise, pitch-perfect design, and finely balanced blend of vintage-inspired and futuristic models has led to an unprecedented level of mainstream interest and demand in recent years. Few of its models, however, can act as a microcosm of Zenith’s newfound popularity better than the Chronomaster Revival “Shadow.” Although the design is ostensibly based on a never-released PVD-coated handwound Zenith chronograph from 1971, the pared-back, gray-on-black style feels effortlessly modern and offers one of the most stylish takes on the A384 El Primero silhouette to date. First released in 2020, the Zenith Chronomaster Revival “Shadow” has grown into a standout among the brand’s white-hot model range, combining vintage and modern visual cues together with a truly stellar movement to form one of the most compelling chronograph designs in recent years.
At 37mm-wide, the micro-blasted titanium case of the Zenith Chronomaster Revival “Shadow” bucks the trend of beefy ‘70s-style sports chronographs in favor of something decidedly more svelte and elegant on the wrist. With that said, it’s not without its own sense of wrist presence, as the angular tonneau-style shape works to give this design a broader visual profile than an equivalent round case. On paper, the idea of a squared-off, blacked-out tonneau case conjures up a certain sort of aggressive wearing experience, but in practice, the Chronomaster Revival “Shadow” is a far more nuanced watch on the wrist than one might expect. For starters, the actual case color is closer to charcoal gray than black, with a smooth matte texture that feels undeniably premium on the wrist. There’s no PVD or DLC coating at play here, and the color is purely the result of the blasting process on the natural titanium surface. By not resorting to a deeper black, many of the subtle details of this case design shine more brightly on the wrist as well. On close inspection, there are hardly any straight lines in this ostensibly squared-off case design – nearly every surface carries some slight arcing or curvature, which helps this case to wrap around the wrist more organically and gives it a greater sense of depth and comfort.
Although there were a handful of matte black chronograph designs in the era of the original prototype that inspired the Chronomaster Revival “Shadow” (most notably the Porsche Design Chronograph 1 in 1972 and the classic Heuer Monza in 1976), most of these designs were compromised by the material limitations of the time, most notably when it comes to the crown and pushers. The use of a truly matching matte charcoal gray tone for the signed crown and piston pushers helps to visually reframe this design as something cleaner and more contemporary while maintaining the same old-school chronograph profile that Zenith launched with the original A384 El Primero in 1969. Zenith’s other major modern adjustment to this case comes through the caseback, where it adds a sapphire display window to showcase its in-house movement. Unfortunately, the water resistance for this design is firmly stuck in the ‘70s, however, as the 50-meter depth rating undermines the otherwise rugged titanium construction.
The dial of the Zenith Chronomaster Revival “Shadow” continues the case’s trend of pared-back monochrome presentation, paired with late-‘60s chronograph cues. By and large, this is standard vintage-style El Primero fare, with a gently stepped outer tachymeter ring, beveled applied indices, striped baton hands, and a trio of subdials at 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 9 o’clock. Like the case, though, the devil is in the details here. To the joy (or chagrin) of some enthusiasts, Zenith’s signature notched 4:30 date window is wholly omitted here for a cleaner look, and the matte medium gray of the subdials and tachymeter scale gives just enough contrast with the finely grained black main dial surface to make the design both visually dynamic and extremely legible for a “murdered out” colorway. There is contrasting texture work here, but it’s almost invisible to the naked eye. With a powerful lens, faint azurage rings appear in each of the three subdials, but it’s subtle enough not to create a visual effect in changing light. Zenith’s dedication to visual minimalism is not without its drawbacks here, however. The lack of a minutes or seconds track makes for an impressively clean and open look for a three-register sports chronograph, but the lack of markings between indices can create serious issues when trying to read the watch at a glance, set the time, or use the chronograph for precise timing.
Zenith powers the Chronomaster Revival “Shadow” with the venerable in-house El Primero 4061 automatic chronograph movement. The El Primero line has earned its reputation among enthusiasts over more than 50 years of service, and the (arguably) first-ever automatic chronograph movement line remains a class leader to this day. Viewed through the caseback, this is an ornately finished showcase of mechanical complexity, with a gold gear train, skeletonized bridges finished with tight perlage, a multi-piece balance cock with sunburst and brushed layers, polished anglage for the chronograph arms and levers, blued screws, a matching blued column wheel, and Zenith’s signature star-shaped skeleton rotor topped with Côtes de Genève. It’s a joy to watch in action, with the chronograph engagement clearly visible and the El Primero line’s famous 36,000 bph high-frequency escapement serenely oscillating away. The El Primero 4061’s performance matches its appearance as well, with a solid 50-hour power reserve and an excellent measured accuracy of -3 seconds per day during our testing period.
To complete the design, Zenith couples the Chronomaster Revival “Shadow” with a black Cordura-effect textured rubber strap. Ordinarily textured rubber straps are contrary to my own personal tastes, but here the effect is detailed enough to be mistaken for real fabric at a glance, and the material is so supple and comfortable that it more than overcomes any inherent personal biases. Coupled with the titanium case and compact dimension, it helps to make the Chronomaster Revival “Shadow” an impressively comfortable wearing experience, even if it does firmly root the watch in casual stylistic territory.
While Zenith is enjoying unprecedented mainstream success in the current watch market, few if any of its models capture the strength and spirit of the brand’s current lineup better than the Zenith Chronomaster Revival “Shadow.” This is a supremely stylish design, both in concept and execution, paired with a truly high-end movement and finishing. The Zenith Chronomaster Revival “Shadow” is available now through authorized dealers and carries an MSRP of $9,000 USD as of press time. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.
>Model: Chronomaster Revival “Shadow”
>Price: $9,000 USD
>When reviewer would personally wear it: With an all-black contemporary outfit, when looking for a subtle statement pairing with a weekend outfit, or when meeting with other chronograph enthusiasts.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Chronograph buffs looking for a more modern take on the classic El Primero, fashion-forward men looking for a stylish alternative to the usual luxury chronograph options.
>Best characteristic of watch: Striking monochrome looks, excellent finishing, spectacular movement.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Lack of a minutes track can make legibility difficult, ambitious pricing.