The new-for-2017 Zenith Chronomaster El Primero Full Open 38.00 is based on a simple, but powerful recipe. Step 1: take an original-sized Zenith El Primero chronograph. Step 2: remove its dial and fine-tune a few details accordingly and Step 3: enjoy. It was nearly two years ago that I reviewed the El Primero Original 1969 – one of the few watches I can say I thoroughly enjoyed and miss wearing – and I was curious to see if this “full open-ized” piece gets to be a considerable alternative, or if it falls short by trying too hard.

As such, allow me to keep this review a bit shorter and more to the point, as this Zenith Chronomaster El Primero Full Open 38.00 (reference 03.2153.400/78.C813) has essentially the same case, movement, strap, and clasp as the Original 1969. One last point to clarify: the Original 1969 has been discontinued, but the Chronomaster El Primero 38mm (reference 03.2150.400/69.C713) is a minutely updated version of that piece that is currently available from Zenith.

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Quick Run-Down On Specs

The Zenith Chronomaster El Primero Full Open 38.00 comes in a 38mm wide and 12.45mm thick case, sporting an ample 100m of water resistance and matched to an odd, 19mm wide strap. Both the front and back feature sapphire crystal windows, with the front featuring dual-side AR-coating over its boxed and slightly domed crystal element.

The movement inside remains the El Primero 400 Automatic, a classic iteration that falls very close to the original El Primero caliber – mind you, it is now behind a grey tinted crystal that makes it a bit more difficult to appreciate under some lighting conditions. It is, of course, a fully integrated chronograph caliber, composed of 278 parts, 31 jewels, and a balance wheel that beats at the much-loved 5Hz frequency, while power reserve runs over two full days at around 50 hours. The column wheel, horizontal clutch, automatic winding, and a beautiful movement and sub-dial layout make it a true classic.

Notably, the El Primero 400 is also as loud as it’s ever been, especially now, with the open dial, that allows sound to pass through the case with yet greater ease. In a quiet room, it is audible when on the desk at about two feet away, and when I lift my arm near my head – striking my Rodin’s The Thinker pose – I can hear it tick-tocking at its frantic and impressive 36,000bph. Some will love the El Primero for that, but others will want to know that it’s a watch you can hear in quiet environments – not something you’ll likely make out in the boutique, when trying it on.

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The El Primero – Transformed

The Zenith Chronomaster El Primero Full Open 38.00 is a new reference for 2017, and while there have been numerous variations of the El Primero with different extents of skeletonization, this is the first one I can recall to be a 38mm-wide variant with a fully removed dial. It is also here where we should note that this is not really a skeletonized watch, as that term is traditionally used to refer to movements whose plates (and maybe some other parts) have been fully hollowed out so as to introduce as much transparency into the movement’s structure as possible. Kudos to Zenith for using the correct term and calling this a Full Open and not an El Primero Skeleton, although this piece does seem to include a few pieces that appear to have been modified to make the dial-side of the El Primero more fascinating to look at.

The end result is one bonkers looking El Primero that comes with tons of newness and excitement to it – but also a few issues that are worth mentioning. Let’s dig in and see all the pros and cons of this bold, new, and attractive iteration of such a much-loved chronograph.

There can be no doubt to the wow-factor of the El Primero Full Open – it’s a striking watch, with a full skyline of wheels, tiny springs, cams, plates, and openworked sub-dials – it’s one heck of a view, and also something that you’re highly unlikely to get bored of anytime soon (or ever, for that matter). Whether one likes or dislikes full open watches is down to personal preferences and taste, but that doesn’t mean a watch without a dial can’t be tastefully done.

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