June 29, 2021
Although heritage has always been a cornerstone of Zenith’s long-running El Primero chronograph series, in recent years the brand has redoubled its commitment to authenticity and historical accuracy for vintage-inspired El Primero models. So far, this effort has been a solid success for Zenith, with a wide variety of faithfully sized reissues of early El Primero references bolstered by a mix of new modern colorways and reinterpretations. However, until now this Chronomaster Revival sub-brand has primarily focused on the tonneau-cased A384 and A385 designs introduced in 1969, while mostly neglecting the third core model in the original El Primero family. The brand’s latest release changes that, bringing the more traditional A386 case design into the permanent Chronomaster Revival collection with a trio of handsome new references. The new Zenith El Primero Chronomaster Original series offers perhaps the most compelling addition to the collection thus far, delivering the most iconic El Primero design in a faithful 38mm rendition along with a pair of charismatic reimaginings while boasting the brand’s modern movement-making prowess.
All three models in the new Zenith El Primero Chronomaster Original line follow the same 38mm case design. This is an impressively accurate rendition of the original A386 design introduced in 1969, with the same deceptively simple form. The lugs are the real highlight here, wide a wide gradually tapering form and wedge-cut pointed tips that help to accentuate the sharpness of the form in images. Despite the apparent simplicity, these lugs are a showcase for Zenith’s intensive and exacting finishing, with radial brushing along the lug tops given shape by a flowing outer chamfer and matching mirror polished case sides. In larger iterations of this case, the stark and dramatic undercut of the lug tips helps to visually compact the design to smaller than expected proportions, but with an already compact 38mm diameter this may lead to the watch feeling too minute on the wrist for some. The rest of the case design also follows the classic 1969 pattern, with a paper-thin polished bezel and piston pushers. Other than modern fit and finish, the only major departure for these new models is the sapphire display caseback. Two of the three variants render this classic form in stainless steel, while the third adds a layer of luxurious masculine warmth with 18k rose gold.
Although the three models in the Zenith El Primero Chronomaster Original series share two strikingly different dial colorways, the basic design is nearly identical to the 1969 A386. The largest departure here is the functionality of the chronograph itself. With a unique central chronograph seconds hand that makes a rotation of the dial once every 10 seconds, the subdials and outer scales change accordingly. The original model’s outer tachymeter ring becomes a 1/10 second scale for easy precise chronograph readings, and the contrasting inner ring transitions from a decimal hours scale to a decimal scale for use with the chronograph. The El Primero A386’s hallmark overlapping triple subdials also adapt to this unorthodox layout, with a standard running seconds at 9 o’clock, a 60-minute chronograph subdial at 6 o’clock, and a 60 second chronograph subdial at 3 o’clock. For the rose gold model and one of the stainless steel variants, this is more or less the extent of the changes from the original formula, with the new Chronomaster Original carrying on the legacy with a silver main dial, beveled applied indices, subdials in snailed light gray, dark gray, and navy blue, and a vibrant red central chronograph hand. For the second stainless steel model, Zenith shakes up this look significantly with a monochrome reverse panda layout. This new look features a trio of silver subdials complemented by a matte black main dial surface, reversed black and silver colorations for the outer ring scales, and khaki Super-LumiNova across the indices and the inner segments of the white ladder hands. While this may be a more versatile look for the A386 design, in images this variant loses some of the unique charisma of the El Primero line and feels substantially more generic as a result.
Zenith uses the recently introduced in-house El Primero 3600 automatic chronograph movement for all three models in the El Primero Chronomaster Original line. Beyond the previously mentioned central chronograph hand and unique layout, this fully modernized descendant of the original El Primero movement sports a lateral clutch, a column wheel, and a robust 60 hour power reserve at the line’s signature high frequency 36,000 bph beat rate.
The Zenith El Primero Chronomaster Original series sports a variety of strap options. All three models can be paired with a calfskin leather strap in a unique color – navy blue for the silver dial stainless steel variant, saddle tan for the black dial version, and a rich tobacco brown for the rose gold model. For stainless steel examples, buyers can also option a three link oyster style bracelet in stainless steel with polished center links. This last option, however, is a notable departure from the original A386 look. Like its stablemates the A384 and A385, the early A386 El Primero was evocatively tied to the iconic Gay Frères ladder bracelet and its distinctive look. While the new three link bracelet is attractive enough in images, a ladder bracelet design would likely have made the Chronomaster Original stand out on the wrist more effectively.
By extending the scope of the Chronomaster Revival collection to include the El Primero’s most enduring design and introducing the new El Primero 3600 movement into the more vintage-focused side of the brand’s chronograph stable, the new Zenith El Primero Chronomaster Original series delivers a bold and charismatic step forward in the reinvention of this historic line. All three models in the Zenith El Primero Chronomaster Original line are available now through authorized dealers, with stainless steel models starting at $8,400, and the 18K rose gold variant carrying an MSRP of $19,100. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.