If you want a modern Zenith El Primero watch that combines the heritage of the famed “hi beat” mechanical chronograph and modern materials in a classic looking package then these new for 2017 El Primero watches will be right up your alley. Black and white “panda dial” watches are enduringly beloved by us watch nerds, especially when brands don’t ruin them with too much extra color. What are these pretty looking new Zenith watches called? Unfortunately the names are rather derivative being the “Zenith El Primero 36,000 VPH.” Because, you know, that narrows them down to every single El Primero watch ever made. Or you can refer to them by their “watch latin” reference names of 24.2041.400/21.R576 and 24.2041.400/01.R576.

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At 42mm wide the cases of the El Primero 36,000 VPH watches pictured here are ideally-sized, in my opinion. The cases are remarkably light being aluminum, but are  coated in ceramic. Zenith calls them “ceramicised aluminum,” which is important because aluminum scratches easily and ceramic coatings do not. Don’t worry, you aren’t the first one to read that term and at a glance think we are talking about circumcised metal cases.

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The matte black color is sporty and the 42mm case is just 12.75mm thick with 100 meters of water resistance in traditional El Primero style. Note the “box style” sapphire crystal which gives the watch a vintage look. I know I am harping on it at this point, but I really wish these watches had a more distinctive name… I’m thinking about just calling these models the El Primero Black & White, and the El Primero White & Black. You can decide which is which.

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The standard El Primero dial style is marked by a mostly monochromatic color tone with the lightest hint of red in two of the chronograph hands. The timeless, classic look of black & white “panda dials,” make sporty chronograph watches like the El Primero 36,000 look their best. It also has the versatility to be suitable with a lot of attire options. That’s really the beauty of black and white… that it goes with pretty much everything. More so, rather than three distinct high-contrast subdials, you have three overlapping subdials which makes it look like you have an uplifting homage to Mickey Mouse on your wrist at all times. Zenith, the most El Primero place on earth!

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Inside the Zenith El Primero 36,000 VPH is the in-house made Zenith caliber 400B automatic column-wheel movement. You can see the movement through the rear of the case’s sapphire crystal exhibition window. The movement operates at 5Hz (36,000 bph), which Zenith prefers to say is 36,000 vibrations per hour (“vph”). The date window is located 6 o’clock – and is among the more attractive date window on dial integrations on a sport watch you’ll find out there.

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Attached to the matte black ceramicised aluminum case is a perforated black rubber strap. While it is comfortable on the wrist, I am not a big fan of how it looks. There are seemingly many interesting replacements that could work well on a watch like this. I’m thinking a shiny alligator strap with silver (to match the dial’s light colors) stitching. Note that strap runs pretty large as well, so if you like this watch and have wrists my size, you’ll need to get a shorter strap, anyway.

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My personal favorite of the two is the Zenith El Primero 36,000 VPH with the black dial and silvery white subdials that is the reference 24.2041.400/01.R576. Though that and the silver white with black subdial reference 24.2041.400/21.R576 is cool, as well. Price for each is $8,600. zenith-watches.com

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