May 7, 2019
by David Bredan
The 50th anniversary of the Zenith El Primero makes for a splendid opportunity for some justified tributes, homages or, as Zenith apparently likes to call them, revivals. Behold three limited-edition references with the Zenith El Primero A386 Revival, launched as part of the 50th-anniversary celebration of one of the greatest automatic chronograph wristwatches ever made. Exclusively in 18k gold and limited to 50 pieces, each comes with a 50-year warranty.
Sure, a total of 150 pieces, each of them clad in — and priced for — different alloys of solid gold, can reasonably have a preposterous warranty like that; but it sure is a fun element to the “revival” of the first-ever El Primero model from 1969. The real head-scratcher here is when, if at all, are we going to see some non-limited, competitively priced steel homages to the original ~1969 variations of the El Primero – as I am sure we have plenty of fans lining up around the world for Zenith and a tribute to its original 5 Hertz chronograph.
The A386 oozes ’70s style — yes, we all know it debuted in 1969, but the design, defined by its flat, angular lugs, unobstructed crown and piston-pushers, domed crystal, 38mm diameter and unashamed dashes of color is very much a case study in ’70s wristwatch aesthetics. As I said, this case study is, rather inexplicably, exclusively available in 18k white gold, 18k rose gold and 18k yellow gold. And other than some strange case supplier-related limitations, I cannot think of a solid reason why this must have been necessary. The El Primero has a global and extensive fan base, so if you want to mess with their minds and make them feel worthless, launching nothing more than an all-gold limited edition for $19,900 is a tried and proven way of doing that. I have hopes for a stainless steel version to come later in the year, though I can’t at this time see why splitting these launches would be necessary. These three references (times 50 pieces for a total of 150 watches) will be picked up by die-hard collectors in a jiffy, anyway — by collectors, and everyone who’s had enough of waiting for the privilege of shelling out the same amount for a steel Daytona.
Before we get to specs, I should add that we have not had to do without neat, readily available, and relatively much more affordable homages to the original: the El Primero Original 1969 — that, despite its name, has been in production for years as a modern re-edition of one of the original references — is one of my all-time favorite watches; it is, indeed, very high on my List of Must-Get Watches. You may read my review of that steel version here and watch my video review here (now at over 128,000 views, a figure that speaks volumes about the popularity of this piece). Two important things to note: First, the case of the Original 1969 is different from the angular A386 — bad news if you’re a purist and good news if you prefer curves and an arguably superior fit around the wrist. Second, since my review, Zenith has performed a minuscule update to the Original 1969: it now has the three sub-dials overlapping in the correct order. On the reference that I reviewed, it had the 6 o’clock register overlapping the other two, whereas the reference that is available today (03.2150.400/69.C713) has them in the correct order. Okay, back to the Zenith El Primero A386 Revival.
With its long lugs, the A386 wears considerably larger than its 38mm diameter would suggest, a feat further enforced by the grandiose proportions of its dial elements. In yellow gold, it looks as precious as it should for such a notable anniversary — not explaining the lack of a steel version, but the A386 certainly looks fantastic in this timeless material. The 18kt white gold version is the blandest of them all, while the rose gold adds a contemporary touch.
The movement inside is a no-thrills El Primero 400 with 278 components, apparently exactly the same as can be found in other, much more common iterations in the collection. A gold winding rotor or some other neat detail would have been a fitting celebration of the movement, I thought. Still, it runs at 5 Hertz, has a power reserve of 50 hours, boasts the instantly recognizable El Primero layout with the horizontal clutch (that larger and smaller brass wheel just under the Zenith star on the image above) and column wheel. The horizontal clutch will entail a glitchy start to the chronograph seconds as the horizontally aligned wheels are pressed together — something I explained in greater detail in the review I linked to above.
The El Primero is a fantastic caliber that deserves detailed research — perhaps a full weekend dedicated to reading up on it — and certainly a great many more words than we can have here about it. My favorite telltale signs of its remarkable engineering are all the different variations that have come to exist: We have seen tourbillons, alarms, even minute repeaters — as seen above — all based on the El Primero, with its architecture intact within. Oh, and it powered the Rolex Daytona as the Caliber 4030, albeit dumbed down to 4 Hertz.
The Zenith El Primero A386 Revival makes for a decent, likable tribute to the original, even if its self-imposed limitation in availability will likely upset collectors and fans of the brand — something easily rectified by a non-limited steel version, should that be released. Available in 18k white gold, rose gold, and yellow gold, the Zenith El Primero A386 Revival is limited to 50 pieces in each variation and is priced at 19,900 CHF. You can scout the official website for more El Primero watches here.