A brand well-known amongst watch collectors, but not often mentioned in the same breath with Rolex and Omega. Why? A rather strange thing if you ask me, since their ‘El Primero’ has been an icon for years and respected through-out the world. Zenith’s Godfather – Georges Favre Jacots – found that the name Zenith (referring to the highest point in our universe), would perfectly fit a watch brand with the priority to build the most accurate watches possible.
It was in 1969 that the world first got to meet Zenith’s El Primero movement. A world’s first in its class: a high-frequency automatic, calendar-equipped chronograph movement. A movement that brought the brand the fame and respect we know nowadays. Used by many other brands like Ebel, Tag Heuer and – of course – Rolex in their Daytona models from 1988 until 2000. Proving that the movement created by Zenith back then was of high quality and value.
As rich as the brand’s history is, quite frankly I can’t understand Zenith’s position in the industry nowadays. It seems as if the masses do not notice this outstanding school boy sitting in the back of the classroom. I wonder why..
The El Primero
As we all know, the El Primero Chronograph is Zenith’s role model when it comes to their collection. We all know this watch and it has earned its stripes in the past. You might have heard of it that time it jumped out of a giant balloon strapped around the wrist of a parachutist, or that special edition created in combination with famous cigar manufacturers and most recently the one created in collaboration with Range Rover. Personally, I think an icon doesn’t need such collaborations to get its status, but hey, that’s a matter of opinion. The marketing department at Zenith probably thinks otherwise.
Before I talk about my findings regarding this Zenith El Primero Chronomaster, I want to share some of its history with you. After all, we are talking about an icon and icons need to explained in the best way possible.
History Lesson #1
To come across the origin of the El Primero movement, we have to go back in time for about 55 years. It was the year 1962 that technic masterminds at Zenith started to squeeze their brains in order to come up with a movement combining a high frequency with an automatic chronograph. A difficult task, but manageable – resulting in the first ever El Primero movement seeing the light of day in 1969.
Where the use of modular chronographs was the most used option at that moment, Zenith decided it was time for a new standard in chronographs. They created the most accurate chronograph movement, with an accuracy going back to 1/10 of a second, all because the high frequency of the movement. 36.000 vph, a stunning achievement for that time. It made the movement more accurate than ever before. If your reaction was quick enough, you were able to measure time in a 10th of seconds.
The El Primero Chronomaster
The Chronomaster has the unmistakeable character of its older brothers. The coloured sub-dials, the indices and the T-pushers, all features that we recognize from ‘El Primero’ tales. However, I must admit, this El Primero clearly used some steroids. The case diameter of 42mm and the partially open-worked dial make this El Primero a tad bit more extreme than its ancestors. Something most brands wouldn’t do with their Icons, but Zenith follows up to the market’s wishes. Demanding more visible details with more and more skeleton watches and open-worked dials.
The dial of this El Primero is silver-toned with a sunray pattern. Because of the different angles in the dial, this results in a beautiful effect when light hits the watch. The 30-minute counter in characteristic blue and the 12-hour counter in anthracite grey. Colours that have become the El Primero’s trademark.
At 9 o’clock we see the open-worked small seconds. A small problem, this counter loses its practicality because of the fact that there aren’t any indices shown at that part of the dial. To be honest, I’m not very fond of this detail. The El Primero is a unique watch born out of functionality – which clearly loses some due to this design change. Alright, I understand why they chose to show the escapement – because of customer demand and wishes, although it’s clearly a matter of personal taste if you like it or not.
But then again, an esthetical change resulting in the loss of functionality isn’t quite understandable. To top it off, they gave the second ‘hand’ a star indicator, not really understandable either. Anyhow, I think there are also a lot of things that are well-executed. For instance, the placement of the tachymeter scale on the dial, rather than the bezel, resulting in much better scale placement and readability.
I must admit, I wore the watch with great pleasure. It’s very comfortable and it’s very attractive to stare at it for a while. Caught myself staring at the watch more than my girlfriend – it got tense. The case fits perfectly around the dial and the measurements are well-balanced. The boxed crystal and the large dial create a very cool look. The lugs seem pretty large, but the polished and brushed finishing make them very elegant in look and feel. Well done, well done. The case back is see-through, finishing where the dial started. What Zenith did very well is the fact that they increased grip on the crown by creating recess underneath the case.
As said, there’s can be no doubt about the performance of the El Primero movement. The Chronomaster is equipped with a 4061 in-house calibre, oscillating at 36.000 vph. The movement has been aligned so that the aperture rests at 10 o’clock. To achieve this, the whole of the movement has been restructured and strategically relocated.
This movement has 31 jewels, comprises 282 parts and affords a minimum power reserve of 50 hours. What’s special about this movement, is the use of a silicon escape-wheel. Which means the effect of wear and tear is much lower and also means there’s no oil required for this part of the movement. An adjustment that brings the quality to a higher level.
The Chronomaster comes with a black alligator-leather strap which sits very comfortable around your wrist. The watch is then closed with a triple-folding clasp.
To be honest, I would go with an Original, rather than a Chronomaster. It is a matter of taste, but I dislike the open-worked dial. I think this icon comes to life in its purest form and it should be kept that way. Besides that little thing, I think the El Primero is a respected timepiece with high-quality specifications. A true icon and to be honest: it should be a part of every watch collection. Which version that would be, I leave it up to you. I know how mine would look like.
CASE MATERIAL: Stainless steel
CASE DIAMETER: 42 mm
THICKNESS : 14.05 mm
CRYSTAL : Domed sapphire crystal with anti-reflective treatment on both sides
CASE-BACK : Transparent sapphire crystal
WAT:ER-RESISTANCE: 10 ATM
DIAL: Silver-toned sunray-patterned dial with two different-coloured counters
HOUR-MARKERS : Rhodium-plated, faceted and coated with SuperLuminova SLN C1
HANDS : Rhodium-plated, faceted and coated with SuperLuminova SLN C1