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Discussion Starter #1
Gents,

We have been having an involved discussion about casebacks of Zenith El Primero ref A 386 over on the italian forum. This was started by an experienced member asserting that all A 386 with smooth casebacks (as opposed to casebacks with the four-pointed "NATO" star) are fakes, known to him to be assembled in Italy in recent years. This was challenged, and caused me to review the database I have been keeping.

It resulted in the following post (Ref. A386: Zenith "contatori sovrapposti" a 3 colori - page 15), which I reproduce in its entirety here. Spillman is the case manufacturer for the A 386 and other El Primeros.

First, very important not to consider casebacks from other El Primero references. It confuses matters.

Second, SP 1205 is the only correct Spillman number for the A 386

Third, by using caseback numbers, I find clearly three production groups

Again, from my database (14 examples total):

Type A
Early production series
3 examples
- case numbers 538Dxxx - 539Dxxx
- plain caseback
- internal inscription as follows
a) Zenith
b) Swiss made;
c) Acier inoxidable;
d) no Spillman number
The writing is centered



Type B
Middle production series
4 examples
- plain caseback
- case numbers 707Dxxx - 708Dxxx
- internal inscription as follows:
a) Zenith;
b) Swiss made;
c) Acier inoxidable;
d) SP 1205 (Spillman number)
The writing is centered



Type C
Late production series
6 examples
- Caseback with four point star (NATO star)
- case numbers
861Dxxx-862Dxxx
922Dxxx-923Dxxx
231Exxx-233Exxx
- internal inscription as follows:
a) Zenith;
b) Swiss made;
c) Acier inoxidable;
d) SP 1205
The writing is arranged circumferentially




The incorrect watches, which I believe to be forged as longinespassion has stated, have correct casebacks, but they are incorrect for the case number
In addition, case numbers lie outside of known production series, typically in the mid 900Dxxx range (922 & 923D are authentic). Dials tend to be modern-style service dials as discussed elsewhere on this forum.

for example, serial 936D460 - Type B caseback



Friend Nicola1960 has summarized the above in a nifty table:



I hope this will be of some use to members....
 

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Thanks very much for posting that - very interesting! It just goes to show the phenomenal detail you have to go into to be sure that every bit of your vintage watch is original. Not really worth it on a bog standard, no name brand with generic ETA/AS/FHF movement - but certainly worth it on a Zenith Vintage El Primero. And even more so on a vintage Patek or Vacheron.....

Hartmut Richter
 

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The incorrect watches, which I believe to be forged as longinespassion has stated, have correct casebacks, but they are incorrect for the case number
In addition, case numbers lie outside of known production series, typically in the mid 900Dxxx range (922 & 923D are authentic). Dials tend to be modern-style service dials as discussed elsewhere on this forum.
Tremendous work. I have followed the discussion a little bit in the Italian forum. Do you think the cases and case backs are flat-out forgeries, or are they Zenith surplus or service parts, like the dials, cobbled into whole watches? Flat-out forgeries would be impressive.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Tremendous work. I have followed the discussion a little bit in the Italian forum. Do you think the cases and case backs are flat-out forgeries, or are they Zenith surplus or service parts, like the dials, cobbled into whole watches? Flat-out forgeries would be impressive.
I think the casebacks at least are flat out forgeries. Not sure about the cases. The italian member who raised the issue believes hey are both forgeries I think.
 

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I think the casebacks at least are flat out forgeries. Not sure about the cases. The italian member who raised the issue believes hey are both forgeries I think.
Hmmm... then I wonder why the out-of-range case numbers, instead of credible ones within known ranges, if everything else is so carefully done. That's what got me thinking surplus/replacement parts, i.e. old-style replacement case-backs made by (or for) Zenith with "future" case numbers.
 

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Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)
They're not "future" case numbers. They fit in snugly between two production runs. I think the forger just chose what seemed to him some likely numbers, without realizing how tightly defined the production runs are. Nor would I have known had I not been collecting case numbers these many months - certainly the forger did not go to that effort.
 

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Ugh. See, this is why I don't collect old Rolexes. This and the extra decimal place. Does it mean Zenith collecting has arrived?
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Ugh. See, this is why I don't collect old Rolexes. This and the extra decimal place. Does it mean Zenith collecting has arrived?
At least as far as certain vintage El Primero references are concerned, I think that it might be so. Still some other stuff to pick up though.
 

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Wonderful to see the three different types of casebacks used for the vintage Zenith El Primero A386 during the three years of its production run (1969-1971).

Good to know also that SP stands for Spillmann, the company that produced the cases.

If I may point it out, there is a small mistake for type B, where you now mention a range of serial numbers 707Dxxx - 708Dxxx. In your earlier table of serial numbers, as well as in the beginning of your getting involved in the discussion on O&P, one can see that the range of serial numbers for type B starts at 706Dxxx. At the bottom of the page Ref. A386: Zenith "contatori sovrapposti" a 3 colori - page 13 you have also shown some correct examples starting with 706Dxxx.
Another mistake in that Italian thread, is that there were 3500 made of the A386. I believe this should be 2500.


Now, about the so-called forged caseback debate. I've browsed through the pages of the Italian discussion and this is what I find.

There is one forum member there, whom you quote, who was irritating others with his blunt statement that 'the only correct caseback for the A386 is the one with the star and all the plain casebacks are fakes'.

If you're the least bit familiar with the A386, you know that this is simply wrong. I read in one reaction on the Italian forum that this provocative forum member apparently has been using several different aliases and has already been banned from the forum once and should be more careful. Moreover I couldn't find any facts which his statement was based on. That should anyway be impossible, because we already know that the plain casebacks are correct for the A386.

So what remains of the debate on O&P? There is one newbie on the Italian forum O&P (that would be you, Lou :)) who picked up the discussion and chose the side of the underdog (now that I like). And you've shown some examples of what you believe could be a forged serial number.

I think there is right away an important distinction to make between forged casebacks and possibly forged serial numbers.

Let me reproduce here the examples which you have given on the Italian O & P forum of suspicious serial numbers :

there are three watches with caseback numbers that do not fit, or stand well apart from productions sequences. Notice that they all have service dials and the serial number is engaraved more deeply. Here are some examples


dsc_2442.jpg dsc_2448.jpg img3.jpg img9.jpg

So what do we have ?

Firstly there are three caseback numbers in the mid 900Dxxx range that do not fit the normal sequences.
That is not yet a sign of forgery. These could be 'outliers'.
In the Early El Primero Case Number Project - results thread you have shown nine other 'outliers', which you believe to be correct.
So why couldn't these numbers in the mid 900Dxxx range simply be outliers and correct as well ?

But, secondly, as you show in at least one example, the serial number of these is engraved more deeply. I agree that this is suspicious. To be sure one should be able compare it to other (correct) examples in the 900Dxxx range: maybe by that time Zenith had started to engrave all the serial numbers more deeply ? I don't think that is the case, but you have the better database and should be able to tell for sure. If not, the caseback on this one may have been polished and the serial number may have been engraved recently. Then still, it could be that the original serial number was simply engraved again.

Thirdly, you say that "all" these three Primero's with outlying serial numbers have service dials. That is too much to be a coincidence. It would lead me to think that maybe Zenith themselves (who supplied the service dials) also may have polished the casebacks at the time of service and engraved the serial numbers again. That, or the person who ordered the service dials may have polished the casebacks and engraved the SN himself.

In any case, I see no proof whatsoever of forged casebacks. All the casebacks shown look original and correct. To be sure of this, one should be able to check the inside of the caseback, but I doubt very much that you would find any irregularities there.

If you would consider a serial number that was first polished out and then engraved again, a forgery, then yes, I agree that it is quite possible that such an outrageous thing has happened. Possibly even something worse happened : it could be that somebody engraved serial numbers that were not extant before.
 

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I tend to agree with Semper on this. I have a hard time believing the forge theory. With that said, most of the case backs we are seeing have had the crap polished out of them anyway. I'm a loyal Zenith fan but is the value and rarity of the watches dictating the need to make fake casebacks?

Like i said along time ago, trying to figure out case backs, numbers, factory model corect parts isnt easy without "fact proof."

Does Zenith really not want to give up information for collectors or do they just dont have it anymore? 31
 

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Personally, I think the opposite way. The depth and clarity of the case back engraving on the "forgery" (?!) is rather more than that found on the old Zeniths. And even allowing for wear and tear on vintage vs. NOS on forgery, the discrepancy is too great IMO.

Hartmut Richter
 

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Hartmut, you're not succeeding in thinking the opposite way, as I completely agree that the depth of the engraving of the serial number in that caseback is suspicious.
That's why I thought it was useful to reproduce the picture.
I think we all agree that Lou is right in the sense that this serial number may be a forgery.

Although I can't recall ever having seen a vintage Zenith serial number engraved so deeply, I've suggested a comparison anyway with other casebacks in the 900Dxxx range, just to make sure.

But the fact that that serial number was probably engraved recently, doesn't mean that the caseback itself is a forgery.
It is not because somebody may have falsified the serial number of a Mercedes, that the car itself was not made by Mercedes.
It may be a false serial number : but to confirm that suspicion will require further investigation and proof.

Personally, I think the opposite way. The depth and clarity of the case back engraving on the "forgery" (?!) is rather more than that found on the old Zeniths. And even allowing for wear and tear on vintage vs. NOS on forgery, the discrepancy is too great IMO.

Hartmut Richter
 

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Lou, thanks for scaring the @#&% out of me and sending me back to photos of the inside of my plain-back A 386! Yes it has the type B SP 1205-inscribed case-back, but of course one cannot determine if it has a correct case number because THERE IS NO CASE NUMBER! Since the rest of the watch is quite clearly original, I'm not clear why someone would bother forging such a caseback. With a service dial, yes, one could see acquiring disparate non-A386 parts and putting them together to make a watch that none of them belongs to. But practical? Hmmmm. Only in Italy, they say!
 

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Discussion Starter #16 (Edited)
If I may point it out, there is a small mistake for type B, where you now mention a range of serial numbers 707Dxxx - 708Dxxx...
You are correct, should be 706Dxxx-708Dxxx.

There is one forum member there, whom you quote, who was irritating others with his blunt statement that 'the only correct caseback for the A386 is the one with the star and all the plain casebacks are fakes'.

If you're the least bit familiar with the A386, you know that this is simply wrong.
I am in full agreement.

I read in one reaction on the Italian forum that this provocative forum member apparently has been using several different aliases and has already been banned from the forum once and should be more careful.
Not accurate as far as I understand it (not banned but resigned over a matter that had nothing to do with expertise). Without dissecting the politics of another forum in a language foreign to me, I suggest this is not relevant to the member's credibility or expertise in this matter.

Firstly there are three caseback numbers in the mid 900Dxxx range that do not fit the normal sequences.
That is not yet a sign of forgery. These could be 'outliers'.
Highly unlikely. With the addition of further caseback numbers to the database, now numbering 34 examples for ref A 386, there are 5 very tightly defined production sequences, and these outliers are thousands to tens of thousands of numbers out of sequence, and equally separate from one another and serial numbers of other early El Primero references. IMO, these are fully invented reference numbers, by someone who is aware of SN format and also has a rough idea of the range of numbers, but not about the specific production sequences.

As an additional note, there are five suspicious caseback numbers that do not fit the normal sequences, not three. However, there are only three that I have good photographic documentation of.

To be sure one should be able compare it to other (correct) examples in the 900Dxxx range: maybe by that time Zenith had started to engrave all the serial numbers more deeply ?I don't think that is the case, but you have the better database and should be able to tell for sure.
You are right; it is not the case.


Thirdly, you say that "all" these three Primero's with outlying serial numbers have service dials. That is too much to be a coincidence. It would lead me to think that maybe Zenith themselves (who supplied the service dials) also may have polished the casebacks at the time of service and engraved the serial numbers again. That, or the person who ordered the service dials may have polished the casebacks and engraved the SN himself.
I believe the latter is indeed possible. He engraved fabricated SNs on casebacks that may or may not have belonged to the case, or even to the reference. Casebacks from other Primero references could explain the poor fit observed on some of them.

To be sure of this, one should be able to check the inside of the caseback, but I doubt very much that you would find any irregularities there.
But one does - the inner engraving is not consistent with the SN according to the patterns I report. In addition, on a few, the four-point star appears to have been polished completely off of the back, very deliberately. I think this was done by someone who believed that the plain caseback was correct, and was trying to make correct-looking casebacks from starred casebacks from other cases. Unfortunately, not many inner casebacks from the suspicious examples are available for inspection

Possibly even something worse happened : it could be that somebody engraved serial numbers that were not extant before.
This is exactly what I believe happened - hence a forgery.

Personally, I think the opposite way. The depth and clarity of the case back engraving on the "forgery" (?!) is rather more than that found on the old Zeniths. And even allowing for wear and tear on vintage vs. NOS on forgery, the discrepancy is too great IMO.

Hartmut Richter
Fully agree.

Lou, thanks for scaring the @#&% out of me and sending me back to photos of the inside of my plain-back A 386! Yes it has the type B SP 1205-inscribed case-back, but of course one cannot determine if it has a correct case number because THERE IS NO CASE NUMBER! Since the rest of the watch is quite clearly original, I'm not clear why someone would bother forging such a caseback. With a service dial, yes, one could see acquiring disparate non-A386 parts and putting them together to make a watch that none of them belongs to. But practical? Hmmmm. Only in Italy, they say!
No need to thank me, JC - always offering ways for forum members to assess cardiovascular health;-). But that's exactly the point. They all have service dials (and incidentally, you need not fear if the watch does not have a service dial). i think it is the availability of service dials that provoked the creation of the forgeries.
 

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Gentlemen,

I'm keen to seek your collective opinion and expertise on this one.
After learning about these forged A386s, these days everytime I see a A386 with a service dial I assume it's a fake until proven otherwise.
But this one that just showed up on Ebay seems different - service dial, but correct crown and correct caseback.
Zenith El Primero Ref A386 Year 1969 | eBay
So this is a kosher A386 with a service dial?
How common are these?

ben
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It's very faint but you can kind of make out the case number. 862D690 which I think would be kosher for that watch. But I'll leave it to the real experts.
 
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