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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
This is Part 2 of a 2-part post. For the first, see https://www.watchuseek.com/f27/prel...early-el-primeros-general-remarks-431440.html


SPECIFIC MODELS

I will review the individual models according to case style. All of the Zenith El P cases are distinctive, and I think either appeal or repel at first glance. There are four case types that account for the bulk of these watches. The most distinctive, and the most immediately identified with the early El Primeros is the angled tonneau.

Angled Tonneau Case:
This case is very comfortable on the wrist, and the interplay of brushed and polished planes is pleasing to the eye. Its design antecedents seem to me to be a type of late 1930s military watch case, as in the Czech Air Force Longines, and certain Eternas, etc. All cases are vulnerable to overpolishing, but this model is especially so, and even moderate polishing stands to blunt the numerous angles and alter the fragile proportions and relationships of the facets of this watch.

Unpolished watches are marked by crisp angles



Compare with



overpolishing too close to the dial has altered this normally straight line


compare with unpolished


When sold with bracelet, these watches were sold with a ladder-type of folded steel bracelet by Gay Freres, stamped with the ibex and the date on the inside of the clasp. It’s pretty hard to find a bracelet in reasonable shape today.



A 384. (2600 pieces, 1969-1971) Restrained and sober, this is the original. Ideally, the dial features crisp black subdials on a cream background.



The A 384 dial is the most prone to light damage, the black fading to chocolate brown, or even lighter to a cocoa powder color. While some may think this is attractive (cf. “tropical” dials in Speedmasters and the Rolexes sportwatches), I think it’s damage, pure and simple. These occasionally get mistaken/passed off as a separate brown-on-white model, but no such model exists.



This model also shows the effects of a rather aggressive polish, with the edges of the top facet of the case riding up on the dial to make the dial look weirdly large. Compare with the watch above.
(attribution unknown)

Beware dial substitutions among similar models. The G 381 has a similar dial, distinguished only by gilt hashmarks and numbers on the subdials and on the decimal ring, and gold-toned hour batons. The G 581 (shown mislabled as a 381 in Rossler on page 243; compare with correct G 381 on page 248 upper left) has white script, but gold hour batons, and deeper sunk subdials.

A 385. (2400 pieces, 1969-1971) I didn’t think I’d like this one, but it is a surprise favorite of mine (who am I kidding? They are all my favorite). The dial has graded shading, fading from deep olive at the tachymeter to pale khaki at the center. Subdials are white, and extremely prone to smudging, I imagine from oil creeping up the center post. I don’t know how easy these clean, but I’m about to send one off for a service, and I will let the forum now.



Of note, these dials look very different depending on photography technique, with the same watch presenting a very different appearance with different lighting. This is a pair of pics of the exact same watch, confirmed by case number, to illustrate the point:

(Heirloom Gallery, Singapore)
rcredit unknown)

A 3817. (1000 pieces, 1971) A tri-color dial in an angled tonneau case, distinguished from the A 386 dial by
1. seconds subdial hand, hashes and numbers in French racing blue
2. variable-length seconds and fractions of a second hashmarks around the circumference
3. shorter hour batons.
4. no bezel and integral tachymeter.
This is the only model with different colored subdial hands. My example has been sadly over-polished, but I couldn’t pass up such an impeccable dial. Beware that example with the dial from the New Vintage 1969 (just sold for $3K, if eBay is to be believed).



A 3818. (1000 pieces, 1971) Blue Primero. Less than half as many produced as the A 386, this is a sensational watch. The blue shimmers in the light, aided by the engraved subdial patterns. The gray and navy subdial borders are subtle and elegant. The painted hour batons and hands have faded to a lovely hue.



You’d think that no one would be ambitious enough to try to redial this, but someone has! Can you spot the differences?




Round Case
The least unusual, and also my personal favorite, is the round case of the A 386, reissued in enlarged form in this year’s new El Primeros. It is unusually flat, and because the lugs stick straight out like rabbit ears, it rides surprisingly large on the wrist, as Dave (Gombrich) has observed elsewhere.

A 386. (2500 pieces, 1969-1971) This is the watch everyone thinks of when taking about the early El Primero, and the one Zenith has chosen to riff on for the Striking 10th. And you can’t fault their thinking: the blue-brown-champagne subdial thing is so identified with El P, that there is no clearer way to send the message “We are returning to our historical core.” What can one say – it’s a beautiful watch. Particulars: Hands are white, and a unique pattern. Beware of dial substitutions using the modern dial from the New Vintage 1969. Grab one. You won’t regret it.



Occasionally one sees some damage on the blue dial. Blue dial damage



I have no idea why this happens, nor why this is restricted to the blue subdial. Any ideas?


Slab Case
The slab is simple and unadorned, with hooded lugs, and to my eye more specific for the early 1970’s and at the same time less distinctive than the other models already addressed. It has also aged the least well, IMO. Nevertheless, its simplicity has a certain appeal.

A 787. (1500 pieces, 1971-1972) This is the most elemental El Primero: no bezel, no color other than the chrono second hand. Casebacks for this type of case are flat brushed steel with the case number as the only marking.



A 788. (1400 pieces, 1971-1972) Another Blue Primero, this time a uniform metallic hue without gradations or subtlety, much more sporty and direct than the A 3818.



Of note, this comes with a bezel – many examples seem to have lost theirs along the way, probably just not replaced after service. It upsets the balance of the watch surprisingly little, and thus can fool the eye into thinking that the bezel-less model is original and intact.

(sources unknown)


And that's all I know. I look forward to your comments, changes, corrections.

Cheers,
LouS
 

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So according to these production numbers, these vintage ep are as scarce as hen's teeth. You have forgotten one model one that was a sort of diving model el primero with a black unidirectional rotating bezel with a black dial and with a blue central second chrono hand.

thanks again for sharing:-!
 

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Excellent article Lou. I don't know enough about the El Primero's to comment on the technical aspects, but I think it's a great article. It's pretty easy to spot the difference between the original A 3818 and the re-dial even though it is subtle.
 

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Nice work Lou! I'd love to add an EP to my box one day soon. :-!

ps - the "T SWISS MADE T" is in the wrong place on the redial; it's too low. Funny that it would be the opposite case for most redials.
 

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Nice work Lou! I'd love to add an EP to my box one day soon. :-!

ps - the "T SWISS MADE T" is in the wrong place on the redial; it's too low. Funny that it would be the opposite case for most redials.
I am not sure that is correct Dennis. Look at the rest of the dials. The "T Swiss Made T" is in the exact spot as the rest of the photographs.
 

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Nice work Lou. You have been busy. That's a great and very useful analysis of the range.

Of course, now that you have a representative range of the steel ones you are going to need the gold models for completeness. Better start saving! :)

Dave
 

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Thank you Lou for an informative post and message in regards to my question. I've learned quite a few different tidbits about the El Primero's. I still have quite a bit to learn I can see.
 

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This is a GREAT post - as is its predecessor ("General remarks"). Informative, good pictorial basis to back up the text - what more could one ask for?!

Hartmut Richter
 

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Discussion Starter #9 (Edited)
It appears that people didn't hate the posts -- I'm glad.

Thanks Georges, I've actually left out many more models than that, including the whole flight of very bulky cased A 781-782-783, all the gold models, the so-called pilot to which you refer (A 3822 or 01.0180.415 depending on which system you use), the "TV" and on and on. I wanted to stick to the models I have had a chance to examine myself.

Nice work Lou! I'd love to add an EP to my box one day soon. :-!

ps - the "T SWISS MADE T" is in the wrong place on the redial; it's too low. Funny that it would be the opposite case for most redials.
Thanks, Dennis. Small return for your advice and insight with Longines. That A 3818 redial is uncommonly carefully done, I must say, but - puzzlingly - with a number of clear miscues: applied instead of painted hour batons, monochrome subdial rims, uniform length 1/5th of a second hashmarks and that odd "T SWISS MADE T."

Nice work Lou. You have been busy. That's a great and very useful analysis of the range.

Of course, now that you have a representative range of the steel ones you are going to need the gold models for completeness. Better start saving! :)

Dave
Dave, thanks. Now taking donations for the purchase of gold models. Your A 386 and 3818 remain the choice models of this range IMO.

Thank you Lou for an informative post and message in regards to my question. I've learned quite a few different tidbits about the El Primero's. I still have quite a bit to learn I can see.
Thanks, EG. I've been thinking about what an outlier the A 3818 is after our discussion. I wonder how the design decisions were made for it -- it is so different from the others in many ways.

This is a GREAT post - as is its predecessor ("General remarks"). Informative, good pictorial basis to back up the text - what more could one ask for?!

Hartmut Richter
Hartmut, many thanks for the kind assessment and for the info you've shared with all of us in this forum.
 

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Excellent articles and observations.

This will surely be a great help for many, since the main problem with the early Primero's is that they are rather rare. By consequence good information about these is also scarce. And this probably frightens the potential collector, who likes to know what he is buying.

Thanks Georges, I've actually left out many more models than that, including the whole flight of very bulky cased A 781-782-783, all the gold models, the so-called pilot to which you refer (A 3822 or 01.0180.415 depending on which system you use), the "TV" and on and on. I wanted to stick to the models I have had a chance to examine myself.
I hope you can soon add the A 781-782-783 and A7817 : this would complete your article - at least for the 'very early years' ;-) (1969-1972).
And there's only one point in your article I have to disagree on : the A 781-782-783 and A7817 aren't
very bulky cased
They are about the same size as A3817-A3818, which you will agree is actually very modest (38 mm). Perhaps it is their specific bracelet, which creates a more 'bulky' looking watch. And the angular ring around the crystal also adds to it sturdy look.

Then there are basically only 3 models for the 'later early years' :think: (1973-74), and you've already mentioned two !

One of my favorites is the simple A788.

As you pointed out very rightly, it is
much more sporty
The most sporty of all the early Primero's.

And the ones that lost their tachymeter on the way have become even more sporty! :-!





But again you said it right :
(who am I kidding? They are all my favorite).
One observation, perhaps it can be of interest : did you notice the differences in script between different models of the early El Primero's. If you pay attention to the top of the 'A' in 'Automatic', you will see that two different types of script were used, even in the 'very early' years. Then you will find more differences, such as the position of the 'ph' of 'chronograph' under the 'H' of 'Zenith'.
It seems to me that the different script type was used for the A3818-A787-A788 (as opposed to all the other early models). :-s

Now taking donations for the purchase of gold models
Sorry can't help out here :-!

So, thanks a lot for the excellent articles, I will gladly study these more.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
So, thanks a lot for the excellent articles, I will gladly study these more.
SV, I'm glad you found them useful. I know the topic has interested you in the past, and I appreciate your thoughts, above. Did you snag that G 787 you were researching a while ago?
 

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Did you snag that G 787 you were researching a while ago?
No I didn't. But do you remember the A787 from an Italian seller, whom you referred to as deserving a sound spanking ? :-d

I contacted that seller and he was kind of straightforward : he said the dial had been refinished (in the '80s). Upon a closer look, I saw that he was right, it was a refinished dial (a study of the subdials usually helps here).

So it probably was originally a blue dial (A788), repainted in white to look like the A787 ! Which explains the unusual combination of white dial with the blue tachymeter.

Concerning your question about the refinished A3818, the beautiful subregisters of the original were apparently too difficult to copy.


You’d think that no one would be ambitious enough to try to redial this, but someone has! Can you spot the differences?

Secondly, the man who refinished the dial apparently preferred plain markers for the minutes and seconds instead of the triangular second/minute calibration of the original (which is unique for the A3817-A3818 ? among the Primero's at least)
 

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Dear Lou,

Thank you very much for these articles. Found them by coincidence, while surfing the net for a vintage Zenith El Primero. I was actually tempted to pull the trigger on one of the two Zeniths the "man who repainted the dial" has currently on offer on ebay.

Reading your article helped me save a lot of money and frustration. BTW: there was a discussion on the vintageheuersownerforum about the Siffert and Monaco the dealer has on offer on ebay... They seem to be a bit fishy as well. So beware.

Thanks again for the excellent and informative articles - very much appreciated!

Cheers,

M
 

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Discussion Starter #14 (Edited)
Reading your article helped me save a lot of money and frustration.
M,
That is extremely gratifying. Thank you for taking a moment to post. One of the reasons I made these posts is that I could not find a unified reference post myself when I turned to seeking out early El Ps. I thought that stating the obvious -- displaying authentic models for all to see and comment upon -- was a necessary and fundamental step in collecting any watch model.

BTW: there was a discussion on the vintageheuersownerforum about the Siffert and Monaco the dealer has on offer on ebay... They seem to be a bit fishy as well. So beware.
I have often seen amazing watches from that seller, but I have been equally impressed by how many of them do not stand close inspection. Clearly, though, this source is a cut or three above your run-of-the-mill Dr. Frankenwatch, turning out highly-finished and well-integrated marriages that can really deceive.
 

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Lou,

cannot thank you enough for posting these. I do own the Rössler, but your focus on and knowledge about this particular early period of EPs exceeds by far what I found in the book. And, your comments have educated me about the real "quality" of an offer by a Swiss merchant.

Thank you!
 

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I have often seen amazing watches from that seller, but I have been equally impressed by how many of them do not stand close inspection. Clearly, though, this source is a cut or three above your run-of-the-mill Dr. Frankenwatch, turning out highly-finished and well-integrated marriages that can really deceive.
I wouldn't have too much of a problem with him if the prices reflected the reality of the watches but his prices are eye-wateringly expensive even for top notch 100% legit examples.

I wonder what a close examination would turn up on the five Cal 135s he is selling.

Dave
 
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