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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Here's an invitation to share everything about the hand-wound versions of the Zenith El Primero chronograph, such as :

- Pictures of your watch.
- catalog scans if you have them.
- your experiences with the Zenith Prime or Zenith El Primero HW (cal. 420 or 420Z).


I'll start off with my stainless steel Zenith Prime.

The case measures 38 mm (without crown), it is 41 mm long including the lugs (lugsize is 20 mm) and approx. 8 mm thick.

The thin bezel allows the dial to take up most of the space and makes it look bigger.

Just like any Zenith El Primero, thanks to it's high frequency (36000 bph) it is an amazingly accurate watch, which easily meets chronometer standards; and yet, thanks to its rugged construction, it can still enjoy a long lasting life.

So, as far as precision and durability are concerned, it is on a par with the automatic El Primero.

Due to the elimination of the automatic winding parts, the hand-wound movement is slimmer (5,7 mm instead of 6,5 mm) and has less jewels (25 instead of 31). It has a higher power reserve (55 hours instead of 50 hours) as compared to the automatic El Primero.
It may even run for 58 hours. So you really have to wind it only once every two days.

Production of Zenith cal. 420 started in 1993 or 1994 (?) According to a post on this forum production ended in 2002 and the production total was 16100 total.

1993-94 was a creative period at Zenith, when they also developed the new "Elite" caliber.

In 1998 a few small technical changes in the movement resulted in renaming it caliber 420Z.

According to Zen (French site RAINBOW (2) & OTHERS) Zenith caliber 420 appeared for the first time in the catalog of 1996 :




The name 'Zenith Prime' was an elegant idea imho.

The design is very classic, with black or white dials. Both have the tachymeter painted on the dial.

The white dial has markers on the hours, the black dial has luminous numerals.

Both dials are signed 'Zenith Prime' with the square Zenith logo.

The crown also has the square Zenith logo.


Almost exactly the same dials were used for automatic El Primero's of the same period, which were signed Zenith El Primero automatic (without logo) (love that classic white dial automatic El Primero !)

The black dial, the white dial, the automatics, ... they all have different hands.


The dials (black and white) have a silver lining for the subregisters.

There also exists a goldplated Zenith Prime, which has a white dial with Roman numerals and golden lined subregisters.
There also is an 18 K gold Zenith Prime wristwatch, and an 18 K gold Prime pocket watch.

The dial is 'classic Zenith El Primero' in having the date at 4 o'clock, with the lovely detail of the seconds graduation on the edge of the date window :







The crystal is sapphire.


I'm not sure about the material for the caseback. The caseback is transparent and allows a vision of the no-nonsense movement.

Actually you get a better vision of the movement without the automatic rotor blocking most of the view.













The box in the following pictures is not original of this watch (the box came with a triple date moonphase quartz chronograph of the same period).


Please excuse reflections in the pictures etc.















Zenith Prime was available for only a few years ca. 1995-1996 (maybe 1997?).
Except for the pocket watch version, it was not featured any more in the 1998 catalogue.
It was subsequantly renamed and restyled as the Zenith El Primero HW, which was featured in Zenith catalogues in the period 2000-2001.

The El Primero HW still comes with a black or white dial, but a bit different design : both have numerals (which are bigger).
The word tachymeter is now written in red, and the central seconds hand has a red tip.
There is no logo on the dial, but the same square logo on the crown.
The El Primero HW often comes on a bracelet (though it was available on a strap as well).
The movement is caliber 420Z (instead of 420).
I've not seen any gold plated or gold versions.
Like the Zenith Prime, it also has its pendant in automatic El Primero's with the same dial design (the El Primero Automatic Class Sport).

The El Primero HW is water resistant up to 100 m, so theoretically you could go for a swim with it (the Zenith Prime was just 'water resistant').

The examples of the Zenith Prime which which you may still find for sale, are usually second hand (used)(which is normal since they are older), whereas there are still some Zenith El Primero HW's for sale NIB.

Considering its amazing technical specs, accuracy, durability, as well as beautiful design, high quality materials and elegance, I'll vote these for the best handwound chronographs ever made.

Looking forward to your pictures and experiences.
 

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Great post, and I like the way you've kitted yours out. Handwound chronos are darned rare these days (Speedmaster excepted), and this is easily the most distinguished.
 

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Nice write-up. Thanks.

I can't contribute any pics as I haven't got one of these beasties (yet). I'm really interested in seeing one of these up close.

Dave
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks for the reactions.
I hope a few owners will step forward. I've seen a couple on this forum so they are there.

Pretty sweet! I had the later version of this one.

Cheers!

Dan
Attached Thumbnails
You had and resold it Dan ? Do you remember if it was caliber 420Z ?
Do they appear in your catalogs ?

Handwound chronos are darned rare these days (Speedmaster excepted), and this is easily the most distinguished.
Interesting comparison. It's difficult to beat the design of the Omega Speedmaster. And I'm not technical enough to make a comparison between the qualities of Omega cal. 861 and Zenith cal. 420. Omega cal. 861 is definitely a great movement (why else would they still be making it after 42 years). Surely Zenith cal. 420 has great potential as well, particularly as an elegant dress watch. It is thinner than Omega 861 (5,7 mm instead of 6,87 mm).
 

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I must admit that I never really liked the "Prime" (or EP HW) Cal. 420. One reason is that I still think of the El Primero as the very first automatic chronograph in the world - and not only when it was brought out, one of the best, decades ahead of its time. It seems pointless to reduce it to an ordinary hand wound chronograph. The second thing is that (like the Lemania 321/Omega 861), the bridge layout is a little modern and industrial. Nothing to compare aesthetically with the old Venus/Valjoux chronos with their curved chronograph bridge, brakes, etc. I'd rather see the rotor on top.....

Hartmut Richter
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I must admit that I never really liked the "Prime" (or EP HW) Cal. 420. One reason is that I still think of the El Primero as the very first automatic chronograph in the world - and not only when it was brought out, one of the best, decades ahead of its time. It seems pointless to reduce it to an ordinary hand wound chronograph. The second thing is that (like the Lemania 321/Omega 861), the bridge layout is a little modern and industrial. Nothing to compare aesthetically with the old Venus/Valjoux chronos with their curved chronograph bridge, brakes, etc. I'd rather see the rotor on top.....
Dear Hartmut, I do sense some prejudice here. You are not talking from the personal experience of having owned one, but rather from the point of view of someone who has made up a few reasons why not to get one :)

It seems pointless to reduce it to an ordinary hand wound chronograph.
On the contrary, I can see several good reasons. Why not use all the possibilities of this excellent movement ?

To some it may seem pointless to have a version with triple date and moonphase; still that is an interesting possibility of this versatile movement; and so is a hand-wound version another interesting possibility. Only, instead of more complicated, this version is more simplified. To make a handwound version of the first automatic chronograph, seems to me a good example of "thinking out of the box".

More good reasons : the movement is slimmer and allows for a more elegant casing. Servicing the watch is easier. The cost of the watch is less. One may also prefer a hand-wound watch over an automatic watch for reasons of reliability. And so on and on !

The second thing is that ... the bridge layout is a little modern and industrial. Nothing to compare aesthetically with the old Venus/Valjoux chronos ...I'd rather see the rotor on top
So you are saying that you like the automatic version, because the rotor hides the bridge layout :). Let's face it, this is the El Primero. Agreed, it is not so pleasing to the eye as the curved bridges of old Venus, Valjoux, or even Landeron movements. But what does that matter, if it is the best handwound or automatic chronograph ever made ? I find it has a no-nonsense look, and even somebody who knows very little about watches, can have a look through the transparent caseback (something which you couldn't do with old Venus etc. chronographs) and that person will immediately see that this is a first class movement.
 

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Suum cuique - each to their own! By all means, buy one if you like. For myself, if thinking about a manual chronograph, I'd still rather go for something else. E.g. the Cal. 143 (based on the Excelsior Park Cal. Expark 40 - with 24 hour hand in form of a "North" hand), or something with a Venus 211 (chronograph with early large date feature - quite zany: after the 31st of the month, you get the 32nd, the 33rd, .... the 39th, the 00th [!!!] and finally the 1st; you end up having to correct manually quite a bit, but it really is a piece of horlogical history, that one!), or an older tricompax (also found in some Zenith chronos as the Cal. 136 HC). The main reason for choosing the EP HW would probably be the date feature for me.....

Hartmut Richter
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Thanks for the observations Hartmut, you mention some interesting chronographs there, which sound very attractive to me. Speaking of chronographs with date, this is a link to an interesting article about the first chronographs with date function. I'll share it here for everybody on the forum who is interested enough to deal with a French only article : Page Modèles (hosted by invenitetfecit.com)

So I understand what you mean, I also love old chronographs like Venus and Valjoux. I wouldn't mind a nice Universal Geneve Tricompax for instance, or a 1960's Zenith chronograph. The Zenith Prime is actually one of the most recent watches in my collection (if not the most recent). I'm normally for old watches, at least thirty years old.

But the Zenith Prime had a nice classic appeal. And it is a good entry level for Zenith El Primero watches... So I got one for christmas some time ago. I'm still very happy with that purchase.

Speaking of the history of chronographs with date... which was the first automatic chronograph with day and date : surely that was Seiko with their caliber 6139 ? I find it odd that this fact is never mentioned. Seiko cal. 6138-6139 was in many ways a world's first and decades ahead of their time. But nobody ever mentions that they were the first automatic chronographs to have both day and date function.

To return to Zenith cal. 420 : actually Zenith waited quite some time to create a hand-wound version of the El Primero, if you consider that the same was done already in 1977 or so : Valjoux 7765, non automatic version of the Valjoux 7755 (date only). Valjoux made several handwound versions and perhaps Zenith followed their example.

It would be interesting to see the birth of a Zenith El Primero handwound version with moonphase....
 

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Suum cuique - each to their own! By all means, buy one if you like. For myself, if thinking about a manual chronograph, I'd still rather go for something else. E.g. the Cal. 143 (based on the Excelsior Park Cal. Expark 40 - with 24 hour hand in form of a "North" hand), or something with a Venus 211 (chronograph with early large date feature - quite zany: after the 31st of the month, you get the 32nd, the 33rd, .... the 39th, the 00th [!!!] and finally the 1st; you end up having to correct manually quite a bit, but it really is a piece of horlogical history, that one!), or an older tricompax (also found in some Zenith chronos as the Cal. 136 HC). The main reason for choosing the EP HW would probably be the date feature for me.....

Hartmut Richter
You forget the Omega Speedy Pro moon watch. What was that, a cal 321? HW chronographs always have a warm place in my heart. ;-)

Dan
 

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Yes, the moon watch is a little special - but only because it went to the moon! Technically, it is just a three register chrono without date. Still, for sheer ruggedness (beat Rolex three times! - not that that's too difficult!!!:-d), you could place it on the list.

As for the Seiko, that was indeed the first day-date automatic chrono. It certainly beat the second one to that title: the Zenith Cal. 3019 PHF. There were, of course, several manual ones before hand, although the date was usually by central hand and the whole thing came in conjunction with a full calender ± moonphase.

Agreed, that is something we haven't had yet: a manual EP with full calender and moonphase. Until we see a manual EP back, full stop, we are probably not likely to see one.....

Hartmut Richter
 

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What was the interval between the 3019 PHC and PHF? I see in Rossler that the first PHF-engined watch wasn't sold until 1971, but do you know the specific evolution of the PHF?
 

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No, I can't really add to that. My guess is that the full calender and moonphase, since it had been realized so frequently in earlier chronographs (Valjoux, Universal "Tricompax", etc.) was the most obvious extension of this excellent movement so Zenith set about that first of all. The length of time taken to realize this (1.5-2 years) suggests that this was not planned right from the start. However, all this is unconfirmed.

Hartmut Richter
 

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I have the 420Z and I wear it almost daily -- one of my very favorite watches. A photo is posted below. I also bought the Zenith Elite HW (Movement 680).
 

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Discussion Starter #15 (Edited)
Thank you Orahu. Congratulations with that El Primero HW. Interesting that you also got the Elite HW. I just noticed the handwound version of the Elite movement in a catalog from 1998. Personally I'm not familiar with the Elite, but it is interesting to see a handwound version of that as well.

In the same catalog I saw that Zenith made a "PocketMaster" 18 K gold "Prime" pocket watch with the El Primero HW cal. 420.

This pw seems to have been the only "Prime" remaining in the 1998 catalog. RRP was 6.750,- DM in 1998.

Hartmut, maybe the pw version of the El Primero HW could be the one for you :-! ?

Here is a scan :


 

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Hartmut, maybe the pw version of the El Primero HW could be the one for you :-! ?
I doubt it - if I would go for a Zenith pocket chronograph, it would be one with the old 19''' chronograph calibre. Preferably like the one in Rössler's book: savonette in gold case, with enamel painting on front and back (pp. 76-77). Or alternatively one with chronograph and repeater.....

Hartmut Richter
 

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Here is my Zenith prime 420. I love it.


b-)

 
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Discussion Starter #19
I would even say more : great pictures and thank you for sharing !
 

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Hello all,

some days ago, I`ve got a Zenith Prime from ebay.
It`s a little bit special, because it`s a steel watch but engravings on the bottom and between the lugs shows us, that the watch should be "Gold Plated 20 M".
Maybe there was a preowner who removed the gold plaque. The man who sells the watch to me, did not know anything about that.

Now the pictures:


I`ve seen these hands before only on watches with the black dial.... ?







Here we can see the engraving "Gold plated......":

I think the first part of the reference-number displays the material of the case (20 = 20 µm gold, 01 = stainless steel). Anybody here, who knows about that?



Very nice movement, isn`t it..... ?







Although there are some unclear things with this watch, I love it....
It`s very unostentatious and you can wear it with a lot of clothings (Jeans, suit...).


Best regards an I hope you enjoy the pictures

Frank
 
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