Regarded as one of the most collectible chronographs of them all, the much loved El Primero was first launched at a press conference on January 10th, 1969. Timing was not exactly on Zenith’s side at the time, as the launch came just a handful of years ahead of the quartz crisis, when Swiss watchmakers of long-held repute were literally putting vintage watchmaking machinery out in the street for waste disposal, in order to turn their attention to quartz watchmaking.
In fact, had it not been for Zenith watchmaker Charles Vermot, who (against orders) saved all the tools necessary for the manufacture of the El Primero, the means to produce this most coveted watch would have gone exactly the same way.
Perhaps even more remarkable than the good-looking chronograph watch Zenith produced in that year was the chronograph movement itself. Widely acknowledged as being the first column wheel automatic chronograph movement, it became known fittingly as the El Primero; the number one. To this day it is still regarded as one of the most accurate of all movements. At the time Zenith was in close competition to be ‘number one’ with the likes of Seiko. Seiko was busy working on their own automatic chronograph movement, the Caliber 6139.
The Zenith El Primero movement measured just 6.5 mm in height and just over 29 mm in diameter. What made it unusual was its rapid frequency of 36,000 vph/5 Hz, and its power reserve of around 50 hours—a rather high benchmark at the time. The idea behind the high frequency was the more oscillations the watch is able to make per second—or indeed per hour—the faster the watch is able to recover from any knocks or jolts and get back to keeping accurate time more quickly. The higher speed also enables the chronograph to measure elapsed intervals to the nearest 1/10 of a second.
Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 38mm
There have been innumerable El Primero introductions since 1969, including the high-end Defy series, and for every conceivable reason. Even the Rolling Stones have an El Primero model named after them, but for those seeking to get away from the hype and the noise, Zenith (not for the first time) presents this watch very much as it was originally intended. While this model should not be confused with the exact remake launched in the Zenith El Primero 50th Anniversary Box Set, this 38mm El Primero does hark back to the look of the original watch quite accurately.
All the functions you would expect of an El Primero are present including:
Hours and minutes in the center, small seconds at 9 o’clock, the 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock, the 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock and Tachymetric scale and Date at 4:30.
The dial features a silver-toned sunray-patterned dial with three different-colored counters. Hour markers and hands are rhodium-plated, faceted and coated with Superluminova.
The watch runs on the Zenith El Primero Calibre 400 automatic movement, the El Primero movement in its purest for with 278 components, 31 jewels, and 36,000 vph.
The Chronomaster El Primero 38mm on bracelet retails for $7,100, whereas the leather strap variant is available for $6,700.