Style / World of Watches (WOW)

Zenith 50 Years of El Primero

Zenith takes us on a journey through time for its 50th anniversary

Jan 21, 2019 | By Lynette Kee

1969 was a significant milestone for the watch industry, dubbed the year of “the great automatic chronograph race”, where the first automatic chronograph was introduced. A handful of brands had each developed its version, but which of them finished ahead of its rivals remains a source of controversy till today. While it was argued that Calibre 11 – developed in a joint effort of Heuer, Breitling and Buren – was the first to reach out to global markets in August 1969, Seiko had quietly released its automatic chronograph on the Japanese market in May of the same year. This evolutionary ladder, now sliced in segments, leaves a rightful chapter to the Zenith El Primero – which was believed to be the first to announce its achievement in January 1969.

The Zenith El Primero was the most technically complete automatic chronograph in its day, without possessing any resources from its competitors. Standing head and shoulders above the rest, Zenith was way ahead of its time having engaged an industry-respected manufacturer of excellent calibres to work on project Calibre 3019PHC in 1960. Calibre 3019PHC was a full rotor chronograph powered by innovative features including a rate of 36,000 vibrations per hour, integrated column-wheel construction and power reserve of over 50 hours, all set within the dimensions of 30mm by 6.5mm, making it one of the most accurate and compact calibre.

Watch connoisseurs will get to “animate” a simplified El Primero movement through the use of a hex key or Allen key, and mimic the watchmakers at Le Locle as they wind the mainspring, hence providing impulse to the gear train and balance assortment. Photography: Jonathan Ho

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of its definitive movement, Zenith is offering a 50-piece limited edition anniversary set with a trio of El Primero-based watches representing the past, present and future.


First of “The First”

Zenith El Primero A386 Revival

The first watch included in the anniversary set is a tribute to the El Primero model of 1969 – the Zenith El Primero A386 Revival. Similar to the Omega 60th-anniversary limited edition, Zenith recreated an almost-exact replica of the original model. The dimensions, as well as the original codes including the tricolour counters, tachymeter scale, font and leather strap, stayed true to the vintage A386 while the materials were switched up to give the new watch a new lease of life to the spirit of its predecessor.


The Second Edition

Chronomaster 2 El Primero

A direct descendant of El Primero, the Zenith Chronomaster 2 is the most emblematic contemporary embodiment. The watch, equipped with a new generation 3600 calibre movement which also runs at 36,000 bph, features a central chronograph hand that makes one dial turn in 10 seconds. The column wheel and the lever-operated lateral clutch are also visually highlighted to ensure maximum results in reliability and precision. At 42mm, the Chronomaster 2 also displays an open case back for the admiration of the symbolic movement.


The Future Holds

Defy El Primero 21

The final piece within the anniversary boxed set is the Defy El Primero 21 which, according to Zenith, “heralds the watchmaking of the future”. Set in a 44mm case, this watch is no modest violet but definitely a mechanical marvel. The watch contains the El Primero 2004 calibre as well as two escapements. One, driving the watch at 36,000 bph while the second, an astounding 360,000 bph, allowing the watch to measure down to 1/100th of a second.

50 years since the first El Primero, Zenith is still pushing boundaries of excellence, precision and innovation. The anniversary set renders as a time capsule of milestones by the masion. And in presenting the trilogy of watches in a case made for four, Zenith reinforces its avant-garde traditions. The empty slot is slated to welcome a chronograph that can measure up to 1/1000 of a second that Zenith plans to unveil in the future.

The Zenith El Primero 50th Anniversary box set will include a hidden compartment with a heritage component from an original El Primero movement from the 70s, analogous to Charles Vermot’s historic action of hiding the plans, tooling and components behind a hidden wall. Photography: Jonathan Ho


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