Zenith and the chronograph complication is a long-lasting love story, the epitome of this connection dating back to 1969, when the Le Locle-based brand released one of the earliest automatic chronographs, the emblematic El Primero calibre. And this year, Zenith has been working hard in keeping this spirit alive, focusing all its resources on the Chronomaster collection; first by launching the Chronomaster Sport, a sporty and contemporary chronograph; then by releasing the Chronomaster Original, a watch that reinterprets the iconic A386 steel El Primero reference from 1969, with faithful design and upgraded mechanics. The latter is the base for a new, online-exclusive edition that pays tribute to another emblematic feature, the tri-colour dial, with the Zenith Chronomaster Original E-commerce – which we’ll show in this hands-on article and that will be explained in a video with the brand’s product development and heritage director, Romain Marietta.
The direct descendant of the A386
If the Chronomaster Sport is a modern and sporty watch that is often discribe as the best possible alternative to the Daytona, the Zenith Chronomaster Original is the closest you can get to the watch that started it all at Zenith in the late 1960s, a watch that was part of a trilogy equipped with the El Primero automatic chronograph movement, and the most famous of all three, the reference A386. This trilogy comprises the A384, a tonneau-shaped panda-dial model, the A385, featuring the same case but with an original gradient brown dial (possibly the first of its kind) and the A386, the most classic of the three models, with a round case but also the watch that first showed the signature tri-colour sub-counters, something that has become a hallmark of Zenith.
This specific watch, the A386, is not only highly collectable and sought-after, but it has also been a source of profound inspiration for Zenith over the years. For years, the brand had a watch in its portfolio that could be regarded as a tribute to this vintage model, the classic 38mm Chronomaster with silver dial, tri-colour counters, bezel-less case and Calibre El Primero 400, the closest you could get to the original 1969 movement.
For 2021, following the Chronomaster Sport, the brand has released another member in the family, a watch that is directly inspired by the A386, yet benefiting from the brand’s latest generation of the acclaimed automatic chronograph calibre. This meant a compact 38mm steel case with the exact same shape as the original, a dial with identical proportions, the same white-painted hands and, of course, the option for a silvery-white dial with blue, anthracite and grey sub-counters. Inside is the calibre El Primero 3600, which is shared with the Chronomaster Sport.
The Chronomaster Original E-commerce, pushing the tri-colour concept to the max
From the words of Romain Marietta, this new version of the Chronomaster Original is a geeky, fan-oriented model that has been created to please the lovers of the tri-colour dial, with its most extensive use of the three iconic shades. Geeky doesn’t mean overly done in this instance, be reassured. It’s just that Zenith has created a watch that is more playful and fun, but not a gimmick either.
This is not the first time that the brand offers such an online-exclusive watch. In 2020, the brand presented the Chronomaster Revival Manufacture Edition, which was already a fan-oriented model available online. And since e-commerce has become an important part of the brand’s sales since the pandemic, Zenith reiterates with this Chronomaster Original E-commerce.
First and foremost, this watch is a Chronomaster Original, meaning that everything we loved in the classic models is back here, yet with a bit more boldness in the design of the dial. But all the basic specifications are identical, starting with the greatly designed and proportioned stainless steel case. Measuring 38mm in diameter, its shape is directly modelled after the A386 watch, with its typical pointy lugs, its flat surfaces adorned with radial brushing, its thin, polished flat bezel, classic pump chronograph pushers and a highly domed sapphire crystal. All in all, except the presence of modern materials and (very) minimal updates, it’s a 1:1 copy of the 1969 icon.
The dial is also a very faithful tribute to the original watch, benefiting from the fact that the base movement is still using the same architecture as in 1969 to respect the proportions of the sub-counters. As such, we find back the overlapping counters and the date at 4:30, two elements of debate but that are certainly true to the original El Primero watch. Also, the overall disposition of elements and their shape has been respected, with an angled inner flange with a scale – but not a tachymeter anymore, but a 1/10th of a seconds. The hands, which are here painted in white with black inserts, are once again true to the A386.
But what really matters here is the most distinguishable features of the Chronomaster Original – and the A386 before it… and that is the use of three distinct colours. And if these are normally found on the sub-counters, the Zenith Chronomaster Original E-commerce pushes the concept further, with the outer scale (usually in black) that is split into three sections that take on the same shades of grey and blue as the chronograph counters. This marks the first time that another part of the dial beside the chronograph counters are fashioned in the three colours that are linked to the El Primero. It is an element that makes the watch certainly more playful and more “nerdy” but still in a very subtle way.
The tri-colour theme also extends to the strap, which is made of dark grey nubuck leather matching the chronograph’s minute counter at 6 o’clock of the dial, while a looped stitch is done in blue on the right side matching the chronograph’s second counter at 3 o’clock, and a light grey stitch on the left side matching the running seconds register for a subtle nod to the most iconic Zenith dial of all.
Under the screwed sapphire crystal is a movement that respects the original architecture of the El Primero but also capitalizes on the brand’s latest developments. The Calibre El Primero 3600 still uses the same base as the historic movement but it takes full advantage of the 36,000 vibrations/hour regulation. It can display the 1/10th of a second precisely, but it has also been rendered more efficient, as the power reserve has been increased to 60 hours. It retains its column wheel and horizontal coupling architecture. The movement is also more modern in design and decoration. Cleaner, more contrasted and with a more technical look, the bridges are also more open, just like the oscillating weight with its five-pointed star logo. The column wheel is picked out in blue and the bridges are decorated with a radial brushed pattern.
Availability & Price
The Zenith Chronomaster Original E-commerce is delivered in a special watch box that mimics the look of a coffee table book. It is available as of today (September 14th, 2021) exclusively on the Zenith online boutique. It is priced at CHF 8,400 or EUR 8,300 – identical to other steel versions of the Chronomaster Original.
For more details and orders, please visit zenith-watches.com.
This post first appeared on Monochrome Watches - An online magazine dedicated to fine watches.