In 1969, a trilogy of El Primero timepieces marked the launch of the first watches powered by an automatic chronograph movement – Zenith’s most iconic from that point onward. Among the trio was the El Primero A384 (£6,700), presented in a well proportioned 37mm angled tonneau-style case with a distinct, red-accented panda dial. Fifty years later, it has been brought to life once again in the form of the special edition A384 Revival, and the historically accurate watch does not disappoint, staying close to the original, ground-breaking design.
Beyond the space race
This year, we’ve been celebrating the crucial part played by the watch world in the lunar landings. The first man stepped onto the moon five decades ago wearing an OMEGA Speedmaster. However, another lesser-known race to get into the history books was also taking place that year, as watchmakers competed to create the first integrated automatic chronograph movement. Zenith was the first to succeed, and the El Primero – pointedly, meaning ‘the first’ – and its OG automatic chronograph El Primero 3019 PHC movement was unveiled in January 1969. The El Primero movement was equipped with column-wheel mechanics, a high frequency of 36,000 vibrations per hour and the ability to measure time intervals to an accuracy of 1/10th of a second – an incredible feat for the time. Unfortunately, the quartz crisis – the economic upheaval caused by the advent of quartz watches in the 1970s and early ’80s, which largely replaced their mechanical forebears around the world – was to hit the following year. Zenith was forced to limit its horological creations to quartz-powered watches, leaving the El Primero a short-lived masterpiece. Fortunately, an employee named Charles Vermot secretly brought home for safekeeping the technical drawings, equipment and parts. Disappearing on numerous nights to collect them, Vermot’s wife, his son later revealed, wondered if he was having an affair. Fortunately, he was having a rendezvous only with the El Primero, allowing it to take off again in 1984 and gain the recognition it deserved, when an interest in mechanical watches was thankfully ignited once more.
Fifty years ago, watchmakers competed to create the first automatic chronograph movement. Zenith won with its El Primero movement
Brand new this year
Unveiled earlier this summer in New York, the 2019 special edition El Primero A384 Revival has stuck extremely closely to the original, from its 37mm angled case shape to the retro pushers and crown. The tachymeter bezel and white-lacquered dial with black oversized subdials mirror that first model perfectly, and the interestingly angled date window, red chronograph seconds hand and applied hour markers add to the model’s authentic feel and historic accuracy. However – to our delight – the hour markers are now filled with green SuperLumiNova, making the updated watch a perfect round-the-clock choice.
Another change for the 21st-century revival of the special edition 1969 A384 El Primero is the integration of the El Primero 400 automatic calibre, serving as a modern replacement for the original movement. Another contemporary modification for the better is the front and back of the watch’s sapphire crystal, through which the new movement can be admired. Presented on a black leather strap, the watch is priced at