As has been widely discussed this year, 2019 is a fifty year landmark for a number of brands. One of the most significant of these is, of course, that of the El Primero.
Throughout this year, Zenith have been marking this half century in various ways — the release of a boxed set of three vintage-inspired pieces representing three different eras; the launch of the Defy Inventor, even a new double tourbillon version in the Defy El Primero family. The box set marks the progression of the El Primero, from the A386 in steel to the 1/10th of a second Chronomaster, to the 1/100th of a second Defy 21, with an empty slot for the future 1/1000th of a second piece. Perhaps closest to the A384 Revival, there has also been a limited edition (fifty pieces each in white gold, rose gold, and yellow gold) of A386 Revivals, with a fifty year warranty.
Now, Zenith has launched the final anniversary model, the one which has been arguably the most anticipated in an ‘homage’ sense. More than just a vintage inspired watch, the Revival is an effort to create a historically accurate recreation of the A384, which was the first wristwatch to contain the groundbreaking El Primero chronograph movement.
Three El Primero models were launched in 1969 – the A384, A385, and A386. They all used the same movement, but the combination of the round case and three colours of the tricompax chronograph sub dials of the A386 became the El Primero ‘look’ that was to endure.
To make the A384 Revival as historically accurate as possible design wise, Zenith digitised each component of the 1969 original to reproduce it in a modern form, including the 37mm faceted, stainless steel case, black and white lacquered dial with its tachymeter scale, and the mushroom-style chronograph pushers. There is the same red central chronograph hand (sans the modern Zenith star counterweight), a 30 minute sub dial at 3 o’clock, 12 hour counter at 6 o’clock, and a small seconds at 9 o’clock. A date window is at 4:30, featuring the same typeface as the original.
However, this is not a literal recreation. Zenith have updated a few things. The crystal is sapphire and not acrylic, and the original solid case back will be open, revealing the classic modern El Primero movement, the Calibre 400. Beating at 36,00VPH, it has a power reserve of fifty hours.
The watch will come on a black alligator leather strap with black rubber lining, but there will 1969-style integrated ‘ladder’ steel bracelet available as an optional accessory. The Australian RRP of the A384 Revival is $10,900 and it should be available from August/ September 2019.
There is, of course, the animated discussion about who was first with an automatic chronograph. After all, it is in the ‘El Primero’ name. Zenith has always acknowledged they weren’t first to the market, but the first to present.
The first El Primeros made available to the public came out in October 1969, which made them the third brand to be as such, but the Zenith-Movado team’s announcement and presentation of a working prototype movement had been on January 10, 1969.
This gap was simply because it was a race and thus, competition to be first was fierce. Zenith got wind of some of their competitors (the Chronomatic consortium of Heuer, Breitling, Hamilton-Buren, Dubois-Depraz) being ahead of them, so they moved their planned launch date forward, from April’s Baselworld 1969. The Chronomatic group had produced one hundred prototypes of its automatic chronographs by autumn 1968. Because of their comparative progress in prototype production terms, at Baselworld 1969 the Chronomatic group were able to present a myriad of different samples of their creation, powered by the Calibre 11.
As is still the case when it comes to the breaking of records in the watch world, the devil is in the details. How something is defined; whether a movement is integrated or has a module or even timing intervals or example. Or to use another example, a thinnest automatic or manual-wind movement, or thinnest watch with a movement that is integrated or modular. There are many ways to split this sort of thing. The Chronomatic was as a modular movement, and the Zenith Calibre 3019 PHC integrated, with a column wheel, beating at 36,000VPH and allowing the timing of intervals of one tenth of a second.
As mentioned, Zenith was the first to present (and the first automatic integrated chronograph), but the third brand/ group to market. The other competitor was Seiko, who launched their Reference 6139 automatic chronograph for the Japanese market in May 1969.
For comprehensive coverage of Project 99 and the race to be first, go to Jeff Stein’s post here.
[Photo credit : Zenith Australia]