The story of how Zenith brought back the El Primero


It’s a legendary tale of almost rags to riches.

If you haven’t heard the legendary tale of the Zenith El Primero and the abandoned attic, you must. After all, it’s what allowed Zenith to be reborn as a modern luxury watch brand.

It dates back half a century to the late sixties, where chronograph watches started garnering mainstream appeal in the circles of watch collectors, thanks to a big boom in racing culture at the time.

Simultaneously, the Quartz sparked a crisis in the small world of Swiss watchmaking, which led to Zenith’s master-watchmaker Charles Vermot going rogue and stashing away 150 technical parts, essential to the production of the El Primero automatic chronograph.

The act was in complete defiance of the corporate hierarchy, but Vermot followed his heart. This later let to the brand’s rebirth and him being celebrated as a true hero in watchmaking culture.

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But why is this important? Because in 2018, Zenith rediscovered the abandoned attic where Charles allegedly stashed the prototype A386 dial, the components to build its automatic movement and many more blueprints of the Zenith El Primero.

After finding this, the brand never commercialised its design, only introduced it last year. Zenith also says this will be the final version of the A386 and it will be available in the original Revival case. Introducing the Zenith El Primero Chronomaster Revival Manufacture Edition.

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The special timepiece was originally planned to be exclusively retailed to customers who visited the Le Locle, Switzerland, manufacture. But considering the facility is at a halt due to the pandemic, Zenith decided to retail this exclusively at Zenith’s new e-commerce platform until the Zenith HQ re-opens.

The original tricolour was meant to be shades of black and two of grey. But upon refreshing it, the new Zenith El Primero boasts shades of blue. The dial proves why Zenith’s designs are so revered in the watchmaking industry.

It’s a perfect package of vintage Zenith, sporty aesthetics of its era, and textbook chronograph flair. It doesn’t appear as a remake or modification, but more like an untouched old recipe that still has its charm.

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Its stainless steel case measures in at a more modest 38-mm, paired with classic pump-style pushers to control the chronograph, which also adds another feather in the cap when it comes to vintage design. The movement is none other than the Zenith El Primero 400 that runs automatic and boasts a 50-hour power reserve. The chronograph uses two sub-dials – 12-hour counter at six o’clock30-minute counter at three o’clock coupled with a central seconds hand. The indexes are rhodium-plated, faceted, and coated with Super-LumiNova SLN C1. All of this is strapped on with blue alligator leather.

Model Name: Zenith El Primero Chronomaster Revival A386 Manufacture Edition.

Reference Number: Ref 03.Z386.400/60.C843

Price: US$8,700 (approx. RM33,000)

Availability: Exclusively at Zenith’s e-store.

(All images: Courtesy brand)

This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia India.

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