Since January 10 in 1969, when the famous El Primero chronograph was presented, it has been flowing through the veins of Zenith, brightly glowing in the firmament of high frequency.
Aptly dubbed as “the first” in Spanish, the El Primero was a horological revolution, being the first ever automatic chronograph with innovative features that made it the most accurate chronograph in the world and the only one capable of measuring short times to 1/10th of a second: a rate of 36,000 vibrations per hour, integrated column-wheel construction, a central rotor mounted on ball bearings, and over 50 hours of operating autonomy – a real feat for such a high frequency.
Not only that, El Primero has also established new visual codes with a range of contrasting colours that enhanced the readability of the counters: light grey for seconds, blue for minutes and anthracite for hours – a combination that would quickly become an emblem of the Maison.
Half a century later, Zenith continuously enriched the El Primero with new technical and aesthetic advances, with the iconic Chronomaster El Primero and the futuristic Defy. To celebrate the past, present and future of the El Primero, Zenith presents an anniversary boxed set consisting of the three chronographs with emblematic tricolour counters: a reissue faithful to the first El Primero model of 1969; a Chronomaster El Primero with optimised movement; and a Defy El Primero 21 to 1/100th of a second.
The OG Revived
While El Primero has constantly evolved since its invention, inspiring new creations to the point of becoming an archetypal model prized by connoisseurs, Zenith had never yet offered a reissue faithful to the original model – until now.
The first compartment in the 50-piece limited edition anniversary boxed set is reserved for a perfect reiteration of the 1969 El Primero chronograph – a historical first that endows this vintage watch with a special aura and potent symbolism.
All the original codes are resolutely present: from the 38mm steel case, curved glass with magnifying effect, tricolour counters, tachymeter scale, the shapes of the hands and hour-markers, and the leather strap; as well as the shape of the lugs and mushroom pushers are exactly reproduced on this pure “revival” watch.
The only liberties that have been taken are: the initially solid back now reveals the movement without hindrance, alongside an updated crown logo. The El Primero Revival runs on the current version of the El Primero column-wheel chronograph movement, beating at a rate of 36,000 vibrations per hour and delivering 1/10th of a second prevision as well as a 50-hour power reserve.
The Direct Descendant
The most emblematic contemporary embodiment, the Zenith El Primero Chronomaster is distinctive at first sight, with its imposing stature, iconic design and high-frequency mechanism embedded in the Manufacture’s DNA. Taking up the second compartment in the anniversary boxed set, the Chronomaster is renamed El Primero 3600, equipped with a new-generation El Primero engine – in accordance with the architecture and proven performance of the legendary El Primero, and a new black ceramic bezel.
This high-frequency calibre, beating at 36,000 vibrations per hour, achieves the feat of accurately measuring 1/10th of a second: the chronograph hand makes one dial turn in 10 seconds, indicating at each jump the tenth of a second on a scale graduated from 1 to 100.
The original construction of the El Primero chronograph, consisting of a column wheel and a lever-operated lateral clutch, is visually highlighted and redesigned to enhance its reliability and precision in the new Chronomaster.
With a sportier and more modern look than its contemporaries, the most obvious results are the integration of a stop-seconds device for time-setting, and a power reserve increased to 60 hours – all set within a 42mm steel case topped by a graduated black ceramic bezel, a star-shaped oscillating weight and a rubber strap with contrasting stitching.
The Future Defied
The last element of this trilogy heralds the watchmaking of the future with the Defy El Primero 21 chronograph, the ultra-modern embodiment of the legendary El Primero. Beating inside its imposing 44mm titanium case is a revolutionary mechanical movement, oscillating at a frequency of 360,000 vibrations per hour (50Hz), measuring and displaying 1/100th of a second on a scale from 1 to 100 – 10 times higher than its predecessor.
Its exclusive dynamic signature – the lightning-quick hand making a full turn of the dial in one second – reflects the exceptional prevision and performance of this engine stemming from modern engineering with two independent “gearboxes” on board: one for the time and the other for the chronograph.
Its skeleton dial features three solid counters in the original colours that are common denominators of this “tribute” edition, with contemporary lines formed by a large fluted crown, flat push pieces and short lugs, merged seamlessly onto the wrist by means of a black rubber strap covered with black alligator leather.
A Tribute to the Past and the Future
The Zenith El Primero 50th Anniversary boxed set is ultimately a presentation box combines watchmaking tradition with innovation in performance and precision, of subtle nuances of grey, leather touches and contemporary woodwork.
Adorned with the anniversary logo, the satin-brushed grey lid with a built-in touch screen opens to reveal a reproduction of a miniature watchmaker’s workbench, complete with a watch mechanism on a rest, adjustable lighting system, magnifying glass and screwdriver. The screw-locked lower part of the box contains a drawer in which the three El Primero chronographs are nestled.
While the 50-piece limited edition trilogy ‘conjugates’ high frequency in several tenses, with ‘signature’ counters pandering to every desire: vintage, classic or modern, the box leaves a fourth cushion still empty but sits ever ready to accommodate Zenith’s next feats in the field of extreme high frequency: the next timepiece that measure 1/1,000th of a second.
Already prepped for the future, the box also pays tribute to the past with an actual die of the chronograph’s coupling-wheel bridge, one of the emblematic components of the El Primero movement that was saved by Zenith watchmaker Charles Vermot in the midst of the quartz crisis in the early 1970s.
Le Locle Zenith was sold to the American firm Zenith Radio Corporation in 1971, and the latter announced in 1975 its decision to cease production of mechanical movements, including the El Primero.
The elements essential to the production of the El Primero calibre were kept secretly in an attic of the Manufacturer in Le Locle from destruction – a feat which would not have made the El Primero’s renaissance in 1984 possible otherwise.
The die is an invitation to purchases to come and visit the Manufacture in Le Locle and to hand-stamp two coupling-wheel bridges: one will leave with the purchaser in his box, and the other, engraved with the owner’s name, will be placed as historical testimony on the entrance wall of the famous attic Vermot hid the elements of the El Primero calibre.