I can just imagine how cool a person must have looked in 1969 wearing the then-new Zenith El Primero.
I wasn’t even close to being born, but I guess that anyone wearing one of the principal El Primeros would have made quite an impression strolling around with such an innovative automatic chronograph on their wrist. The automatic chronograph was, of course, brand new in that year – with Zenith one of the first to produce such a thing (see 50 Years Of Automatic Chronographs And The Recent Debuts From Zenith, TAG Heuer, And Seiko Commemorating The Milestone Invention(s) .
The design has aged in a manner much like that of a great actor – like Robert de Niro, Michael Caine, or Anthony Hopkins. A little older, but still cool and classy.
You cannot say the same thing regarding other things from the 1960s: shirts with ruffles and brown suits with bell-bottom trouser legs (often made of synthetic fabrics, making an already difficult situation even worse) are best forgotten. So it’s no wonder that to celebrate the El Primero’s fiftieth anniversary in 2019, all that Zenith needed to do was revisit its first watch.
I ordinarily am not very keen on near-exact replications of watches from an earlier time, as it is often an excessive amount of like a greatest hits album. Also, living a lot in the past can be something dangerous for a watch manufacturer.
While I admit that I would prefer to have an original piece from 1969, there is something to say for a modern watch with the same looks and the same feel on the wrist as the original but coming with a warranty.
That might be exactly what collectors need who imagine that getting a vintage piece is an over the top danger. It additionally might be a watch that people actually wear as the original will probably be treasured as a safe queen.
On the wrist, the El Primero A384 Revival is something powerful. With a diameter of 37 mm, it is small by today’s guidelines. But no need to stress as it compensates well.
The cushion-shaped case is formed something like a block, giving ample wrist presence, a design that goes very well with the cylinder pushers. It makes me need to get a leather jacket and a muscle car.
I love it that the chronograph second hand is big, bold, and red. It’s the solitary red thing on the entire watch (alright, except for the ruby bearing jewels in the movement), and that’s a stroke of genius.
It represents the pulse of the great frequency watch and makes you forget that the rest is “just” black and white. Legibility is no issue on this El Primero; in fact, this watch might very well be the benchmark for it.
Too devoted to the original
The added attraction of this El Primero A384 comes from its new, unique “ladder” bracelet. Zenith had this developed during the 1960s by renowned bracelet manufacturer Gay Frères.
It is essentially your classic three-connect bracelet design but with holes in the middle, hence the “ladder” nickname. On the wrist, it amplifies the 1960s/1970s vibe of this El Primero.
Zenith needed to recreate the bracelet itself as Gay Frères is at this point don’t around as an independent company; it was bought by Rolex in 1998 and afterward integrated into the crown’s operations.
When Zenith decided to recreate the bracelet, it did likewise similarly as with the watch itself by very closely following the original design.
So far so great, but the clasp was likewise made as though it were as yet 1969, and that’s something I am less appreciative of.
I might offend a perfectionist of two, but clasps from 1969 fall into the shirts with ruffles and brown bell-bottom suit category. They are not attractive and, more importantly, not comfortable.
I would have loved it in the event that Zenith had updated this piece of the bracelet as, it would have been perfect as I would like to think. That being said, I doubt if it’s a dealbreaker for many watch connoisseurs. Some might actually see it as the icing on the cake and point it out to their watch buddies when they meet for drinks.
For more information, please visit www.zenith-watches.com/en/50th-el-primero-anniversary-el-primero-a384-revival .
Quick Facts Zenith El Primero A384 Revival
Case: 37 x 12.6 mm, stainless steel
Bracelet: ladder design originally made by Gay Frères
Movement: automatic Caliber El Primero 400 with column wheel chronograph, power reserve 50 hours, 5 Hz/36,000 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, chronograph
Price: CHF 8,400
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