Retro on the outside, more modern on the inside…the best of both worlds?
For a long time, Zenith fake has had a watch in its collection called the El Primero 38mm, which is a direct descendant of the classic A386 watch, although not entirely faithful to the original design. Long-time readers of course know my love for classic-looking, compact-sized historic chronographs, and Zenith was on my personal wish list for a long time…until the brand discontinued it. In 2021, the brand has shown impressive creativity in the field of El Primero-based watches, mainly with the launch of the acclaimed Chronomaster Sport. Objectively speaking, this is a great watch, and most of our team thought it was a home run. But this is not my watch. The watch that really did it for me last year was the smaller, more retro watch, the Zenith Chronograph Master Original. I get a chance to spend some time on my wrist.
Without retelling the entire story of El Primero—its creation, discontinuation, and revival can be read here—we can’t escape the 1969 conversation when we talk about the Chronomaster Original. The whole idea behind this modern watch is (at least visually) the closest thing to the most famous watch in Zenith’s entire history, the reference A386 or the first tri-color El Primero watch.
The A386 is the most iconic model of the trilogy launched in 1969, the three watches built by Zenith and powered by its newly developed and innovative movement, the El Primero movement, considered the first automatic chronograph one of the cores. The trilogy includes the A384, a tonneau-shaped panda dial model, the A385, with the same case but with the original gradient brown dial (possibly the first of its kind), and the A386, the most recent of the three models A classic, with a round case, it is also the first timepiece to showcase the iconic tri-colour counters that have become the hallmark of Zenith.
In addition to being highly collectible and historically important (the latter being shared with the other two watches in the first trilogy), the A386 is a watch that has had a huge impact on the brand, and one that has been a major source of Zenith over the years. A source of deep inspiration. As mentioned, the brand has a watch in its portfolio that can be considered a tribute to this vintage model, the classic 38mm Chronomaster with silver dial, tri-colour chronograph, bezel-less The case, and the El Primero 400 movement, are the closest you can think of going back to the original 1969 movement. However, in early 2021, Zenith discontinued the watch, first leaving room for the Chronomaster Sport and then the watch that is the central subject of today’s article, the Zenith Chronomaster Original.
Spend time with ZENITH CHRONOMASTER ORIGINAL
As mentioned above, the previous version of the Chronomaster 38mm was relatively mechanically faithful to the A386 due to its El Primero 400 movement. However, with (minor) updates and concessions to modernity, the design has changed slightly. For the recently launched Zenith Chronomaster Original, we somehow have an opposite formula. The design is all about staying true to the iconic watch from 1969, although some modern components are used to bring it into line with today’s expectations. On the other hand, the movement ticking in its historic case is what brings the iconic El Primero basic movement into the 21st century. As someone with a passion for historical watches but a keen interest in mechanical innovation, I can say that this recipe is on paper the promise of a great meal. And, finally,
When Zenith introduced the critically acclaimed Chronomaster Sport, I was impressed with the looks, specs and overall quality of Zenith. Objectively, there’s a lot to love about this watch. However, due to the sporty nature of the case and its size – although it’s very reasonable – I’m still waiting for more, like the very (too) limited 50th Anniversary model in 2019. It arrived in mid-2021, and it didn’t disappoint. The beauty of the replica Zenith Chronomaster Original is at least its design, compactness and relevance. The case is modeled after the A386 and follows the shape of the Revival version, meaning it was designed based on a digital scan of the original 1969 watch.
Chronomaster Original is not only about proportion, but also shape. With a case diameter of 38mm, it might be a little on the small side for a modern watch, and it might put off some would-be enthusiasts – for those, look at the Sport. For me this is the best part, faithful to the original watch, I have no complaints. The thickness is also perfectly acceptable at 12.9mm. Remember, it’s an automatic chronograph, and then, it features a raised, domed sapphire crystal (a first concession to modernity) that accounts for at least 1.5mm of the overall height of the case. So, the strap looks thinner than it says on the spec sheet.
Second, in addition to respecting size, Zenith has been committed to faithfully reproducing the design of the A386. That means the round bezel-less stainless steel case features the signature sharp and sloping contours, pump-style chronograph pushers, faceted lugs, and a mix of radially brushed and polished surfaces—all nearly identical to the 1969 model. Surprisingly, the design is still modern enough to not feel dated at all. Rather than calling it a vintage watch, I prefer to use the term timeless. As a slightly more elegant version of the Chronomaster El Primero, this Original version is water resistant to 50 meters, which is more than enough for me. Another concession to modernity is on the back, where a sapphire crystal is used to view the newly developed movement. Again, this is correct for me,
Without a doubt, the A386’s most unique design element is its dial, with its now-iconic grey and blue tri-colour chronograph, a trapezoidal date window at 04:30 and a red chronograph second hand. All these elements return to the Zenith Chronomaster Original, giving this watch a true personality. Yes, some will complain about the way the registers overlap, but here, I think this quirky design element contributes to the uniqueness of this model and its charm. The historical connection continues to the lettering and logo, as well as the hour/minute hands in white with black and luminous inlays. Equally faithful are the SLN-applied, faceted and rhodium-plated hour-markers, as well as the continuous white and black track around the slightly enlarged silver-white dial. shopping cheap watch
However, eagle-eyed readers will notice something important in the display, which shows the evolution of the El Primero movement. The A386 is a 5Hz watch with an ultra-smooth central seconds hand, but still features the classic triple counter display with small seconds, 30-minute and 12-hour markers. The Zenith Chronomaster Original looks exactly the same at first glance, but it actually displays quite differently. First, the central red hand, which rotates around the dial not in 60 seconds but in 10 seconds, takes full advantage of 5Hz technology, showing a 1/10 second on a track on a white sloping flange – in place of a tachymeter scale. Second, the sub-registers are different because you will find a classic small seconds counter (light grey),
Flip the watch over and you’ll find the El Primero 3600, the modern movement shared with the Chronomaster Sport. This is where the concept of “best of both worlds” comes into play. While everything at Residence Chronomaster Original is about the late 1960s, the movement remains true to the innovative ideas behind Zenith. Still using the same foundation as the historic movement, it has been radically updated to meet modern standards. Taking full advantage of the adjustment of 36,000 vibrations per hour, it can display exactly 1/10th of a second, but it also becomes more efficient because the power reserve has been increased to 60 hours. It retains its column wheel and horizontally coupled architecture. The decoration and design of the movement is also more modern and technological, with more open bridges decorated with a radial brushed pattern, revealing a blue column wheel and an open rotor with a five-pointed Zentrae star.
The Zenith Chronomaster Original 38mm has been presented as a collection of five watches. This silver/tri-color dial is available with a blue leather strap or a stainless steel bracelet – both with a folding clasp. There is also a black and silver version, also available in leather or steel. Finally, there’s a gold-tone version with a tri-color dial on a leather strap. For me, the version you see in this article is optional — and of course, it’s personal.wholesale luxury watch
The Zenith Chronomaster Original blends historic looks with modern technical content and is everything in my favorite watch. While I love the look of vintage watches, I’m not too fond of wearing them. Having a watch that combines practicality and ease of use with a design that stays true to its roots is usually my favorite watch. In this regard, Zenith has succeeded. Mechanically, the Calibre 3600 is also a major improvement over the El Primero, making it more reliable and more comfortable thanks to the extended power reserve, but also fun thanks to the 5Hz frequency being fully utilized.
Worn on the wrist, this 38mm Chronomaster Original watch is a great companion with enough striking personality, yet compact and discreet enough to be used as an everyday wearer. I just want to change the strap to something more retro, without the folding clasp – I prefer the pin buckle… the rest, no complaints, just some love for this watch.
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS – ZENITH CHRONOMASTER ORIGINAL 38MM
Case: 38mm diameter x 12.9mm height – Stainless steel case, brushed and polished – Box sapphire crystal – Screw-down sapphire case back – 50m water resistance
Dial: Silver-white matte dial with signature silver, grey and blue tri-coloured sub-dial – White hour/minute hands with luminescence, red second hand – Appliques, faceted hour-markers with luminescence
Movement: Caliber El Primero 3600 – Automatic integrated high-frequency chronograph with column wheel and horizontal coupling – 35 jewels – 30 mm – 36,000 vibrations/hour – 60 hours power reserve – hours, minutes, hours Second hand, date, chronograph with 1/ 10-second central hand, 60-second and 60-minute totalizers
Strap: Blue calfskin strap, stainless steel triple folding clasp, safety push button – also available on 3-link stainless steel bracelet