Escapement Watch Review: Zenith El Primero 410


thumbnailAngus Davies, on his Escapement watch blog, reviews the limited edition Zenith El Primero 410. The watch contains the legendary self-winding El Primero fully integrated chronograph movement. This particular model includes a full calendar and moon-phase indication.

As I held the new Zenith El Primero 410 in my hands, it felt reassuringly familiar. Like many admirers of chronographs, I have owned a Zenith timepiece containing the legendary movement that oscillates at 5 Hz. Foolishly, in a moment of madness, I sold my cherished Zenith a few years ago, an action I have since come to regret.

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This new Zenith El Primero has a similar quality to a brand of clothing I often select, Gant. I know the clothes fit me, are invariably to my taste and deliver excellent quality. Whenever I seek new clothing, I frequent the Gant store on Regent Street, London. There is often something new to catch my eye but, whilst the designs may be current, the clothes proffer reassuring familiarity. I know what I am buying.

The El Primero 410 may be one of the latest models from the Swiss watch manufacture based in Le Local, but contained within its handsome case is a familiar friend to watch lovers, the El Primero movement.

El-Primero; a brief history

The El Primero is said to be the first self-winding chronograph, hence the name. While some brands may dispute this, one attribute, which cannot be argued, is the aesthetic appeal of this caliber. It was beautiful back in 1969 when it was launched and has captured admiring glances ever since.

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For those readers unfamiliar with the El Primero, it took seven years to bring to fruition. It was a fully integrated movement, self-winding, equipped with a date and tachometric scale. The architecture of the movement accorded a perfect tri-compax dial layout. The high frequency caliber, oscillating at 36,000 vph, necessitated special lubricants to prevent undue wear of the escapement. This frequency allowed the chronograph function to deliver accuracy to 1/10th of a second.

Buoyed by the success of the reception accorded to the El Primero 3019 PHC in 1969, Zenith decided later that year, to equip the caliber with triple calendar and moon-phase indications. This movement was initially called the El Primero 3019 PHF, but its name subsequently changed to the Caliber 410.

Ironically, the history could have been very different. In the midst of the “quartz-crisis”, production of the El Primero ceased. Charles Vermot, an engineer working for the company at the time, chose to store the tools and drawings necessary for El Primero production, preventing them being destroyed. A few years later, under new ownership, and thanks to Vermot’s actions, El Primero production recommenced.

El-Primero – robust and reliable

The column-wheel is the purists’ choice when it comes to chronographs. However, they are very complex and costly to produce. Zenith has shown over its long history that it has had the prowess to deliver this complexity in a robust and surprisingly more affordable format.

Reliability has never been an issue with the El Primero and its faultless operation is well-known. Moreover, a number of other brands have chosen to use the famous El-Primero movement, most notably Rolex in their Daytona model. Rolex subsequently replaced the El-Primero with its own in-house movement, a move driven by a wish to make all its calibers in-house, rather than any failing of the El Primero. In fact, Rolex Daytona models containing the El Primero movement are now much sought after and highly prized by collectors.

A fitting tribute

It is 45 years since the El Primero was born and the brand has chosen to mark the legend of this model with the release of a 500-piece limited series, presented in stainless steel and aptly named the Zenith El Primero 410.

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Measuring 42 mm in diameter, the sizing of the watch will appeal to modern tastes, but it has a classical note which should retain eye-appeal for decades to come.

The dial

The silver-toned dial has a sunray finish which is beautiful and sits perfectly at ease with the stainless steel case material. The applied and faceted indexes are rhodiumed and detailed with luminous material which, in combination with the matching hour and minute hands, pleasingly shimmer in ambient light. Indeed, it is this charming interaction with the light, which is one of several successful elements of the design language.

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A 30-minute chronograph register is positioned at 3 o’clock, a 12-hour counter is located at 6 o’clock and a small seconds display resides adjacent 9 o’clock. This triumvirate of subdials, seem perfectly positioned, neither too near the center of the dial, nor to close to the hour track. Moreover, they are snailed, providing a comely contrast with the aforementioned sunray finish.

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