The Historic Vintage Watches From Zenith’s “Master of Chronographs” Exhibition

After a stint at Phillips in New York, the Zenith Master of Chronographs exhibition made its way to Los Angeles a few weeks back. Housed in Westime’s stunning new space overlooking Rodeo Drive, the exhibition serves as an interactive timeline of the brand’s rich history of chronographs stretching from the early 1900s to current day. Naturally, the history nerd within took hold and I was totally captivated by the prospect of seeing these historic and vintages watches without protective glass in between. If you weren’t able to catch the show, then fret not as I spent some time with, and photographed, these truly historic Zenith chronographs.

I was immediately drawn to a longtime favorite diving chronograph from the late 1960s that just exudes effortless and timeless design. The A277 was among the last of Zenith’s manual-wind chronographs and was only produced between 1968-1970. Of course, the launch of the El Primero in 1969 was the brand’s focus at the time so it’s not a surprise the A277 had such a brief lifespan. Details like the reverse panda dial and original Gay Frères ladder bracelet underscore the unique wabi-sabi made possible only by time’s natural patina.

Is it trite to ask for a reissue of this one? I’d ordinarily be wary of how much is lost in translation but Zenith’s track record of reissues has so far been stellar. 

The A3736 is another “Super Sub Sea” diving chrono from this era that’s a little quirkier with its internal rotating bezel that’s operated by the crown at 10 o’clock. The movement is the manual-wind Cal. 146HP which is the same as that in the A277 which makes sense considering these were both produced during the late 60s/early 70s. I know it came in a couple of funkier colorways but, wow, that reverse panda with the orange lollipop chronograph seconds hand is perfection. 

Of course the pre-El Primero age had many dressier chronographs as well. This 18k rose gold Z171 on display is a picture-perfect example of a pretty prolific design. Outfitted with the versatile 146D, this iteration has those blued hands that are still so striking even over 55 years later. 

And then, of course, came the iconic El Primero in 1969. Naturally, the Zenith Master of Chronographs exhibition had some exemplary early El Primero watches. The first of the trio is an early A384 which I actually had never seen in the metal before and, though it’s old news by now, it is impressive how true to the original the reissue from a couple of years back was. The gold G381 and tricolor A386 are the two other near-ubiquitous examples from those very early days of El Primero. 

The “Master of Chronographs” exhibition actually looks back decades before the aforementioned watches. Historic pocket watches from 1900 and 1910 and a pair of gold mono-pusher chronographs from 1920 really are museum pieces that pre-date one or both world wars, which is remarkable to consider. Of course Zenith utilized this exhibition to show off their newer watches like the Chronomaster Original and Defy Extreme. These are watches that enthusiasts are familiar with but seeing them in the context of such a thoughtfully constructed interactive timeline reframed Zenith for me.

You can learn more about Zenith’s watches, old and new, over at

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