Not every brand in the wide world of horology has a rich, storied history. There are plenty of timepieces, vintage-inspired and otherwise, that claim historical significance without necessarily having the evidence to back up the claim. This is most definitely not the case with Zenith watches. From the early 20h century, with its era-specific pilot watches, to the “Great Automatic Chronograph Race” of 1969, with the launch of its most famous piece, the El Primero, the brand has played a significant role in both the aesthetic and mechanical formation of historical watchmaking over the past 100 years and more.
About ten years prior to the development of the first automatic El Primero movement, Zenith released a watch commissioned for the Italian armed forces titled the TIPO CP-2 (short for “Cronometro di Polso;” photo above courtesy of Revolution). Often better known in watch-collecting circles by the name “Cairelli” for its Rome-based distributor at the time, A. Cairelli, the watch was produced in an edition of about 2,500 pieces, with only a handful of these going on to see military service. This vintage piece had all the military design elements typical of late 1950s and early 1960s chronographs: a clear black-and-white dial; a large, sturdy case; and utilitarian pushers, crown, and bezel. The watch has often been overshadowed by similar watches of its era from Breitling, Leonidas, Universal Genève, Heuer, and Breguet (among a few others), but has remained a rare novelty among collectors over the years. Only recently have these vintage pieces begun to fetch massive sums at auction, and this has sparked Zenith to re-create that timepiece as the watch we’ll be looking at today.
The watch, formally known as the Zenith Heritage Chronometro Tipo CP-2 (Ref. 03.2240.4069/21.C774), uses a 43-mm steel case with somewhat short lugs, no-nonsense pushers, and a graduated, black, rotating bezel. On the black dial is an outer minute ring divided into five-minute intervals; Arabic numerals for each hour mark, with the exception of the 9 o’clock running seconds subdial and the opposite 3 o’clock subdial for the 30-minute chronograph counter. The hands are in an era-inspired style, with the central chronograph seconds hand a slightly modified arrow pointer. Powering the watch is the modern Zenith El Primero movement, the automatic Caliber 4069, which has a power reserve of about 50 hours and is known for its high frequency of 36,000 VPH. Available starting this month in a limited edition of 1,000 pieces, the watch is priced at $7,700.
The modern recreation of the CP-2 has plenty in common with its historical predecessor. From its 43-mm case, to almost every detail on the dial, this watch plays very strictly to the design codes of the original military piece. The few differences (subtle yet noticeable) are in the slight bolding of the dial’s numerals, the slight reduction in size for the crown, a more refined bezel with less-prominent surrounding teeth, and a very small decrease in the length of the lugs.
Among the fairly obvious changes between the modern and vintage watches is the use of the automatic El Primero caliber as compared to the historical, manually-wound Caliber 146 DP. Also, note the absence of the “A. Cairelli / Roma” text at the bottom of the dial in favor of “Automatic,” a change that makes sense considering the watch is no longer distributed by Rome-based dealer. Finally, Zenith chose to use a screw-in caseback as compared to the screw-down caseback seen on the original model, most likely a functional decision made to increase the comfort of the piece on the wrist.
In my opinion, Zenith has shown a great level of tasteful restraint to maintain this watch’s historical accuracy. The brand very well could have added a third subdial or a date window, or even have gone so far as to add a faux-patina luminescence to the clean white accents on the face. Instead, Zenith took the design elements of the vintage piece and used the modern manufacturing, materials, and movements of today to produce a great watch. The modern recreation of the CP-2 is a rarity in today’s world of horology, and I would not be surprised if other brands soon follow suit in how they revisit some of their most famous pieces.
For our most recent article, in which I look at the historical inspirations for independent brand Nezumi’s Voiture, click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first learning about horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field, and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.