Throughout 2019, we have seen Zenith commemorate the 50th anniversary of its legendary El Primero caliber in various ways — the release of a box set of three vintage-inspired pieces representing three different eras; the launch of the Defy Inventor, considered the next generation of the El Primero’s chronographic excellence; even a new double tourbillon version in the Defy El Primero family. Last night in New York, Zenith unveiled the final, and perhaps most eagerly anticipated, model in its semicentennial celebration — a historically accurate version of the original Zenith El Primero A384, the first wristwatch reference to contain the groundbreaking high-frequency chronograph movement.
To produce the most historically accurate timepiece possible, the watchmakers behind the Zenith El Primero A384 used a “reverse engineering” approach, digitizing each component of the 1969 original — yes, this reference, with the black-and-white “panda” subdial design, preceded even the A386 model re-created for the 50th Anniversary box set, with its more familiar blue-silver-gray subdials — to reproduce all elements as precisely as possible. The most major of these elements include the 37-mm diameter, faceted, stainless steel case, the black-and-white lacquered dial with its surrounding tachymeter scale, and the mushroom-style chronograph pushers at 2 o’clock and 4 o’clock.
Zenith did, of course, modernize a handful of elements on the A384 Revival that subtly distinguish it from the 1969 original. The crystal is sapphire, not the acrylic glass used throughout the watch industry at the time of the El Primero’s debut, and the caseback, solid steel in the vintage model, features a clear viewing window, a nod to all of the contemporary fans who have grown to appreciate not just the history and technical prowess of the El Primero, but its aesthetic beauty as well. The El Primero 400 caliber that is on display behind that exhibition caseback — the most up-to-date version, honed and fine-tuned over the course of a half century since its ancestor debuted — represents the other major modern update.
In all other significant respects, the El Primero A384 Revival is a faithful homage to the original, with a red central chronograph hand (and note the absence of the Zenith star-shaped counterweight of more contemporary models), a 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock, 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock, and small seconds at 9 o’clock, along with the tilted date window at 4:30; even the numerical font used on the date wheel appears to be the same or similar. The watch will be staged on a black alligator leather strap with a black rubber lining, completing the vintage look. For those seeking out the most historically accurate ensemble possible, however, there will also be a version on an integrated “ladder” steel bracelet of the type that graced the 1969 watch. Best of all, and possibly surprising, for aficionados and collectors, the Zenith El Primero A384 Revival will not be a limited edition, meaning that this tribute watch will be, in Zenith’s words, “exclusive yet attainable.” Price: $7,900.