Zenith continues to march toward the future by deftly deploying iconic elements from its past, as evidenced by vintage-inspired timepieces like the Chronomaster Revival and Pilot Type 20. This year sees the launch of the Chronomaster Original, described as a “21st century rendition” of one of the Swiss maker’s historical touchstones, 1969’s Ref. A386, one of the first steel wristwatches to be equipped with the groundbreaking El Primero chronograph caliber.
The most substantial update to the Chronomaster Original, which sets it apart from Zenith’s other recent riffs on the A386 — including the one-of-a-kind platinum-cased edition produced for a 2019 Phillips auction — is the use of a 1/10th-second scale in place of the original’s tachymeter scale on the flange, surrounding a black inner ring subdivided into 100 measurable time units. When the chronograph is activated by the retro pump-style pushers, the central hand makes a full rotation around the dial in 10 seconds, rather than the traditional 60 seconds, allowing precise measurement of elapsed times to the nearest 1/10th second on the scales. Zenith debuted this type of kinetic design in the Chronomaster Sport collection, introduced earlier this year, which can be regarded as the larger, sportier sibling to this new collection.
In most all other respects, aesthetically, the Chronomaster Original faithfully channels the spirit of its ancestor. The case is a modest, period-appropriate 38 mm in diameter with a thin, practically non-existent bezel framing a raised, domed sapphire crystal, and the aforementioned pump-style pushers on the right side. The dial on the flagship models features the tricolor gray-and-blue subdial arrangement (other references offer a “reverse panda” design with silvered subdials on a black dial) and the trapezoidal date window at 4:30. In service of legibility in reading tallied times on the 1/10th-second scale, Zenith has replaced the vintage model’s paddle-shaped seconds hand with a thin, straight, red-lacquered hand. More subtly in the way of updates, the Zenith logo on the dial has been executed in the contemporary style.
The movement inside the Chronomaster Original is the most upgraded version of Zenith’s El Primero movement, dubbed Caliber 3600, which also powere the Chronomaster Sport models. On display behind a sapphire caseback, the self-winding movement features a blued column wheel to drive the chronograph functions and an openworked rotor with a five-pointed Zenith star emblem to amass its lengthy 60-hour power reserve. As with all generations of the El Primero, its most noteworthy technical accomplishment is the balance’s high frequency of 36,600 vph (5 Hz), which enables the stopwatch’s capability for 1/10th second precision time measurements.
Zenith has modernized the Chronomaster Original in one other significant area, foregoing the open, “ladder”-style of the 1969 model’s bracelet in favor of a more solid, luxuriously appointed version whose links are finished and chamfered in the same manner as the case. Zenith has released five distinct references to usher in the Chronomaster Original series. Two are in steel cases mounted on the steel bracelet, one with the silvered dial and tricolor subdials, the other with the “reverse panda” black dial and silvered subdial set. The silvered-dial model with tricolor subdials also comes in steel on a blue calfskin strap and in 18k rose gold on a brown calfskin strap. The remaining model is a “reverse panda” on a beige calfskin strap.
All the watches are available now at Zenith boutiques, via e-commerce, and at authorized retailers. Prices range from $8,400 for the steel models on straps, to $9,000 for steel on bracelets, to $19,100 for the gold model on a strap.