A Closer Look At The New Zenith Chronomaster Original
For fans of the El Primero Reference A386, these three standard production successors deliver everything you need.
The Zenith El Primero Reference A386 is one of the most recognizable and desirable watches ever created. It debuted in 1969 and was one of the first self-winding chronographs. But it was the first high frequency (36,000 alternations per hour), column wheel, full rotor integrated chronograph movement ever made. Its design is also dead sexy. No wonder enthusiasts are so keen to get their hands on one.
Unfortunately for collectors, between 1969 and 1971, only 2,500 examples of the Reference A386 were ever produced, making this particular El Primero an elusive watch to get your hands on.
Over the years, Zenith has kept the dream of the A386 alive by launching occasional limited editions and tribute models. The company recently released the most exciting series of revivals – the Chronomaster Original. We’ve had some time to sit with this watch, and here’s why we think it’s so exciting.
For enthusiasts, the most exciting aspect of the Chronomaster Original is that it’s not limited.
The last revamp of this iconic timepiece was in 2019 when Zenith released the 50th Anniversary El Primero A386 Revival. That trilogy came in white, pink, and yellow gold and was limited to 50 pieces each. And while some collectors are drawn to limited editions because of their exclusivity, most enthusiasts just want to get their hands on this piece of horological history.
Another interesting development is that the Chronomaster Original is the first unlimited steel reproduction of the A386. It also echoes the 1969 original in terms of silhouette and size: It features the same no-bezel case design with pump-style chronograph pushers, a box-shaped crystal, faceted lugs, and the mix of radial brushed and polished surfaces, and it measures in at 38mm.
While the aesthetics contributed to the initial success of the previous A386 tribute pieces, these new editions, as the name implies, are also originals.
This trio offers two different dials: a grey, black, and blue tri-color dial available in steel or rose gold or a black and silver reverse panda in stainless steel. And while the new Chronomaster Originals are instantly recognizable as an El Primero, the paddle-shaped seconds hand of the original A386 has been replaced with a straight, red-lacquered hand to allow for more precise reading of the fractional 10ths of seconds. The logo has also been updated to reflect the signature Zenith uses today.
Under the hood, the Chronomaster Original has been fitted with a contemporary El Primero automatic chronograph movement, the Caliber 3600. This mechanism is the most up-to-date version of El Primero caliber, which can now measure and display elapsed time to 1/10th of a second. This advancement also required a bit of a redesign of the black inner scale surrounding the dial to allow it to track 1/10th of a second as opposed to a 1/100th of an hour. The automatic movement, which, in another first, can be viewed through a sapphire caseback, has a 60-hour power reserve.
Clearly, Zenith was listening to the watch collection community with this collection. Still, any standard production timepiece is going to lack some of the bells and whistles of a limited edition. One criticism among super fans is that the dial surfaces are a little flat, and the khaki Super-LumiNova used on the indices and ladder hands feels a little generic. But this is a small price to pay for accessibility.
While a big part of the Chronomaster Original’s appeal is its heritage look, it still feels fresh thanks to the calfskin strap. The silver dial stainless steel variant has navy blue strap, the black dial version’s is saddle tan, and the rose gold model’s is a rich tobacco brown. For the stainless steel examples, buyers can also select a three-link oyster style bracelet (although we also hope that one day we’ll have the option of the emblematic Gay Frères ladder bracelet that was a big part of the 1969 version of the A386).
Again, the Chronomaster Original comes in three versions. There is the signature tri-color dial configuration in a steel case; a reverse-panda black dial with silver chronograph registers, also housed in steel; and an 18-karat rose-gold version with the iconic tri-color dial. The steel versions on the calfskin strap cost $8,400. But if you opt for the steel bracelet, the price gets bumped to $9,000. The gold model on the calfskin strap costs $19,100.