Why Is Zenith El Primero So Important? - Chronoexpert


Usually, when we talk about the Zenith El Primero we talk about the Rolex Daytona and vice versa. We have already compared these two collections, Rolex Daytona vs Zenith El Primero, which have become part of watchmaking history.

We have already commented on many occasions on the importance of this caliber and we will not go into who was the first to market the automatic chronograph caliber, whether Zenith, Seiko or Breitling (and their consortium). What we will say is that of the 3 original calibers, the one that has transcended the most is by far Zenith’s El Primero.

The Chronomaster Sport model as such is a modern reference that is not as popular as the Daytona. To understand this model we should take a quick look at Zenith and its caliber, the El Primero.

First steps of the El Primero caliber

When Zenith set out to create this caliber, expectations were very high:

  • It had to be an integrated chronograph.
  • It had to be column-wheel rather than cam-operated.
  • It had to be extremely precise.
  • It had to incorporate a date and be as slim as possible.

The result, we all know. As a curiosity, it also had a 37mm case, like the first Daytona, even though it used a hand-wound mechanism. This watch with a cushion case was relaunched again, first as a limited edition, and is now part of the brand’s regular collection.

Zenith a384

Credit to I signore del tempo

Creating an iconic design

A little later, however, the A386 was born, probably the brand’s most identifiable model. In this case, it opted for a more traditional round case, but its characteristic touch was the arrangement and color of the subdials. One on top of the other and the colors, light grey, dark grey and blue, became the brand’s hallmark.

Zenith a386
Credit to A Collected Man

Truth or myth?

From this model onwards and a few years later, Zenith, like many others, entered the “quartz crisis” and, after a few ups and downs, ended up in the hands of American businessmen who decided to do away with mechanical movements and focus on quartz. It was here that Charles Vermot appeared, an employee of the company who, faced with the direction taken by the brand, decided to hide the machinery and plans for the El Primero, contradicting his then bosses.

The Daytona owes everything to Zenith

This led in 1978 to the American entrepreneurs getting rid of the watch brand by selling it back to a Swiss consortium that took over mechanical watchmaking. Soon after, Zenith was selling El Primero calibers to Ebel and Rolex was closing a 10-year supply contract for its Daytona. The El Primero was back.

It was the 1980s, mechanical watches were making a comeback and Italian distributor De Luca asked Zenith to make a specific model that it was sure would sell well. The idea was not to create something 100% new but to take advantage of some existing parts. The result was this:

zenith el primero de luca (1)
Credit to Wrist Icons

It was the first time Zenith had looked like the Daytona, though the last time was with the arrival of the Chronomaster Sport. At the moment, it is the most talked-about watch of 2021. Zenith is aiming very high with this model. It is available with a white and black dial, as well as a steel bracelet or a strap with a folding clasp.

zenith chronomaster sport
Credit to Zenith

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