At first, you might think that this new watch is a vintage re-edition of the iconic 1969 El Primero A386 – which it is, and that’s already quite something, as this one is stainless steel. But this watch is actually much more. First of all, it will be the final version of the A386 available with the original Revival case. Second, it reproduces a previously unknown prototype dial, which was once made for the A386 but never used. Finally, this watch marks the “Manufacture Edition” series. So, let’s have a closer look at this new Zenith Chronomaster Revival Manufacture Edition.
Without reviewing the story behind the 1969 El Primero movement (which you can read here), which was one of the three first automatic chronograph calibres ever created, it is worth noting that it was, in fact, a trilogy of watches that Zenith launched to inaugurate its innovative, integrated, high-beat automatic chronograph, with the references A384, A385 and A386. While the first one was re-edited and is now part of the permanent collection, the most iconic of the lot, the A386, has only been offered in very limited series, for the 50th anniversary of the El Primero, in steel or in gold. So today, not only is there a new model paying tribute to the legendary chronograph, but it is available in a more accessible material.
An unknown dial, recovered from the attic
Part of the appeal and unique style of the A386 was the tri-colour layout of its dial, with silver, grey and blue sub-counters. What no one knew until now is that the brand made other dials, as prototypes, which remained unknown and unseen until recently. So is the dial that inspired this new Zenith Chronomaster Revival Manufacture Edition, with its triple shades of blue. Why releasing this now? Well, the story has to do with the grenier or attic of the historic manufacture.
As quartz watches were gaining popularity in the mid-1970s, Zenith was sold to an American company called the Zenith Radio Corporation. Aiming to market quartz watches exclusively, the Chicago-based company decided to stop the production of all mechanical movements, including the venerable El Primero. But it was saved by Charles Vermot, a specialist in chronograph movement construction at Zenith. Ignoring orders, Vermot secretly hid all the equipment and tooling necessary for the production of the chronograph movements behind a sealed wall in the grenier or attic of the Zenith Manufacture. This act allowed Zenith to resume the production of El Primero without having to redevelop tooling in the mid-1980s.
As for today’s topic, Zenith explains that: “there in the attic, among the countless artefacts and pristinely preserved tools, a small, unassuming and unlabeled box was uncovered. In it, remarkably preserved after decades, were a number of dials, (…) as the signature El Primero tri-colour dial of the A386, and more remarkably, another version of the tri-colour dials, using three different shades of blue. No records exist of these presumably prototype blue tri-colour dials, but considering that they were kept with prototype dials of the A386 in the same configuration it was commercialized in 1969, one can assume that is was part of the original prototype dials for the A386, and that Charles Vermot himself hid them in the attic along with all the other El Primero tools.” The beauty of this dial, and the story behind how it was found, compelled Zenith to produce it in a modern re-edition.
The last A386 Revival
To accommodate this special, historic dial, there was no other option than to use the Revival case, a model based on the design of the original 1969 El Primero A386, recreated to its exact dimensions and using the blueprints of the original watch, in order to preserve its proportions. As such, the new Zenith Chronomaster Revival Manufacture Edition is housed in a 38mm case, with faceted lugs, radial brushed and polished surfaces, flat (and thin) bezel, pump-style chronograph pushers and a box-shaped sapphire crystal (identical in design to the original Plexiglas). The best thing about this edition is the choice of stainless steel making it substantially more accessible than its three gold counterparts.
While identical in layout and finishing, the dial of this new Chronomaster Revival distinguished itself from the other A386-inspired models with its specific colour scheme, based on three shades of blue for the sub-counters – from vivid electric to navy blue. The rest, as for the case, is a faithful re-creation of the original 1969 watch. As such, the hands are painted, with white luminous and black inserts, the hour markers are applied, polished and faceted, the chronograph hand is painted red and the date, like it or not, is positioned at 4.30 (like the original). This white lacquered dial features black contrasting elements, including the minute track. A tachymeter scale is printed on the inner flange. All other elements of the dial have been meticulously recreated too (historic fonts and logo included).
This Zenith Chronomaster Revival Manufacture Edition is worn on a dark blue alligator strap with protective rubber lining and is secured by a steel pin buckle. Due to its compact proportions, it has an undeniable vintage charm and provides great comfort, yet with quite some presence on the wrist. On the other hand, this combination of cold colours (blue over white, without using fauxtina) makes this watch quite modern too.
To power this edition, Zenith still relies on the venerable, once innovative El Primero movement, here in its Calibre 400 declination. Still using the same architecture as the 1969 version, meaning an integrated automatic movement with column wheel and horizontal clutch, it retains its high-beat regulating organ, beating at 36,000 vibrations/hours, which allows measurements of 1/10th of a second. The movement, visible through a sapphire caseback (the main concession to modernity in this watch) is nicely decorated and boasts 50 hours of power reserve.
Manufacture Edition (but first online)
This Zenith Chronomaster Revival Manufacture Edition is part of a new collection, and although it is not limited in production, it is intended to be an exclusive piece, available uniquely to visitors of the Zenith Manufacture. However, given the current situation, which does not allow visits to the manufacture, the watch will also be available on its e-commerce website, giving customers the opportunity to purchase the watch until the manufacture reopens to the public.
Zenith will launch this online boutique first for Italy, France and Switzerland in May, followed by Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and then in the United States.
The Zenith Chronomaster Revival Manufacture Edition (ref. 03.Z386.400/60.C843), the final version of the A386 available with the original revival case, will be delivered in a special package mimicking a book that can be displayed on a bookshelf and will include a comic book about Charles Vermot. It will be priced at CHF 8,900.
More details and online orders at www.zenith-watches.com.