Here’s the deal: an iconic chronograph movement, automatic, with column-wheel, high-beat frequency and very pleasant architecture to be seen on the caseback, a small diameter, a retro-inspired design, a clean dial, bi-compax layout, a no-date dial, all that wrapped in a pretty designed case and with the name of one of the greatest manufactures printed on the dial… What is there not to love in this description? Not much, admittedly. Well, this is what you’ll get with the Zenith Heritage 146 Chronograph El Primero, and yes, it is a pretty amazing watch, in fact it could well be the El Primero many were waiting for.
In terms of iconic chronographs (and watches in a wider approach), some names are just impossible not to mention… Names like a certain Speedy or a Dayto always comes in the conversation, yet another one draws the attention; the El Primero by Zenith. All three are child of the 1950s or 1960s, all three are coming from 3 superb manufactures, all three have an immense pedigree, all three have so many stories to tell. Yet, the El Primero wins the Oscar in terms of innovation. Remember that in 1969, the Zenith A386 was the first automatic chronograph available on the market (alongside 2 others… but the debate is so complex that we’re not going to make the story again) but the only with a 5Hz / 36,000vph frequency (which remains today a rarity). To make it short, the El Primero is an icon, which is still alive today, in dozens of variations, from a faithful 38mm tri-color edition to various modern versions, with large diameters or sporty cases. Yet, with such a pedigree, this watch is certainly one of the best platforms to make vintage-oriented versions, and the one we’ll show you today is a perfect example of achieved and desirable retro-reissue (and for once, a legitimate one).
While the recent Range Rover editions or the Lightweight version might talk to more recent collectors, this new Zenith Heritage 146 Chronograph will definitely attract the hardcore, long-time collectors like us here, at Monochrome – and probably some collectors that also look at the vintage market. Why that? Well, simply because it has everything we love here. Certainly not the most innovative or creative watch we’ve seen so far, it remains classical all the way around, but perfectly balanced. The Zenith Heritage 146 Chronograph have something to do with a certain creation of our colleagues of Hodinkee (and we know that these Americans are not bad when it comes to create watches…) Zenith doesn’t hide the lineage between the 146 and Hodinkee’s creation. In fact, these two have some strong resemblances. But it can be explained by the fact that both look at the early editions of the El Primero.
The Zenith Heritage 146 Chronograph uses the exact same case as the very first El Primero watch, the A386, with a 38mm diameter (great) and same design (also great). We have the polished bevel that runs from a lug to another, the brushed flat surfaces, the large dial opening as well as the cutaway lugs. Vintage it is for the look but also on the wrist. What a pleasure to have a smaller chronograph on the wrist. It is elegant, understated, perfectly proportioned without loosing a bit of presence and character. Then again, such diameters should make their comeback…
For the dial, the recipe is the same: clean, vintage, well balanced. Traditionally a tri-compax watch, the El Primero is here used in a two-register style, with only the small second at 9 and the 30-minute counter at 3… And, that’s all! No date window, no fancy inscriptions, no useless colored accents or overdone indexes. It’s clean, simple, legible and very sufficient after all. To bring some modernity, Zenith has opted for two different colors, a bit away from the traditional silver or black options. The Zenith Heritage 146 Chronograph is available with a deep blue or a warm brown dial, both with matching straps. This is were the 1960s are a bit forgotten but the goal is not to copy the past, but to be inspired by it. Both colors are very pleasant and original enough.
Inside the case is the sempiternal El Primero movement, here in the 4069 version. Just like the original version of 1969, it has retained its architecture with integrated chronograph, column-wheel and central rotor, as well as its most iconic feature, the 5Hz frequency that makes the second hand running so smoothly. It is here regulated and adjusted to meet chronometer standards. The view from the caseback is intact since 1969, and that’s something that we’re not going to complain about, knowing that modern chronograph movements are usually quite shy in showing their innards.
Overall, with such a design, such a nice and pure dial and the iconic El Primero movement running inside the case, it seems that Zenith found the perfect balance with this Heritage 146 Chronograph. The only drawback we can find concerns the straps, not that they look out of place in the context, but the quality feels below the rest of the watch… but keep in mind that you don’t buy a watch for its strap! And at CHF 6,900, it’s even one of the most accessible Zenith El Primero watches available on the market. What more could you ask for? More on zenith-watches.com.