If the early El Primero watches (ref. A386 in particular), fitted with one of the very first automatic chronograph movements, are considered the most iconic pieces produced by the Le Locle-based manufacture, another watch has created quite a stir recently: the Cronometro Tipo CP-2 Cairelli. Already reissued in 2016 in a limited edition, some new, non-limited versions of the Cairelli-inspired watch have been presented. Decked out in a bronze or aged steel case and with a new flyback function – which befits a pilot chronograph – meet the new Zenith Pilot Cronometro Tipo CP-2 Flyback.
Short history of the Zenith Cronometro Tipo CP-2 Cairelli
After WWII and the rise of modern military-aviation, several air forces expressed the need for purpose-built chronograph watches. The French Aeronavale required the development of the Type 20 standard. Germans had their Flieger Chronographs. The Aeronautica Militare Italiana (the Italian Air Force) also expressed such a need, which led to the creation of the Zenith Cronometro Tipo CP-2. The watch was commissioned by A. Cairelli, Roma (the official retailer of the Italian Army), who ordered approximately 2,500 units between 1960 and the beginning of the 1970s, and supplied them to the Italian Army.
These Tipo CP-2 were instantly recognisable thanks to their oversized 43mm case – a common size today, but a massive piece back in the 1960s. They were fitted with a black dial and highly contrasting luminescent Arabic numerals and hands, as well as a notched rotating bezel. Inside the case of the Cronometro Tipo CP-2 was the calibre 146 DP, a hand-wound, two-register movement produced by Zenith in its Les Ponts-de-Martel workshops.
While some of these watches were delivered to the military forces, it is said that the Italian Army didn’t honour the contract in full. Different Army Corps received the watch, which explains the various inscriptions found on the back: A.M.I. for «Aeronautica Militare Italiana» or the Air-Force; R.A.M.I. for «Raggruppamento Autonomo Ministero Interno» or the Interior Ministry; or P.S. for «Pubblica Sicurezza», the military police. Yet, many watches were not delivered and the Army left A. Cairelli with large unsold inventories, which were later sold to a civilian public, bearing the sole inscription “Cronometro Tipo CP-2 A. Cairelli-Roma” on the back.
The New Zenith Pilot Cronometro Tipo CP-2 Flyback
After the success of the black dial/steel case version introduced as a limited edition of 1,000 pieces in 2016, Zenith has decided to bring back the Cairelli-inspired watches in standard production (understand non-limited). Two new versions of the Pilot Cronometro Tipo CP-2 Flyback will be released in 2018, kitted out with visual and technical evolutions.
Looking at these new editions, the first impression is their blatant resemblance to the original Cairelli Tipo CP-2 watches. Same proportions, same design, same two-register chronograph layout, same military inspiration. Yet, if the 2016 limited edition was a faithful reproduction of the original piece, the new versions that Zenith introduces this year are visually slightly different. First are the materials used for the cases: bronze or aged steel. Indeed, two different models will be available. One with a bronze case and a steel back, the other with a grey DLC-coated aged stainless steel – with a patinated effect on both metals, to enhance the vintage style.
In addition to the new cases, the dials are also slightly different. First, they show a brown (on the bronze version) or a dark grey (on the DLC-coated steel version) gradient colour – meaning slightly darker on the periphery of the dial, with the same effect applied on the sub-counters. The contrast between the dial and the numerals, a fundamental aspect of a pilot’s watch, remains excellent though. These dials are also textured, with a rough, grained pattern. The hands match the case material – gold on the bronze version, steel on the DLC-coated edition.
The design of these new Zenith Pilot Cronometro Tipo CP-2 Flyback remains entirely faithful to the original, with an identical notched bezel with a 60-minute scale, identical numerals on the dial, identical tracks for the chronograph and hands shaped in the same way as the 1960s Cairelli Tipo CP-2. The case, at 43mm in diameter, is rather large on the wrist but keep in mind that once again Zenith has kept the original proportions here. Both versions are secured to the wrist by oily nubuck leather straps, again with a very vintage style.
As for the mechanics, this is where we can see the major difference between the original and the new Zenith Pilot Cronometro Tipo CP-2 Flyback. Without surprises, these watches are equipped with the iconic El Primero automatic calibre – no more hand-wound movement here. For the new Pilot Cronometro Tipo CP-2, the choice has been made to stick to a two-register layout without a date. To add some relevance to the pilot watch concept, and even if this isn’t faithful to the original Cairelli watches, Zenith added a flyback function to the El Primero – something that was absent from the 2016 Limited Edition.
The El Primero 405 B on these new Pilot Cronometro Tipo CP-2 Flyback is visible through a sapphire case back – the 2016 version had a closed back. We find the same base calibre, with a high-frequency regulating organ (beating at 5Hz), a central rotor and an integrated architecture, as well chronograph functions activated by a column-wheel. The finishing of this true icon of the watchmaking industry is relatively pleasant and its construction leaves most of the technical parts visible (levers, springs, wheels are all in the foreground).
The new Zenith Pilot Cronometro Tipo CP-2 Flyback watches will be available as non-limited editions for quite a friendly price: both models will retail for CHF 7,900 – the same price as the 2016 limited edition, which was in steel, without the flyback function. More details on www.zenith-watches.com.