Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 42mm

Angus Davies reviews the Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 42mm.

The Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 42mm in 18-carat rose gold is a new addition to the impressive collection of chronograph models from this historical watch brand.

Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 42mm

The El Primero calibre, unveiled in 1969, was one of the first, if not the first, self-winding chronograph movements. There continues to be discussion about whether the El Primero, Seiko’s 6139 or the Calibre 11, fitted in the Heuer Monaco and the Breitling Chronomatic, were first but certainly 1969 was a prolific year for the watch industry.

One thing which is not subject to debate is that the El Primero is revered. Indeed, many consider it to be the finest mass-produced automatic chronograph movement ever produced.

Over the years, Zenith has equipped many of its models with its iconic movement, including its impressive Chronomaster model. This year, the watch brand from Le Locle has unveiled two versions of the Chronomaster El Primero in both 42mm and 38mm cases. The latter watch features a date display at 4:30, while the larger 42mm model has a date aperture at 6 o’clock.

Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 38mm & 42mm

(42mm on left, 38mm on right)

The Chronomaster El Primero 38mm shares the same case as the original 1969 model while the larger model is en vogue, appealing to modern tastes with its 42mm case. Further choice is proffered with a choice of bi-metallic and 18-carat rose gold cases.

Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 42mm

Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 42mm in 18-carat rose gold

For the purpose of this review I chose my favourite variant, the gold Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 42mm.

The dial

The tricoloured tri-compax display is the first element of the dialscape to captivate the onlooker. The 12-hour chronograph register overlaps both the 30-minute chronograph register and the small seconds display. The fusion of colour is glorious, albeit I concede it may not appeal to conservative tastes.

Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 42mm

Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 42mm bi-metallic

The main dial vista features a sunray motif which glints tastefully in ambient light. The hour and minute hands are gold plated and lined with luminescent fill. The applied indexes are, once again, lined with SuperLuminova and feature faceted edges to augment visibility.

Encircling the dial is a tachymeter scale, while at 6 o’clock is the aforementioned date display.

The readability of the dial is excellent and the mix of gold with the tricoloured subdials makes for an interesting and handsome dial design. Clearly one benefit of the larger case size is that the display is easier on myopically challenged eyes.

The case

While Zenith offers a 38mm case option, for most masculine wrists the 42mm case should prove ideal. However, one potential benefit of the 38mm case is that it is marginally slimmer which may be of significance to some would-be wearers.

If budget is an issue, then the bi-metallic case looks very attractive and offers most of what the fully gold case delivers. However, the full ristretto flavour of the totally gold case does look resplendent and provides the ultimate expression of luxury.

The capstan-like pushpieces proffer sublime tactility, the welcome consequence of a fully integrated movement.

The domed sapphire crystal imbues the timepiece with a vintage air. The lugs slope inwards towards the leading edge of the strap evincing a graceful aesthetic.

Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 42mm

An exhibition case-back provides sight of the magnificent self-winding movement within.

The movement

The Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 42mm contains the El Primero 400B movement. The movement is beautifully adorned with perlage and the oscillating mass is decorated with Côtes de Genève.

Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 42mm

Unusually, the frequency of the balance is 36,000 VpH (5Hz). This higher frequency provides greater stability and enhanced precision. Only a handful of watch companies offer a 5 Hz movement, highlighting the technical achievement this presents.

Actuating the push-pieces delivers a silken action that invites the wearer to repeatedly stop and start the chronograph.

Closing remarks

In creating the Chronomaster El Primero 42mm, Zenith has masterfully drawn on the styling of the 1969 case and sized it to modern tastes. The company has also equipped this new timepiece with a version of the legendary column-wheel movement. The result is a gorgeous watch with much mechanical virtue to back up its good looks.

Where Zenith particularly sates would-be buyers needs is by offering much choice. The Chronomaster is offered in different sizes, different case materials and a choice of dial colours. Indeed, not only is the El Primero arguably the first movement of its type, it now represents the first choice for buyers who appreciate the numerous options this legendary brand now provides.

Technical specifications

• Model: Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 42mm

• Case: 18-carat pink gold; diameter 42mm; water resistant to 10 bar (100 metres); sapphire crystal to front and caseback.

• Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds; date; chronograph.

• Movement: El-Primero 400B; self-winding movement; frequency 36,000 VpH (5Hz); 31 jewels; power reserve minimum 50 hours; 326 components.

• Strap: Brown alligator leather strap with folding clasp

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