Zenith El Primero 410

Angus Davies reivews the limited edition, Zenith El Primero 410, a watch containing the legendary self-winding El Primero fully integrated chronograph movement. This particular model includes a full calendar and moon-phase indication.

This detailed review of the Zenith El Primero 410 includes live images and specification details.

Zenith El Primero 410

As I held the new Zenith El Primero 410 in my hands, it felt reassuringly familiar. Like many admirers of chronographs, I have owned a Zenith timepiece containing the legendary movement that oscillates at 5 Hz. Foolishly, in a moment of madness, I sold my cherished Zenith a few years ago, an action I have since come to regret.

This new Zenith El Primero has a similar quality to a brand of clothing I often select, Gant. I know the clothes fit me, are invariably to my taste and deliver excellent quality. Whenever I seek new clothing, I frequent the Gant store on Regent Street, London. There is often something new to catch my eye but, whilst the designs may be current, the clothes proffer reassuring familiarity. I know what I am buying.

The Zenith El Primero 410 may be one of the latest models from the Swiss watch manufacture based in Le Locle, but contained within its handsome case is a familiar friend to watch lovers, the El Primero movement.

El-Primero, a brief history

The El Primero is said to be the first self-winding chronograph, hence the name. While some brands may dispute this, one attribute, which cannot be argued, is the aesthetic appeal of this calibre. It was beautiful back in 1969 when it was launched and has captured admiring glances ever since.

Zenith El Primero 410

For those readers unfamiliar with the El Primero, it took seven years to bring to fruition. It was a fully integrated movement, self-winding, equipped with a date and tachometric scale. The architecture of the movement accorded a perfect tri-compax dial layout. The high frequency calibre, oscillating at 36,000 vph, necessitated special lubricants to prevent undue wear of the escapement. This frequency allowed the chronograph function to deliver accuracy to 1/10th of a second.

Buoyed by the success of the reception accorded to the El Primero 3019 PHC in 1969, Zenith decided later that year, to equip the calibre with triple calendar and moon-phase indications. This movement was initially called the El Primero 3019 PHF, but its name subsequently changed to the Calibre 410.

Ironically, the history could have been very different. In the midst of the “quartz-crisis”, production of the El Primero ceased. Charles Vermot, an engineer working for the company at the time, chose to store the tools and drawings necessary for El Primero production, preventing them being destroyed. A few years later, under new ownership, and thanks to Vermot’s actions, El Primero production recommenced.

El-Primero – robust and reliable

The column-wheel is the purists choice when it comes to chronographs. However, they are very complex and costly to produce. Zenith has shown over its long history that it has had the prowess to deliver this complexity in a robust and surprisingly more affordable format.

Reliability has never been an issue with the El Primero and its faultless operation is well-known. Moreover, a number of other brands have chosen to use the famous El-Primero movement, most notably Rolex in their Daytona model. Rolex subsequently replaced the El-Primero with its own in-house movement, a move driven by a wish to make all its calibres in-house, rather than any failing of the El Primero. In fact, Rolex Daytona models containing the El Primero movement are now much sought after and highly prized by collectors.

A fitting tribute

It is 45 years since the El Primero was born and the brand has chosen to mark the legend of this model with the release of a 500-piece limited series, presented in stainless steel and aptly named the Zenith El Primero 410.

Zenith El Primero 410

Measuring 42 mm in diameter, the sizing of the watch will appeal to modern tastes, but it has a classical note which should retain eye-appeal for decades to come.

The dial

The silver-toned dial has a sunray finish which is beautiful and sits perfectly at ease with the stainless steel case material. The applied and faceted indexes are rhodiumed and detailed with luminous material which, in combination with the matching hour and minute hands, pleasingly shimmer in ambient light. Indeed, it is this charming interaction with the light, which is one of several successful elements of the design language.

Zenith El Primero 410

A 30-minute chronograph register is positioned at 3 o’clock, a 12-hour counter is located at 6 o’clock and a small seconds display resides adjacent 9 o’clock. This triumvirate of subdials, seem perfectly positioned, neither too near the centre of the dial, nor to close to the hour track. Moreover, they are snailed, providing a comely contrast with the aforementioned sunray finish.

Nestled within the 12-hour counter and displayed via a crescent shaped aperture is the moon-phase indication. The disc responsible for delivering the display, decorated with two moons, is driven by a “59-toothed wheel” corresponding to two lunar cycles (2 x 29.5 days).

The date is positioned between 4 o’clock and 5 o’clock, a detail in common with many, but not all, El-Primero models.

The lengthy list of functions is completed with a day and month display located adjacent 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock, as well as a tachymeter scale delivered around the circumference of the dial.

Zenith El Primero 410

Despite delivering much information, the dial does not unduly overwhelm the wearer. However, I would concede that some other Zenith models, such as El Primero Striking 10th, have less busy dials, courtesy of fewer functions. The potential buyer may wish to consider whether they need the additional functions of the 410 or would prefer a simpler dial display of an alternative El Primero model. I must say though, I don’t bemoan the notion of choice, something Zenith seems to provide in abundance.

Closing remarks

As I looked at this watch, adjacent Lake Geneva, a wonderful view lay in front of me. Yes, the lake is very beautiful, but I refer to the view of the movement, visible via the exhibition caseback.

The oscillating mass is open-worked and decorated with Côtes de Genève motif. The blued screws and the perlage are further testament to the quality of the movement. However, an aspect I particularly like is the visibility of the gear train and levers which, sadly, are often hidden from view.

This is a superb watch and it reminds me of a former horological love. Whether this would be my chosen model from the range remains unanswered. I discern much merit in the 410 but, conversely, see many other models in the Zenith catalogue that also appeal to me. Ultimately, like the Gant store on Regent Street, I know Zenith has much to offer and it is my familiarity with this Swiss brand which will inevitably lead me back to its charms.

Technical Specification

  • Model: Zenith El Primero 410
  • Reference: 03.2091.410/01.C494
  • Case: Stainless steel; diameter 42.00 mm; height 12.75 mm; water resistant to 10 bar (100 metres); sapphire crystal to front and caseback.
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds; date; day; month; moon phase indicator; chronograph; tachymeter scale.
  • Movement: El Primero 410, self-winding movement; frequency 36,000 vph (5 Hz); 31 jewels; power reserve 50 hours; 390 parts.
  • Strap: Brown alligator strap with rubber lining, presented on a stainless steel deployant with triple folding clasp.

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