Dr. Edwina Davies reviews the Zenith El Primero Chronomaster 1969, a watch containing the legendary El Primero movement.
I usually choose to write about watches which have simplicity and classic form as a preference but I find this watch fascinating.
I tried to rationalise this attraction.
I think it the organisation of the sub dials and the vista through the innovative dial opening, silver framed circles affording a view within, gold coloured wheels turning, red rubies and the three blued screws holding the silver inner bezel ring, circles swirling. It is alive with colour. Circles are strategically placed, recessed. The blued screws in particular, in their positioning, add to the composition and add a visual link with the 30 minute counter’s deep azure hue. It is that vibrancy and the organisation of space and forms which entrances. The imagery created reminds you of a Bruce Gray painting although strangely I am also put in mind of a Ben Nicholson White Relief, pure white, but spatially so perfect.
There is also the fascination of the motion of the gear trains, not usually visible at a glance, but clearly viewed through the anti-reflective sapphire crystal glass.
For me the impact and the appeal is visual. For the watch connoisseur there is much more than just pure aesthetics. Presenting an open heart this watch has no hidden agenda and has much to excite.
Modern art it may be but this is a watch firmly rooted in Zenith’s past. The colours of the sub dials, midnight blue for the 30 minute counter and anthracite for the 12 hour, are those used in the original 1969 El Primero model and stand out against the gentle tones of the silver sunray dial.
The 30 minute counter sits at 3 o’clock and the 12 hour counter at 6 o’clock.
The anthracite chapter ring provides a frame for the painting within. The slender red sweeping chronograph hand with its Zenith star and the smaller silver hands of the sub dials with their red detailing, all add to the colourful palette.
The broad hours and minute hands are grey with a central rib, half black, half white, rhodium with Super Luminova SLN C1, faceted and echo the five minute integers on the chapter ring which, ingot like, are unaccompanied by any numbering.
The tachymeter numbering occupies the space between the chapter ring and the bezel.
Numbering on the sub dials is simple and white, highlights against their dark backgrounds.
The name and Zenith star occupy the small space between twelve and two, the star perfectly placed above the midnight blue sub dial. Whether spatial requirements dictated its location or thoughts of the night sky I don’t know. Maybe serendipity, but it works.
Measuring 42 mm the case is of stainless steel.
The bezel , a simple round , the lugs smooth and graceful, provide a perfect frame for the dial, not detracting in any way from its colourful display and blending tonally with the principle silver of the face thereby throwing the colourful elements into sharp relief.
The knurled crown set conventionally at 3 o’clock bears the Zenith crown and set one on each side are the vintage styled push buttons for the chronograph
The beautifully finished case is water resistant to 100metres, a fact stated on the rear of the case but visible below the crown.
The sapphire crystal case back permits further viewing of the movement which is beautifully embellished with traditional Swiss finishing techniques; Côtes de Genève, perlage and anglage.
Zenith’s original El Primero movement was ground breaking in its frequency. This watch has a new El Primero in-house movement, the Calibre 4061, which oscillates at 36,000 vph. The movement has been aligned so that the aperture rests at 10 o’clock. To achieve this, the whole of the movement has been restructured and strategically relocated.
This new movement has 31 jewels, comprises 282 parts and affords a minimum power reserve of 50 hours.
The strap is of alligator leather but has a rubber lining. There is also the choice of a pin buckle or triple folding clasp, both fastenings in stainless steel.
This is a Swiss watch of quality with a reasonable price point from a watchmaker held in high regard. With great visual appeal, it offers a high quality movement whilst being kind to the purse. What more could you ask of any timepiece?
- Model: Zenith El Primero Chronomaster 1969
- Case: stainless steel; diameter 42.00 mm; water resistant to 10 bar (100 metres); sapphire crystal to front and back.
- Functions: Hours; minutes; subsidiary seconds; chronograph.
- Movement: El Primero 4061, self-winding; frequency 36,000 vph ; 31 jewels; power reserve 50 hours.
- Strap: Alligator leather strap with protective rubber lining on stainless steel pin buckle or available with optional stainless steel deployant.