Zenith Elite Chronograph Classic

The Zenith Elite Chronograph Classic ref. 03.2272.4069/51.C700 features the maison’s legendary El-Primero movement, housed in handsomely styled case and featuring a tastefully restrained dial. Mark McArthur-Christie takes a close look at this latest watch bearing the legendary star logo.

This detailed review of the Zenith Elite Chronograph Classic ref. 03.2272.4069/51.C700 includes live images, specification details and pricing.

Image of Zenith Elite Chronograph featuring El_Primero 4069 movement

One of the many wonderful things about the world of watches is its diversity.  It’s a place where the mind-boggling, precision complexity of Andreas Strehler’s Lune Exacte can happily rub lugs with the full-on craziness that is the rather wonderful Hublot MP-05 LaFerrari. There’s room for the complex and the simple, the daft and the dignified.

One watch that, just on its own, has managed to span the whole range of diversity and had more incarnations than Dr Who is Zenith’s El Primero.  From the full 1970s porn star moustachioed Big Blue (ref 01.0200.415) to the Bladerunneresque Tourbillon Skeleton, the El Primero has been a true icon of the watch industry since it first sprang off the bench in January 1969.

At the distinctly restrained end of the scale is the El Primero Chronograph Classic, powered by the new cal. 4069 movement. It’s not quite clear what’s new about it, but, like its El Primero brethren it beats at the signature 36,000 vph (5 Hz), still uses a column wheel and carries 31 jewels.

Image of Zenith Elite Chronograph featuring El_Primero 4069 movement

Back in 1969, when the quartz barbarians were almost at the gates of Rue des Billodes, the El Primero was one of the very first (if not the first – depends how you define it) automatic, integrated chronographs.  Up against the might of Seiko and the Chrono-matic group – Breitling, Dubois-Dupraz, Hamilton-Buren and Heuer – Zenith aced it.  And not only was it the first, it is the last too – in the sense that the El Primero is still in production today with remarkably few modifications. 

Seiko, sadly, pulled the splendid cal.6139 in the early 1980s and Heuer’s cal.11 was fragile and needed serious modification soon after launch. However, the El Primero just keeps on beating at its impressive 36,000 vph, 10 ticks every second.

This latest iteration of the El Primero is a good looking movement, no matter what.  You’ll find graining on the levers, Côtes de Genève on the cutaway winding weight and the mainplate and bridges carry perlage.  And, on the Chronograph Classic you get to see it all happening behind the sapphire caseback, held in place with four screws.  In fact, it’s gorgeous enough to wear backwards, just to enjoy the movement.

Image of Zenith Elite Chronograph featuring El_Primero 4069 movement

But there’s more to the Zenith Elite Chronograph Classic than the EP movement, splendid as it is.  In fact, even given the wonderful movement, the whole of the Classic is greater than the sum of its parts.  Assuming you prefer understatement to shouty subdials and farkles, it’s a watch that simply works, horologically and visually.

Image of Zenith Elite Chronograph featuring El_Primero 4069 movement

The 42mm round case manages to belie its size with elegance thanks to tapering lugs, a thin bezel and square, case-edge following pushers.  The more common, round pushers against a case of these slim proportions would have looked like a snail wearing goggles. 

You get the choice of stainless steel or rose gold for your case as well as a champagne or steel blue sunburst dial.  And it’s this latter choice of dials that transforms the watch.  With a champagne dial, the whole plot has a thoroughly vintage feel to it.  The stainless steel case gives a Le Carré-esque, 1960s single-breasted suits and knitted silk ties feel.

Image of Zenith Elite Chronograph featuring El_Primero 4069 movement

Rose gold and stainless steel versions with silver-toned dials

Rose gold and gold plated hands simply make it even more vintagey – you can almost smell the leather upholstery and Gitanes smoke from the owner’s XK150 coupé. But the same watch with the blue sunburst dial is completely different and much, much more modern.  It feels as though it would be quite happy looking down from behind a laptop in a glass corner office.

Image of Zenith Elite Chronograph featuring El_Primero 4069 movement

Functionally, the Zenith Elite Chronograph Classic runs a central chronograph seconds hand with a blued 30-minute counter, marked in five minute intervals at 3 o’clock, and blued small seconds, marked in ten second intervals over at 9 o’clock.  It is detail touches like the blued subdial hands that lift the watch out of the ‘potentially too simple’ class straight into ‘positively elegant’ class.

At a quick glance, you’d think the dial’s baton hour markers were applied. In fact, they’re engraved, then filled with rhodium – unless you choose the rose gold version, in which case you get, appropriately, rose gold-filled markers.

Zenith could – at this point – have gone and blown all this elegance and sophistication by messing up the dial printing, slathering it with the name of the watch, its water resistance rating (5 ATM, since you asked) and the movement’s automatic status.  Instead, it keeps things classical and simple – with just “Zenith” printed underneath the brand’s star logo. Perfect.

The dials of each of the three watches – stainless champagne, rose gold champagne and stainless blue – all sit under a domed sapphire crystal that adds even more depth to the dial.

Just because something is simple doesn’t make it easy.  For Zenith to have designed and made a watch with this level of apparent simplicity is an achievement of both watchmaking and courage – all the more so when its competitors are making evermore complex and fussy watches. 

We’ve seen 1/10th of a second chronographs, chronos with moonphases, annual, full and perpetual calendars – but here’s one that ditches the fuss and the frou-frou.  Plain without being in the slightest bit ugly, clear without being dull and elegant without overstatement.  This is Zenith at its best.

Technical Specification

  • Model: Zenith Elite Chronograph Classic 
  • Reference: 03.2272.4069/51.C700 (blue dial)
  • Case: Stainless steel; diameter 42 mm; height 11.8 mm; water resistant to 5 bar (50 metres); sapphire crystal to front and caseback.
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds; chronograph.
  • Movement: El Primero 4069, self-winding movement; frequency 36,000 vph (5Hz); 31 jewels; power reserve min. 50 hours.
  • Strap: Blue alligator leather strap with stainless steel tiple folding clasp.
  • Price: £5,200.00 (as at 20.10.2016)

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