Zenith El Primero Chronograph

Zenith El Primero Chronograph

In 1969, as the Soviets and the Americans raced to put a man on the moon, watch brands raced to develop the first automatic chronograph movement. Much like the Space Race, this struggle was international, with watch brands over the world vying to make horological history. Seiko, quietly, without much fanfare, worked on their automatic chronograph, the Caliber 6139. On the other side were the Swiss, with two camps vying against each other for supremacy: Hamilton, in concert with Heuer, Breitling, Dupois-Dupraz, and new Hamilton acquisition, Buren, who would use Buren's Intra-Matic to develop the "Chrono-Matic" (or Caliber 11) under the mysterious title of Project 99. Then there were Zenith and Movado, who'd already made a name for themselves as producers of fine chronographs

The journey to develop the El Primero began in 1962, for a target date of 1965, Zenith's centennial. Although Zenith would overshoot that date by four years, the movement that they produced would break the mold as far as chronograph movements were concerned--both literally and figuratively. It would be the first automatic chronograph movement. Furthermore, it would be the first chronograph movement where the construction would fully integrate the chronograph complication, rather than containing it in a module. Instead, the El Primero would contain a column wheel and a rotor mounted on ball bearings.  

The El Primero debuted in 1969, challenging Seiko's Reference 6139 and Project 99's Caliber 11 for the title of world's first automatic chronograph. The advent of the automatic chronograph was a huge technological feat and it changed the face of the industry, opening the door for many companies to offer their own models. But while the Caliber 11 found its way into a slew of watches by brands ranging from Heuer to Hamilton, Zenith made their El Primero movements available to only a select few other manufacturers over the years, from Zenith affiliate Movado to Rolex. And for good reason: of the three movements that were released that year, only the El Primero was high-beat, offering significant added accuracy.

Although the "sporty" steel El Primeros are probably best known amongst collectors (think A386 and A385), the groundbreaking movement found its way into a host of other models, ranging from dressier gold variants, including the Reference G7810 you see here, to off-branded pieces from the likes of Movado, upon whom Zenith relied for import into the critical U.S. Market.

Nearly all of these models are hard to find in unmolested condition today, but good G7810s are especially difficult to locate, in part due to their solid gold cases being maltreated to a lifetime of wear and polishing. This particular example is in excellent overall condition, with a strong case, a beautifully patinated silver tone dial with recessed subsidiary registers, and original crown.

While gold-cased sport watches have traditionally enjoyed a fairly particular following, attention is massing, especially among collectors who recognize the rarity that these precious metal pieces represent.   


18K Solid Yellow Gold case is approximately 37.5mm (excluding crown). Zenith El Primero Automatic movement. Mid-1970s.

Overall Condition: The case is in excellent condition over all, with a very pleasing case showing no signs of over polishing. Silver dial is in outstanding condition with crisp printing and no signs of hand drag or discoloration. Luminous material on the dial and baton hands has aged evenly. Handset is in excellent condition. Original snap-on case back retains crisp hallmarks and serial. Zenith 'star' crown.

Includes one embossed brown leather strap with gold tone buckle.

SKU: AS01632

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