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To that part of the population who are not Watch Idiot Savants, 1969 marks the year of the moon landing. But to the more horologically-inclined, 1969 marked a year of revolution in horology as well. As the Soviets and the U.S. raced to put a man on the moon, watch brands vied against each other to be the first to produce a self-winding chronograph drivetrain.
On one side of this contest was Hamilton, working with Heuer, Breitling, Dupois-Dupraz, and new Hamilton acquisition, Buren. In the wings of the contest sat Seiko, working diligently, if not silently, on its own distinct design. Last, but certainly not least was Zenith and its subsidiary, Movado.
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 advent of the automatic chronograph was a huge technological feat and it changed the face of the industry. It opened the door for many companies to offer their own models. But while the Heuer and Hamilton brainchild, the Chronomatic, found its way into a slew of watches, Zenith made their El Primero movements available to only a handful of other manufactures (including Rolex).
For many years, the words El Primero held little meaning outside of high-intensity watch enthusiast and collectors groups. But a few year ago, Zenith brought those words back into the fore with the release of their heritage piece, the El Primero Striking Tenth chronograph. The piece was a success in its own right and got a lot of attention in industry publications.
But it also marshaled the growing body of watch enthusiasts, urging them to look back at the history of the El Primero and the pieces produced around the legendary movement.
The Zenith A386 was the first model to be fitted with the El Primero movement and commands a hefty premium among collectors for its horological import. Subsequent to the A386 was the A385, which debuted in the mid 1970s. Where the A386 was hallmarked by its three different-colored sub-registers, the A385 was known for its fumé, or smoke, dial--a gorgeous light brown gradient coloration.
The beauty of the A385 is in the details. Aside from that gorgeous smokey dial, the front of the case is adorned with a beautiful sunburst finishing, which tapers off to a brush finish on the sides of the case and sharply-polished lugs. There's something downright elegant in its proportions, in the way the lugs hug the wrist, that makes it a worthy companion to your day-to-day adventures.
Stainless steel case is approximately 35mm (excluding crown and pushers). Zenith Reference A385. Zenith El Primero Automatic Chronograph Movement. Circa 1970s.
Overall Condition: Stainless steel case is in excellent condition, showing no signs of over-polishing and only minimal signs of light and careful wear. Dial is likewise in very good condition, with some darkening of the luminescent elements of the hour markers and hands. Zenith crown. Zenith case back shows some light scratches but is in otherwise very good condition.
Includes one 20mm chocolate brown leather strap and two 20mm nylon straps from Crown & Buckle