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We don't know what it is about tropical dials that makes them so appealing. Show one to any watchmaker and his first reaction (after a grimace) would be, "It's damaged. Replace it."
But a sun-kissed dial with just a hint of brown can make a collector go weak in the knees. Here at Analog/Shift we've seen tropical dials--and tropical dials. It's fair to say we have a fondness for them, but there's something undeniably appealing about a panda dial that's gone tropical, like the one on this Zenith El Primero Reference A384.
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 chronograph to bear the El Primero movement was the Reference A384, which debuted alongside its fumé-dialed sibling the A385 and the elusive round-cased A386, ancestor to the "Striking Tenth." About 2600 of the A384 were produced from 1969 to 1971. The angular tonneau case set the standard for vintage El Primeros, making it recognizable at a glance.
Another charming detail of these A384s is the aforementioned fading that occurs in the sub-registers and tachymeter ring. This particular A384 has taken on a handsome mocha hue that's positively appetizing. Additionally, the lume on the hour markers has aged to a green hue.
There's something downright elegant in its proportions, from the stunning dial to the sunburst finishing and the sharp chamfers on the lugs that makes it more than a watch, but a work of modern art--both inside and out. Recently serviced by our friends at Central Watch, this El Primero deserves to be the first choice for any collector who desires an example of this seminal automatic chronograph movement.
Stainless steel case is approximately 38mm (excluding crown and pushers). Zenith Reference A384. Zenith El Primero Caliber 3019 Self-Winding Chronograph Movement. Circa 1970s.
Overall Condition: Stainless steel case is in very good condition with sharp lugs. Case does have signs of use and wear, particularly on the lugs. Dial is in very good condition with fine even patina, particularly to the chronograph registers and the tachymeter ring. Chronograph hand has flaked slightly. Unsigned crown. Zenith case back has some scratches and tool marks but is in otherwise very good condition.
Includes one 20mm mocha leather strap with white contrast stitching and two 20mm nylon straps from Crown & Buckle
Also includes service warranty from Central Watch dated December 2016.