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, Dubois-Depraz, 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 the 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.  

Of the three automatic chronograph movements that were released in 1969, only the El Primero was high-beat, meaning that it beat at a rate of 36,000 bph. This offered significant added accuracy, down to one tenths of a second. Zenith was careful to preserve this in the construction of the movement, developing special lubricants to ease the considerable wear on the escapement. 

The Zenith A386 was the first model to be fitted with the El Primero movement. The A386 was hallmarked by its three different-colored sub-registers, a drastic departure from the traditional color schemes of most chronographs of the day, which only used two dominant colors on the dial. Another unique feature of this watch is the "ladder" bracelet by Gay Freres. The A386 commands a hefty premium among collectors for its horological import, and with its impressive horological heritage, is certainly worthy of its preeminence. 


Stainless steel case is approximately 38mm (excluding crown and pushers). Zenith El Primero Reference A386. Zenith Caliber 3019. Circa 1970s.

Overall Condition: Stainless steel case is in very good condition with sharp bevels and no signs of over-polishing. Case does have some signs of use and wear in keeping with its age, including light scratches throughout. Dial has some discoloration in the outer tachymeter chapter ring at the 90 meter mark and between the date window and the hour sub-register. The dial is in otherwise very good condition with crisp printing and fine even patina to the luminescent elements of the hour markers and hands. Signed crown; signed case back has some tool marks but is in otherwise very good condition.

Includes one 19mm Gay Freres "ladder" bracelet with Zenith-signed clasp.

Also includes extra tachymeter ring.

SKU: AS01290

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