Zenith El Primero
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Zenith El Primero

For many years, the words El Primero held little meaning outside of high-intensity vintage watch enthusiast and collectors groups. But that all changed a few years ago, when Zenith launched its heritage piece, the El Primero Striking Tenth. The Striking Tenth was a success in its own right, and was heralded as a tour de force in industry publications.

But it also urged a growing body of watch enthusiasts to look back at the El Primero’s history and the watches that Zenith built around the legendary movement.

The El Primero was the culmination of a years-long research and development process undertaken by Zenith to develop the world’s first automatic chronograph movement. While other brands had sought to achieve the same feat—including Heuer (in concert with Breitling and Hamilton) and Seiko—Zenith intended to make the El Primero something entirely unique. Instead of taking an automatic module and merely sandwiching it onto the chronograph, Zenith fully integrated the two; moreover, the movement would be a high-beat calibre, offering significant added accuracy.

Zenith announced the El Primero on January 10, 1969, at a press conference. This was four years later than Zenith had intended: the brand had begun developing the calibre in 1963, hoping to bring it out for Zenith’s centennial in 1965. Nevertheless, on that winter day in 1969, Zenith proudly displayed a working model of its chronograph.

The A386 was the first model to be fitted with the El Primero movement, and therefore commands a hefty premium among collectors for its horological import. But the next model that Zenith produced, the A385, is far more affordable—and, due to its unique case shape and dial configuration, is one of the most desired by collectors. 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.  

Seeing the watch in pictures is interesting enough, but it’s only in the metal that once truly appreciates its beauty—particularly when one considers the case. With its sharp bevels and facets and variation in finishing, it’s easy to think of it as the work of industrial art that it is. That fact is driven home even more with the mutable dial.

Speaking of the dial, this particular A385 boasts one with a nice patina, and it comes complete the lauded Gay Freres 'Ladder' bracelet.

For the collector who desires a chronograph with a fascinating history and absolutely breathtaking looks, the El Primero is it.

Details

SKU: AS02449

Stainless steel case is approximately 37mm (excluding crown and pushers). Reference A385. Calibre 3019 Self-Winding Chronograph Movement. Circa 1970s.

Overall Condition: Case is in very good condition overall showing signs of moderate use and wear. Dial is in very good condition showing some signs of age, including patina to the luminescent elements. Signed crown.

Includes one 20mm Gay Freres "ladder" bracelet with signed locking clasp and ZKM end links.

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