Earlier this year, Zenith introduced a new watch intended to become a cornerstone of its collection, the new standard sports chronograph of the brand, and a watch that created a lot of discussions too – with highly positive comments, and equally negative ones too. This watch, the Chronomaster Sport, is a model with strong arguments to compete in the luxury sports chronograph category, being mechanically fully equipped, very well executed and simply handsome design-wise. First launched in steel, with a white or black dial, the first evolution has been presented a week ago, with a rose gold case. Today, we’ll take a closer look at this luxurious edition, and also address the elephant in room… that Zaytona/Daytona-Killer topic.
The gold Chronomaster Sport
The name Chronomaster is far from new in Zenith’s nomenclature. Launched at the end of the year 1994, it has since become a key element in the brand’s collection. Following the relaunch of the production of the El Primero movement in the mid-1980s, the brand was looking for a collection that would be powerful enough to match the legendary status of its movement. A few years later, the watch will be unveiled with a strong name, Chronomaster. The following two decades will give birth to countless editions of this timepiece, with classic chronograph movement (Calibre 400) or more refined versions with moonphase, complete calendar, opened dial or even a tourbillon. In 2012, the brand will drastically change the design of its collection, introducing the watches we have known for almost 10 years now, with a case that was directly inspired by the 1969 A386 watch and its distinctive lugs. Still, the name Chronomaster mostly referred to the higher-end models of the brand, often with a rather classic and elegant design. For sports watches, we have to look at watches such as the Stratos and the De Luca.
The new Chronomaster Sport has to be considered as a modern and slightly more trendy take on the classic (and now discontinued) Chronomaster, which was available in 38mm and 42mm cases. The Chronomaster collection has been cleaned and now comprises this Chronomaster Sport, the Revival models (A384, A385, A3817, A386 Manufacture) and the Chronomaster Open, which is only available with a 42mm diameter, yet still with the classic case, featuring a smooth metallic bezel. If you want a modern chronograph, the Chronomaster Sport is your new choice at Zenith.
What is the Chronomaster Sport? In short, a contemporary take on the classic El Primero watches, with a sharp new look outside and a significant boost inside. But “new” doesn’t mean that everything that made previous watches popular has been forgotten. Far from that actually. Despite numerous evolutions, both visually and mechanically, the brand’s DNA and iconic design cues of older El Primero watches have been kept alive, making this watch an evolution rather than a revolution. And it starts with the case. While it now comes in an intermediate size of 41mm, which is a nice compromise between modernity and comfort, suitable for most masculine wrists, the overall shape is undoubtedly Zenith, with the signature faceted and angled lugs that were once found on the A386. In the same vein, the pump pushers and crown are typical of this collection.
What really changes the watch is its new black polished ceramic bezel, however, with a twist. While most chronograph watches are equipped with tachymeter scales – which look cool but are, objectively, not very useful these days (and the same goes for pulsometer scales) – the Zenith Chronomaster Sport feature a scale that takes full advantage of the movement’s high frequency, as displaying a 1/10th of a second graduation. Not only this truly sets this watch apart and is entirely relevant in the context of an El Primero, but it also gives a modern and technical look to this collection.
New for this Spring 2021 is the addition of an 18k rose gold edition. The case, which retains all the attributes of the steel models, with a domed sapphire crystal with double-sided anti-reflective coating, a sapphire caseback and a comfortable 100m water-resistance, now shows a warn and luxurious gold tone, which remains relatively discreet thanks to the black ceramic bezel and the leather strap option. The contrast between the colours is pleasant and adds a rich look to the Chronomaster Sport, without denying its inaugural casual vocation. The case also sticks to the combination of brushed accents and polished surfaces, with bevelled lugs and an overall height of 13.60mm – not particularly thin, but still acceptable for an automatic chronograph.
The most obvious “El Primero connection” is visible on the dial. Everything that made the A386 and subsequent watches standing out from the crowd has been reutilized here, with a slight touch of modernity. For instance, the signature overlapping sub-counters, with the tri-colour (silver, grey and blue) scheme and snailed texture, are back and give this watch an undeniable Zenith charm. As always, some will love this overlapping layout, some will once again find it weird. But at least, it stands out. In the same vein, the faceted hour markers and hands are directly inspired by vintage watches, even though bolder/larger than before for a touch of modernity. In this gold edition, the main novelty concerns the hands and markers, which are gold-plated instead of rhodium-plated, the rest of the dial being identical, including the matte white base that pairs well with the warm tone of the case and the contrasting colour of the bezel.
What also makes this Zenith Chronomaster Sport unique is its display. While most tri-compax chronographs display the timing function with a central seconds hand, a running seconds counter and 30/45-minute and 12-hour counters for the chronograph, Zenith here offers something different that takes full advantage of the 5Hz technology. As such, the central hand is devoted to a precision indication, acting as a foudroyante, rotating around the dial once every 10 seconds and displaying measurements to the closest 1/10th of a second – which is read on the bezel. As you can see in our video review of the steel models below, once the chronograph is engaged, the display is quite mesmerizing.
Other counters are displaying: a running seconds at 9 o’clock, a 60-second counter at 3 o’clock and a 60-minute counter at 9 o’clock, making this watch capable of timing events up to one hour only, but with an increased precision. Finally, a date indicator is positioned at 4:30, to avoid it to cut one of the sub-counters. Something that will have its detractors, but in this context the position is clever and the very presence of a date window is relevant, the watch being daily-wear oriented and contemporary.
Contrary to the steel models available on metal bracelets, Zenith has chosen to equip this new 18k rose gold model with a smooth calf leather strap in black – something more modern and less formal than a traditional alligator strap. It makes this watch slightly more elegant and also compensates for the additional weight of the gold case. The strap is secured by a triple folding clasp in rose gold. On the wrist, the Chronomaster Sport is a well-proportioned watch with both comfort and presence.
Under the sapphire caseback is an attractive in-house movement based on the historic El Primero architecture, yet with a significant boost to be on par with the competition. Originally presented on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of El Primero in 2019 with the Chronomaster 2 limited editions, the El Primero Calibre 3600 chronograph is a strong evolution of the brand’s signature movement. The main evolution, of course, concerns its ability to have a central seconds hand rotating once every 10 seconds and displaying measurements precise to 1/10th of a second. This was made possible by changing the way the chronograph mechanism is coupled with the regulating organ, being driven by a pinion directly on top of the escape wheel, and not driven by the fourth wheel as often in chronographs with lateral clutch. The use of lightweight silicon parts compensates for the high energy consumed by this architecture.
Other improvements to the classic El Primero architecture include a beefed-up power reserve of 60 hours (vs. 50 hours) thanks to an optimised kinetic chain and the addition of a stop-seconds mechanism, normally absent from the traditional Calibre 400. Finally, the whole decoration and design has been radically modernized, with an openworked dark-coated rotor, blued screws and blue column wheel, more modern decoration of the bridges and altogether, a more technical look. The movement is also pleasantly sized, making the view through the sapphire caseback very attractive.
The Zenith Chronomaster Sport Rose Gold (ref. 18.3100.3600/69.C920) is now available from boutiques, retailers and online, via Zenith’s e-shop, and is priced at CHF 19,900, EUR 19,600 or USD 21,300 – about twice the price of the steel editions.
For more details and orders, please visit www.zenith-watches.com.
The Zaytona/Daytona-Killer topic…
As said in the introduction, the Zenith Chronomaster Sport has been one of the most discussed watches of 2021 so far. As soon as it was launched, we’ve seen two recurring nicknames popping in comments, both here on the magazine and on our Instagram account; the Daytona-Killer and the Zaytona. One is clearly a compliment, the other one might not be very pleasant. But both are somehow justified, yet not entirely true.
First of all, it has to be reminded that Zenith and Rolex have something in common, and that is the El Primero calibre. Indeed, while this movement has been launched in 1969 – back then Rolex was still using hand-wound Valjoux ébauches for its chronographs – the Daytona has been instrumental in the comeback of the El Primero. If the production was resumed by Zenith in the mid-1980s, both for its own collection and for Ebel, the fact that Rolex chose the El Primero base movement (quite massively modified and renamed calibre 4030) to power the first automatic Daytona from 1988 to 2000 gave Zenith a significant boost in terms of production capacities. And coincidentally, it helped Rolex modernized its iconic chronograph watch. A profitable synergy that might help understanding today’s comparison by the watch collecting community.
Looking at the Zenith Chronomaster Sport, there’s something that can’t be denied, it is its positioning. It certainly has been created with the clear intention to compete against the heavyweights, the sporty-chic luxury chronographs that are the Speedmaster Automatic, some IWCs and, of course, the Daytona. And Zenith has done everything to be on par, if not better on some aspects (or at least different). The Chronomaster Sport is undeniably a great watch, with a handsome design, a perfectly executed case, a strong mechanical content and mostly, its own, legitimate DNA.
What is questionable, at least in my books, is the Zaytona name, which has to be seen as something negative. Some comments pointed a resemblance between these two watches, which isn’t entirely wrong. But this was done in favour of the Daytona, as being the initiator of some design elements. Sure, both watches have a tri-compax layout, both watches are around 40mm in diameter, both have a sporty-chic style and both watches have a ceramic bezel. But keep in mind that Rolex isn’t behind the creation of any of these elements. Rolex didn’t invent the ceramic bezel on chronographs, and on the other side, Zenith already had multiple watches in collection with contrasting black bezels prior to the Chronomaster Sport. But the image of Rolex is so powerful that some tend to forget what other brands are doing…
Then, there are the signature elements that, according to me, clearly differentiate the Chronomaster Sport from a Daytona. Visually first, the Chronomaster bears many of Zenith’s iconic elements, such as the case design, the clever use of the 5Hz technology with a 1/10th of a second bezel and, of course, the tri-colour sub-dials that are unmistakably Zenith. Also important, the movement used by Zenith has been drastically modernized, yet it remains true to the brand’s history – a sort of evolution à la Porsche 911. Is it better than the 4130? Well, it’s hard to judge as it’s not only about specifications and numbers. But in all objectivity, the El Primero calibre 3600 is a very capable chronograph movement. The final point for me is about the pushers… I won’t hide the fact that I hate screwed pushers on chronographs, and for that, I like Zenith’s use of traditional pump pushers.
All in all, I truly believe that the name Zaytona doesn’t do justice to the Chronomaster Sport, and isn’t justified. Surely, both watches are direct competitors, just like a Submariner and a Seamaster 300M are directly competing. But I also think that Zenith’s proposal is different enough in terms of style and technical content, in addition to having true Zenith design cues. And regarding the overall quality, the Chronomaster can really compete next to a Daytona. In this instance, I believe that the name Daytona-killer, even though exaggerated, might be more apropos. Can it “kill” the Daytona? No, simply because of the fame surrounding this watch – which isn’t slowing down, as we’ve seen recently. Can it be a very good alternative? Definitely. If you’re looking for a greatly executed, very appealing sporty-chic chronograph with technical substance and historical relevance, the Chronomaster Sport is, without doubt, a watch to consider.
Now, I don’t expect all of you to agree with me on that point and surely, your opinion on this can differ. Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments.