For long, the name Chronomaster has been associated at Zenith with an El Primero-powered (what else…) classic chronograph, without an external bezel, often with tri-colour sub-dials and available either in 42mm or in an even more desirable, historically relevant 38mm diameter, inspired by the legendary A386 model of 1969. This very watch was, however, discontinued when the attractive Chronomaster Sport was introduced earlier this year. But this slightly larger and more modern take on the El Primero wasn’t meant to be a replacement. Indeed, the classic 38mm, bezel-less Chronomaster is back, with more modern mechanics and a powerful vintage-inspired design. Here is the Zenith Chronomaster Original, the revamped 38mm El Primero and the successor to the A386 watch.
Inspired by the A386
The name “A386” will certainly resonate in the mind of vintage watch lovers as one of the most emblematic models ever to be produced by the Le Locle-based manufacture. It is the most iconic model in the trilogy introduced in 1969, the three watches created by Zenith to feature its newly developed and innovative movement, the El Primero calibre, regarded as one of the earliest automatic chronograph movements. This trilogy comprises the A384, a tonneau-shaped panda-dial model, the A385, featuring the same case but with an original gradient brown dial (possibly the first of its kind) and the A386, the most classic of the three models, with a round case but also the watch that first showed the signature tri-colour sub-counters, something that has become a hallmark of Zenith.
This specific watch, the A386, is not only highly collectable and sought-after, but it has also been a source of profound inspiration for Zenith over the years. For years, the brand had a watch in its portfolio that could be regarded as a tribute to this vintage model, the classic 38mm Chronomaster with silver dial, tri-colour counters, bezel-less case and Calibre El Primero 400, the closest you could get to the original 1969 movement. Earlier this year, however, Zenith discontinued this model, leaving space only for the Chronomaster Sport and its more modern approach to the El Primero concept. But it was only for a few months since Zenith’s classic chronograph, now dubbed Chronomaster Original, is here to fill the gap.
The new Zenith Chronomaster Original
This new 2021 Zenith Chronomaster Original pays tribute to the A386. In fact, visually speaking, it is even closer to the original model than the previous 38mm Chronomaster was. It isn’t the first time that Zenith pays tribute to this watch. In fact, in 2019, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the El Primero, the brand released various “Revival” editions based on the A386, such as a rare steel model, a trilogy of gold watches and a manufacture edition with a tri-blue dial. All were 1:1 re-editions, equipped with the classic Calibre 400 and meant to be collectable items. Today, the Chronomaster Original adopts the same proportions and design as the Revival models but drastically updates its mechanics and changes its display. But the spirit of the A386 is still alive.
The design of the Zenith Chronomaster Original is directly modelled after the A386, with its round central case, its sharp faceted lugs, its bezel-less architecture, the classic pump-style pushers, a raised and domed sapphire crystal, and finally, a mix of radial-brushed surfaces and polished accents. It also comes in one diameter option, the most desirable of them all, 38mm, just like the historic watch. With its thin casebands – most of the height is absorbed by the crystal and the caseback – and its compact dimensions, the new Chronomaster Original is just spot-on. It has presence, comfort, a certain elegance and feels perfectly proportioned.
For this new launch, Zenith introduces five references, with options for stainless steel, as presented here, and also for 18k rose gold. The case is nicely executed, as you would expect from Zenith, and features sapphire crystals front and caseback. More a casual watch than a true sports watch, water-resistance is rated at 50 metres, which is enough for most conditions.
The dial and its display are certainly where these watches show the deepest evolution. To differentiate these new models from the limited Revival watches, Zenith replaces the old calibre with the same movement found in the Chronomaster Sport, which has an impact on the display itself. But as for the dial styling, no worries, it still retains most distinctive elements of the A386, including the applied faceted markers, the white-painted hands with luminous and black inserts, the trapezoidal date window at 4:30 and the double scale on the periphery.
What changes, though, is what’s printed on these scales and inside the sub-dials. Powered by a 5Hz movement that takes full advantage of the high-frequency, the Chronomaster Original now has a 1/10th of a second display with its central hand making one revolution every 10 seconds. As the brand explains: “The black inner scale surrounding the dial of the A386, once used to calculate time spent working using a 1/100th of an hour time division system, finds a new purpose in the Chronomaster Original, with its 1/10th of a second chronograph hand (…), totalling 100 measurable time units. Substituting the tachymeter scale on the outer circumference on the dial, a 1/10th of a second chronograph scale takes its place, allowing for the measurement and reading of elapsed time in precise fractions of a second.” The other evolution concerns the indications found in the sub-dial. In addition to the small seconds at 9 o’clock, the Chronomaster Original features a 60-second counter at 3 o’clock and a 60-minute counter at 6 o’clock.
As for the editions in this new sub-collection, Zenith offers, of course, the classic silver dial model with tri-colour (blue, anthracite and grey) sub-dials. It is paired with a red central seconds hand and white Super-LumiNova. This dial is available either in stainless steel or in 18k rose gold. Second, and new for this collection, is a reversed panda-style dial with a matte black background and silver-toned flange and sub-counters. Only available in stainless steel, this edition is also differentiated by its beige-coloured Super-LumiNova inserts and a white-painted central hand.
Also new and replacing the open “ladder” design of the 1960s, Zenith offers its Chronomaster Original on a stainless bracelet with solid links, mixing brushed and polished surfaces with chamfers on the side of the links and closed by a double folding clasp. In addition, the gold edition and the two steel models can be ordered on calfskin leather straps with a triple folding clasp, as presented here.
The most noticeable update in this new Zenith Chronomaster Original isn’t the look but what ticks inside the case. As mentioned, this watch shares its movement with the sportier and larger Chronomaster Sport watches, meaning the in-house Calibre El Primero 3600. Still using the same base as the historic movement, it has been drastically updated to meet modern standards. Taking full advantage of the 36,000 vibrations/hour regulation, it can display the 1/10th of a second precisely, but it has also been rendered more efficient, as the power reserve has been increased to 60 hours. It retains its column wheel and horizontal coupling architecture.
Seen through the sapphire caseback, the movement is far more modern in design and decoration. Cleaner, more contrasted and with a more technical look, the bridges are also more open, just like the oscillating weight with its five-pointed star logo. The column wheel is picked out in blue and the bridges are decorated with a radial brushed pattern.
Availability & price
The 2021 Zenith Chronomaster Original is released as part of the permanent collection (not limited) and is available now at Zenith Boutiques, e-commerce and authorised retailers. It will be priced at CHF 8,400 in steel with a leather strap, at CHF 8,900 in steel with a steel bracelet and CHF 18,900 in 18k gold with a leather strap.
For more details and orders, please visit zenith-watches.com.