Looking at my inventory, it’s clear to see that I tend to like military watches. After all, its how I started in the watch world and I mentioned in my last article that it is the story and utilitarian nature of these pieces that I love so much. Well, today I want to take a look at a watch that I was fascinated with even in my early days before I even owned anything vintage- The Zenith CP-2 retailed by A. Cairelli and issued to the Italian Air Force.
While it’s interesting to see how military pieces have skyrocketed over the years, there is no denying that one of the most sought-after issued piece has been the Zenith Cairelli. Seriously rare and important, I still think that these present great value relative to the general market for an issued large size military chronograph.
The full name for this piece is quite a mouthful- the Zenith CP-2 A.M.I. Cairelli and each part stands for different designations. The CP-2 stands for ‘cronometro da polso’ or ‘wrist chronometer’ in English and the ‘CP’ designation follows a lineage that included manufacturers such as Breitling and Leonidas who produced the CP-1 and Universal Genève that alongside Zenith, produced the second generation CP-2.
The double stamping you see on the dial states ‘A. Cairelli’ and this was a Roman retailer that sold watches and other mechanical instruments. While they sold to civilians, they also supplied the Italian army with precision equipment, including this watch which was specifically made for the A.M.I. (Aeronautica Militaire Italiana), or the Italian Air Force.
Interestingly, while it is estimated that only 2,500 examples were produced, making it very rare already in its own right, for unknown reasons, the A.M.I. cancelled the majority of the orders before they were delivered and therefore many were not issued. As a result, A.Cairelli sold the remaining stock privately to civilians.
This example, as you can see is the more desirable variant- notable only by the M.M (Matricola Militaire) engraving on the caseback, which was the A.M.I.’s military registration number. Civilian CP-2s did not feature this and interestingly, based on the several examples I’ve come across in the past, it is usually the issued ones that feature more wabi-sabi and patina while the unissued ones tend to look more mint. When buying, it really depends on what you are looking for and of course, for me, the charm of a watch having been used in an F-104 by an Italian pilot takes the cake.
The story matters so much more and it is much more charming to have a piece that was used for its intended purpose. Despite this, the example has patina in all the right places and remains in great condition. You can tell it lived an honest life as its bezel has ghosted evenly and there are marks and dings throughout. Despite this, the unpolished 43mm case maintains its incredible long lugs and bevels and the caseback engravings are still as deep as the day they were made.
This Zenith CP-2 A.M.I. Cairelli is available in the shop.