In horological history, the release of the Zenith El Primero in the late 60’s stands out as one of the more defining moments. Dubbed the first ever automatic chronograph to be made in production, the El Primero to this day remains largely unchanged and truly an icon.
The thing with vintage El Primeros and all of its variants is just how rare they are. I still think that they are incredibly underrated based on production numbers, it’s unique design and the historical significance. For instance, this watch, the Ref. A 386, was only made in around 2,500 examples.
While there were many variants of El Primeros, both in case shape and dial design, the Ref. A386 without a doubt is both the most iconic and desirable. I can see why, the round stainless steel Spillman produced case with its angular bevelled lugs, though the most traditional in shape, sits on the wrist very nicely. The tri-tone dial design with its outer tachymeter scale is perfectly legible, despite its quirky traits.
This example is perhaps one of the nicest I’ve come across, with perfectly aged lumes and an unpolished case, this is really a collectors watch. Not to mention that it comes with its original Zenith Gay Freres ladder bracelet!
While there is dispute as to whether it was Zenith or the consortium led by Heuer, Seiko, Buren-Hamilton, Breitling and Dubois-Depraz that created the first self-winding chronograph, there is no contest in regards to the quality of the Zenith Cal. 3019 PHC compared to the latter’s Calibre 11. Most notably, the way the hi-beat movement allows the chronograph seconds hand to move around the dial so smoothly is a joy to watch. Similarly, resetting the chronograph hand, it jumps straight back to 0 without much backlash or hand quivering. You just know this is pure quality.