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.
Fast forward to the 21st century and Zenith is still producing the El Primero line. In fact, it is one of the longest produced chronographs movements and in horological history stands as one of the most significant movements ever produced. Even Rolex used a Zenith El Primero movement in their Daytonas in the ’90s!
The eminent watch journal Hodinkee has become quite famous for producing limited editions in conjunction with brands for a couple of years now. There is one consistent thread that runs through the collaborations they’ve done- they always sell out, super fast.
This Zenith El Primero for Hodinkee is no different and was the second collaboration Hodinkee did with a watch brand. Made in a very small limited edition of 25 pieces, not only did it sell out, but it was one of their most popular watches, as it sold out in one hour with 350 people on the waitlist after that!
So what so special about this El Primero? A lot of things. For one, I’m not so much of a fan of the current El Primeros that Zenith has in their collection. I find them too large, with the proportions of the logos, subdials really out of place. This limited edition changes all of that.
While it is not a traditional El Primero in the sense that it doesn't feature a tricolour subdial layout and Zenith’s usual branding, it is a faithful recreation of Zenith’s past, as Hodinkee drew upon several historical models. Starting with the 38mm case, it is exactly the same case found on the original Zenith El Primero A386, which was the first ever El Primero released in 1969. The finishing on the case is remarkably accurate too, with thick bevels on the lugs, brushed on top and polished on the sides. The crown is smaller and also features ridged pushers.
The dial is a slate grey and treated to a sunburst finish, and this is the part that is not traditionally an El Primero. That being said, Hodinkee drew from Zenith’s vintage pieces and the grey sunburst dial is actually a tribute to an earlier chronograph Zenith produced, the A 271. It has faceted rhodium plated hour markers and hands and has a two subdial layout. There is a tachymeter scale in the rehaut, which is an important characteristic of any El Primero and it also gives the dial a much-needed depth. This is such a vintage-inspired piece, that even the 30 minute subdial at 3 o’clock has hash marks at 3,6 and 9 minutes as back in the day, long distance phone calls were timed in 3 minutes. Covering the dial is a domed sapphire crystal, another vintage touch and finally, like all vintage purists would suggest, Hodinkee omitted a date window from the watch- beautiful.
Flip the watch over, and you will be greeted by Zenith’s in-house El Primero Calibre 4069. The high beat movement beats at 36,000 vph and is already a legendary movement, but Hodinkee took it a step further by requesting that it be adjusted and regulated to within COSC standards. As a result, it has a precision of -4/+6 seconds a day and comes with its official chronometer certification from COSC. It has a power reserve of 50 hours and is water resistant to 50 meters.
This has to be one of my favourite Hodinkee collaborations as if you know me, you’ll know that I am a proper vintage guy. This is not only faithful to Zenith’s past but also listens to collectors out there to what their perfect watch should be. It is extremely rare with 25 pieces only made and I have no doubt that this is the most collectable Zenith out there.
This Zenith El Primero for Hodinkee is brand new and sealed in its box. It comes as a full set including 3 extra straps from Hodinkee, its COSC certificate, official papers from Zenith and its inner and outer box.