A 21st century rendition of the A386! The El Primero has been and always will be very special to me on a personal level. I’ve often been intrigued by the legacy of watches being passed down, you know, like the famous Patek Philippe ad campaign , ”You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation”. Although I loved the sentiment here, I never knew how that actually felt until the day my father handed over his watch to me, my first luxury timepiece, the gold El Primero Rainbow Chronograph. Let me be honest, back then I was over the moon to get my first luxury “gold” timepiece, but I had no idea that I was now the proud owner of a 90’s cult classic.
Well, that just a quick insight into my bias towards Zenith, but I was quite excited to know that 50 years later, the brand has now introduced a spruced up 2021 version of the iconic A386, which made its debut way back in 1969 as one of the first steel watches to be equipped with the revolutionary El Primero calibre. Yes, the world’s first automatic high-frequency integrated chronograph movement! Now although we have witnessed Zenith’s tributes to various emblematic historical references, including gold versions of the A386 in its Chronomaster Revival collection, a steel re-edition as part of it’s permanent is certainly more than welcome
At first glance, the original Chronomaster and the A386 it’s based on appear almost identical with a 38mm round bezel-less steel case with a raised and domed crystal, that pump-style chronograph pushers, the faceted lugs and the mix of radial brushed and polished surfaces throughout. Indistinguishable between the past and present models.
Undoubtedly, the most visually distinctive design element of the A386 is the dial. For starters there is that emblematic tri-colour chronograph in shades of grey and blue, the trapezoid date window at 04:30 and the red chronograph second hand, all intrinsic parts that have all been passed down to the Chronomaster Original, with a few subtle updates to match the boost in performance. The black inner scale surrounding the dial of the A386, once used to calculate time spent working using a 1/100 th of an hour time division system, finds a new purpose in the Chronomaster Original, with its 1/10 th of a second chronograph hand making a rotation around the dial in 10 seconds, totalling 100 measurable time units.
Substituting the tachymeter scale on the outer circumference on the dial, a 1/10 th of a second chronograph scale takes its place, allowing for the measurement and reading of elapsed time in precise fractions of a second. And for instantaneous, precise reading of the 10th of a second, the paddle-shaped seconds hand of the original A386 has been replaced with a straight, red-lacquered hand. The logo has also been updated to the more contemporary script Zenith uses today.
The steel bracelet, however, has been reimagined, foregoing the open “ladder” design of the 1960s for solid links that are sumptuously chamfered and decorated in the same fashion as the case.
The result of 50 years of gradual improvement and a true mastery of the automatic high-frequency chronograph movement, the Chronomaster Original is equipped with the latest version of the El Primero calibre, dubbed the El Primero 3600. With its high frequency of 5 Hz (36,000 VpH), the movement is able to precisely offer a true 1/10th of a second indication. Its autonomy has also been rendered more efficient, with an extended power reserve of 60 hours. Visible through the sapphire display back, the new architecture features a sleeker and more open design, revealing a blue column wheel and open rotor marked with the five-pointed star Zenith.
Apart from the signature steel with tri-colour dial configuration, the Chronomaster Original is available in two other versions: A steel case with a “reverse panda” black dial with silver chronograph registers, and an 18k rose gold version with the tri-colour dial. Personally, I’ve got my eyes on that panda!
Back in 1969, the A386 completely changed the game of automatic chronographs and although Zenith did stop the production briefly, this new rendition of the Original Chronomaster reinstates the fact that true icons never fade away.