The Zenith El Primero is a watch that I have wanted to experience for the longest time, and this Chronomaster Revival El Primero A384 may be my favorite of the bunch. The chronograph function is my favorite complication in watches. And as a chronograph lover there is a special place in my heart for the stainless steel Zenith El Primero.
The El Primero is easily on the Chronograph “Mount Rushmore” with its historical provenance and status as an industry icon, but we all have heard how some heroes are best left unmet. This watch also occupies a segment of the market that is fierce with competition, with plenty of suitors vying for the ten bands of your hard-earned cash that this El Primero demands. Does it live up to my lofty expectations? Let me tell you why it absolutely does.
Zenith Chronomaster Revival El Primero A384 Specs
|Case Size||37mm x 12.6mm x 47mm|
|Water Resistance||50 Meters|
|Movement||El Primero 400|
|Power Reserve||50 Hours|
A Case Design That Looks And Feels Vintage
A breath of fresh air, this El Primero’s stainless steel case is one of its stand out features. At 37mm it is absolutely perfect on my wrist. Don’t let the 37mm case dimension put you off if you don’t usually wear watches that are this small. It wears more like a 38.5mm watch, with the ‘70s cushion-style case amplifying the on-wrist presence. While the watch is about 13mm thick (and water-resistant to 5 ATM), it lends itself to a proportional and balanced wearing experience as a men’s watch.
There is a wonderful bevel that runs along the side of the case, separating a horizontal brushed finish on the case flank and a radial brushing on the top. The lugs are flat with a terrific mirror polish on top. The case is finished to an impressively high standard, even at the near $10,000 price point. I have a feeling the high polish lugs and radial brushed top will pick up scratches and wear very quickly, which is something to keep in mind. But I think this vintage-styled watch is one that will get even better with a bit of love etched into the case.
While this watch is constructed very well, when you pick it up it feels surprisingly light. If you’re someone who is looking for a heavy, solid mass of well-shaped steel to strap to your wrist, you will be disappointed. In fact, when I was showing my wife this watch, who has no interest in or knowledge of watches, she was shocked when I told her it retailed for nine grand because of how light it was. I think that this lack of weight is a massive selling point, as it allows this watch to be a truly effortless wear and one of the most comfortable chronographs I have ever worn.
Historic Movement With The Performance To Back It Up
Nestled Inside this case is the legendary El Primero movement, specifically in this watch the El Primero 400 movement. Originally released to the public in September of 1969, the original El Primero was among the very first Swiss automatic chronograph movements in the world. The El Primero first appeared in the original version of this very watch, the A384, in an advertisement in March of that same year months before the watch officially went on sale. This El Primero 400 in the modern re-issued A384 boasts the same 5Hz, 36,000 VpH high-frequency movement that is unique to the El Primero.
The 400 has 31 jewels with a whopping 258 components, over a hundred more than are in a Valjoux 7750 variant. The El Primero is as proven and reliable as any movement out there, with many manufacturers aside from Zenith watches choosing to use the El Primero in their own watches through the years. Rolex is the notable example, with El Primeros powering the first automatic Daytonas starting in the late 1980s and up until the year 2000. One other thing to keep in mind, Zenith—headquartered in Le Locle, Switzerland—makes less than 25,000 timepieces a year. To put that in perspective, Rolex churns out around a million watches a year and Omega makes about 500,000 watches.
When you buy a Zenith you’re buying into something special and unique, something that you are not likely to see on the wrists of coworkers or out in the wild. That is a massive appeal of the brand to me personally. A quirk that I did not know before I was able to experience this movement is that when you pull the crown all the way out to the second position you manipulate the date wheel, to set the time you pop the crown out slightly to the first position. The pusher action is very crisp and mechanical, akin to slipping a car with a fantastic manual gearbox into gear.
Once you push past the breaking point you can feel the cams actuate the column wheel and the silky, positive tactility that comes with setting the gears in motion. Winding the watch is just as rewarding, with a constant, smooth force gently opposing every thumb powered rotation. Something else you may not appreciate unless you’ve primarily had Valjoux based automatic chronograph movements in your collection, the rotor winds the watch subconsciously as you never hear or feel any gyrations while on your wrist.
As someone who is very familiar with the myriad of Valjoux 7750 based movements common in automatic chronographs and the Lemania-based manual wind calibers in watches like the Omega Speedmaster, peering through the display caseback of this A384 is a refreshing treat. The El Primero is unmistakable with its exposed gear trains, escapement, and horizontal cam actuated clutch. The movement is finished to a very high standard, among the best machine finished movements out there. A truly special caseback and movement at the $10k price point, the El Primero calibre itself is one of the strongest allures of this Chronomaster Revival El Primero A384. I always love display casebacks on my chronographs, and this is definitely among the best of its peers.
A Bracelet That’s A Little Too Vintage-Correct?
While the case and movement is an impressive display of what Zenith can do, the ladder steel bracelet is markedly unimpressive. The way it integrates into the case makes the watch seem a bit cheap. The bracelet and endlinks are brushed on the top, but very obviously not as well as the brushing on the top or sides of the case. And when those mediocre endlinks mate to the all polished lugs the lack of quality sticks out like an albino gator in the bayou. The ladder style links articulate well and drape over the wrist easily.
However, the clasp is where things really get interesting. I do not exaggerate here, I have seen and owned better clasps on Invictas and Walmart Casios than what is on this A384, a $10,000 watch. It is completely stamped, with the old school friction system for securing it shut. And the clasp actually does not stay shut until you flip the stamped safety bar over it and vaguely snap it shut. There are no markings or branding other than the word “Zenith” half-heartedly etched into the outside of the clasp. There are ten micro-adjust holes, which makes finding the perfect fit easy, but this whole clasp is just awful and the bracelet is not that much better.
Which makes what I am about to say absolutely crazy, but I adore this steel bracelet. It exudes vintage charm and is cheap and jingly in the most endearing, nostalgic way. I would struggle to wear this watch on anything other than this ladder bracelet. It perfectly matches the character of the watch head even if it fails to match in quality. The 37mm case, the hollow ladder links, and light stamped clasp lend to a perfectly balanced wearing experience.
Which is so odd because the way this bracelet is executed and looks mounted to the case, it appears as though it is a complete afterthought. Once you get through the ugly process of fixing the watch to your wrist with that nasty clasp, the watch wears beautifully and drips class. And I think that is the point of this bracelet. This watch is such a faithful re-issue of the vintage A384 that the period correct bracelet just seems right. In a world where companies just make men’s watch bracelets heavier and stouter to give the illusion of quality (I am looking at you Omega and Breitling), this bracelet is immediately distinctive.
It clearly stands our among the other Chronomaster Sport, Chronomaster Original, and Chronomaster Open models and many of the limited edition pieces. This is easily, albeit mystifyingly, one of my favorite bracelets on a watch at the $10k price point. Keep in mind, the watch can also be purchased on an alligator leather strap if that’s your kind of style.
An Irresistible Panda Dial
While the quirky bracelet may be what first grabs your attention, this tri-compax panda dial is what keeps you looking down at your wrist. As you would expect of a watch in this price point, the printing is crisp and the indices are placed with precision. The indices are faceted and trapezoidal in shape with high polish sides, and they dance in the light. The hands are also polished on the outside edges, with black paint filling the center sections. This makes reading the time on this busy dial easy and consistent in all lights. There is a bit of lume and while I appreciate its presence, it is not all that effective. A similar black dial version can be found on the Chronomaster Revival Shadow.
One thing that may bother some, the center chronograph hours subdial is ever so slightly smaller than the running small seconds and chronograph minute counter on the left and right respectively. The red chronograph center hand pops beautifully against the white dial. You also get a tachymeter scale and a date window tucked between 4 and 5 o’clock. This dial is timeless in its design and I often caught myself peering down and forgetting to check the time.
High Dome Vintage-Style Sapphire Crystal
The crystal is a beautiful domed piece of sapphire. It stands proudly over the flat, bezel-less face of the watch. The subtle distortions it gives lends the watch a slightly warm vintage feel, in keeping with the plexi crystal style that adorned the original A384. I have not seen many watches that have sapphire crystals domed to this degree and with this level of clarity, it soars at its smooth, rounded peak at least 3 or 4 millimeters high from its base. Omega should take notes and incorporate a crystal such as this on the Sapphire Sandwich Speedmaster instead of the milky crystal they insist on using. There also must be a generous coating of anti-reflective treatment on the underside of the crystal, because even though I could find no mention of it in official literature, there are few reflections that obstruct the dial. This crystal works perfectly with the vintage style this watch oozes.
This watch has so much charm and personality, and is utterly unmistakeable from across a room. The oh-so-’70s cushion case, the perfect dimensions, jangly and cheap ladder bracelet, crystal towering as high as a horological Half Dome, and a dial that will make you lose track of time all work beautifully together. The watch head is constructed with a high degree of artistry and attention to detail, convincing anyone with doubts of Zenith’s watchmaking prowess.
With this watch you are getting one of the most influential and pivotal movements ever encased in a wrist watch. While not only among the very first of the automatic, integrated chronograph movements released alongside Seiko, the El Primero caliber boasts the smoother 5Hz beat rate and the first running seconds hand all while occupying less than 7mm of vertical space. A truly remarkable movement, gloriously on display in this watch through the display caseback.
When you buy this luxury watch, you are buying a slice of history occupied by no one else. While the world is overrun with re-issues of watches lost to history as brands struggle to match the creativity of yesteryears catalog, the A384 Revival is faithful to a fault and a veritable living icon. There are not many watches on sale today with this combination of unparalleled historical gravitas and outright quality, but the Zenith El Primero Chronomaster A384 Revival is one of them.
This sporty watch made a deep impression on me, and I think that this El Primero is suddenly at the top of my list of future acquisitions. It absolutely lives up to my high expectations, and this is unquestionably a hero worth meeting. I want to give a huge shoutout to Moyer Fine Jewelers for making this hands on review of this Zenith El Primero chronograph possible. I have personally been patroning them for many years and can recommend them to anyone interested in Zenith (or any of the other brands they carry really). Feel free to explore their site or if you’re local to their brick and mortar Westfield, Indiana feel free to visit them in person.
Ben is a midwesterner who was infected with the watch contagion when he needed a watch to time his long runs in high-school. Now as a mildly functional family man his fleeting fascination has hemorrhaged into terminal obsession of all things clocks and watches. He loves hunting for eclectic watches well off the beaten path. Adequate culinary concoctions, mediocre photography, and massive enthusiasm for cars and all of the dying sci-fi franchises round out his other passions.