Zenith El-Primero Duo - Reviews of Two Luxurious Watches ¶
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In the world of watchmaking, there are a select few movements that become legendary in themselves. These movements can become examples of the heights of the watchmaking tradition, or perhaps simply an example of good rugged engineering. The Zenith El Primero has become one of those movements - for its quality, innovation, and its rugged design - a rare example of when a movement becomes more famous than the watch it came in. Here at Matt Baily we have two excellent examples of the El Primero's versatility - a diamond-adorned ladies open-heart model with power reserve indicator, and an elegant but delightfully complicated men's model with triple-date, moonphase, and chronograph functions.
The El Primero has a long history for a production movement, having been introduced in 1969 as one of the world's first self-winding chronograph movements and was significant for, among other things, being the first mechanical chronograph to beat at a dizzying 36000 beats per hour. That's a full 10 beats per second, versus the typical 6-8 bps of most mechanical watches. That gives the El Primero higher accuracy and precision, and allows it to measure to 1/10th of a second. The trade-off is more complexity and higher power consumption from the main spring, something that the Zenith engineers worked hard to overcome in the original design. The result was a highly-complicated but very functional chronograph with excellent overall performance.
The El Primero almost ceased to exist in 1975, and would have were it not for one man who worked hard to save it. In 1975 the American Zenith parent-company of the Swiss watch arm decided to stop production of mechanical watches to focus on the quartz market, in a time when many companies were collapsing in the face of competition from cheap quartz watches. All production equipment was to be scrapped and/or sold off. One employee decided to make an attempt to save the El Primero tooling. Charles Vermot secretly hid and catalogued all the production equipment, and due to his effort the El Primero was re-introduced in 1983. Not only did Mr. Vermot save the El Primero, he saved Zenith as a manufacture.
Over the years the El Primero has powered a large variety of models, including many produced by other companies (the Rolex Daytona Cosmograph being one of the most famous, having used the movement from 1988 to 2000). Here at the store we have two excellent examples of the versatility of the El Primero - A ladies Chronomaster Star Open Heart and a gents Chronomaster triple date moonphase.
The ladies model is a Chronomaster Star with diamond bezel, a new-in-box model that has never been worn, features the signature open-heart window onto the balance wheel (the beating heart of the movement). Housed in a 38mm stainless steel case, this watch combines the fun but elegant design of the dial and diamond bezel with the traditional watchmaker's craft, showing off the beautifully finished balance wheel and escapement of the El Primero through a heart-shaped opening on the dial. When the watch is running you can watch the smooth, rapid beat of the movement, and you'll notice that the tiny red heart a 9 o'clock rotates as a running seconds counter. It's unusual to see a funky and striking ladies model with a finely finished mechanical movement, but Zenith strives to fill a gap in the market where few companies dare to tread - complicated mechanical ladies models. In this case, the complications are the power reserve indicator (just below the centre of the dial) and chronograph function. If you are a woman who likes fine mechanical devices, while still having some fun with design, then the Chronomaster Star is a great choice and a superbly finished ladies watch.
The gents models is a classic 39mm stainless-steel Chronomaster Chronometre featuring a triple-date (month, day, date, plus a moonphase) display as well as traditional chronograph functions (elapsed seconds, minutes, hours). Now discontinued, this model is simple in design but highly complicated in function, a testament to the versatility of the El Primero movement. The chronograph engages smoothly with light pressure on the wide pushers, and has a very accurate stop-action - something needed to take advantage of the ability to measure to 1/10th of a second. The higher beat of the movement is immediately noticeable in the smooth sweep of the chronograph seconds hand< it's almost electric-smooth and very precise. The triple-date-moonphase looks complicated, but is actually a breeze to set thanks to a pair of quick-set buttons integrated into the case at 8 o'clock. A light tap with a pen is all that is needed to advance the day and moon phase wheels. If you are looking for a highly-finished but affordable complication watch, this Chronomaster is an excellent choice.
The Zenith El Primero is one of the most enduring chronograph movement designs, and Zenith has worked to make the El Primero as versatile as possible, with many variations, complications and styles to fit both gents and ladies models. There are very few movements that can claim such versatility, fewer still that offer such a high level of quality and can claim true manufacture status (meaning complete in-house design and construction) within the mid-range price bracket. These two watches are excellent examples of the quality and precision of Zenith watches, a brand that has long been a favourite of watch enthusiasts. If you'd like to see either of these pieces, please give me a call at 514 845 8878 or visit our store on Crescent Street in Downtown Montreal. View our contact page for more ways to find us.