Zenith El Primero 'revival'.
Zenith El Primero 'revival'.
Image: Supplied

Fitbit or Apple Watch might be your go-to devices for recording an evening jog or lap times around Kyalami but, for true watch lovers, living a life at high speed means engaging the stopwatch functionality of an automatic chronograph as they strive to improve their personal best.

This fascination with motor racing and speed has led to some remarkable releases in the history of watchmaking. Among the modern milestones is the revolutionary Zenith El Primero high-frequency chronograph, released in 1969. It featured the world’s first integrated, highly accurate, automatic chronograph movement, which had a frequency of 36 000 vibrations an hour (8 000 higher than most watches) and was capable of recording short times to 1/10th of a second.

“El Primero” means “the first” in Spanish, and the Zenith’s choice of dial colours for this legendary wristwatch set a trend, with the combination of light grey, anthracite, and blue becoming one of its aesthetic codes.

It is the original El Primero’s 50th anniversary this year, and Zenith has released a collector’s trio of chronographs in a boxed set, limited to an edition of 50 (R725 000 a set, on special order and if available). It includes: a reissue faithful to the first model; a Chronomaster El Primero with “optimised movement”; and a Defy El Primero 21, accurate to 1/100th of a second.

The 38mm “revival” watch is an entirely laser-scanned copy of an original from the manufacture’s museum and is my favourite in the set. It’s an authentic facsimile, except for an updated crown logo, open case back, and power coming from an El Primero 400, the latest iteration of the El Primero column-wheel chronograph movement with a 50-hour power reserve. If you don’t secure one of these celebratory sets, the closest model to the original 1969 Reference A386 is the 38mm Chronomaster El Primero “69 boutique edition” with Calibre 400 movement, with steel case on brown leather strap, or the 42mm with Calibre 400 B, for about R110 000.

Zenith Chronomaster El Primero.
Zenith Chronomaster El Primero.
Image: Supplied
Zenith Defy El Primero 21.
Zenith Defy El Primero 21.
Image: Supplied

The Chronomaster V 2.0 with 42mm steel case is updated with a silvered sunray dial, black ceramic bezel, and a rubber strap with contrasting red stitching. This version also features the new-generation El Primero 3600 movement with a star-shaped oscillating weight that can be seen through the transparent sapphire crystal case back.

Without a doubt, the most impressive in the trilogy is the Defy El Primero 21, with its contemporary 44mm titanium case and skeleton dial revealing the El Primero 9004 movement that beats inside at a remarkable 360 000 vibrations an hour. Through smart engineering, it features two independently operating escapements — one for the time and the other for the chronograph — making it possible for its lightning-fast chronograph hand to make a full rotation in one second, thus establishing a new milestone in mechanical watchmaking.

The specially designed box also comes with an empty cushion for a future addition, “ready to welcome the next achievement of Zenith in the universe of very high frequency: 1/1 000th of a second.”

Picot & Moss 011-669-0500 Boutique Haute Horlogerie 021-418-1889 or 011-325-4119

- From the March edition of Wanted 2019.

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