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Discovering the Zenith Chronomaster Original: A Legendary Chronograph - Review

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

In today's journey through the world of horology, we are about to unravel the tale of a timepiece that not only boasts a captivating design but also harbors a narrative as fascinating as its appearance. Allow me to introduce you to the Zenith Chronomaster Original 38mm.

Zenith's Legacy with the El Primero Movement:

When we think of Zenith, it's hard not to conjure images of the renowned El Primero chronograph movement. But did you know that this movement played a pivotal role in the history of the Rolex Daytona? The story goes that Rolex sought an exceptional movement to upgrade their Daytona, which was still manually wound at the time. It might seem peculiar, considering that another company, Tudor, had already introduced their big block chronograph with an automatic movement in 1976. However, Rolex took its time to source the perfect automatic chronograph, eventually turning to Zenith. Now, here's where the story takes an intriguing turn. Zenith believed that all the knowledge surrounding the El Primero movement had been lost during the 1970s quartz crisis when the factory shut down. It was as if an instruction to destroy all the movements and related know-how had been issued. But as with many great stories, legend has it that a watchmaker secretly preserved an El Primero movement, along with its plans, know-how, and even sample movements. This act saved the company, which continues to thrive today.

The Zenith A386 Trilogy:

In the 1960s, Zenith introduced three iconic models: the A384, A385, and A386, with the latter being the world's first automatic chronograph movement. Among these, the A386 stood out and saw numerous iterations over the years, until it was eventually discontinued in 2020. It held the flagship position for Zenith until the launch of the Chrono Master Sport in 2021. However, our focus today is on the Zenith Chronomaster Original, a contemporary reinterpretation of the classic A386 from the 1960s.

The Unique 1/10th of a Second Movement:

One of the distinctive features of the Zenith Chronomaster Original is its remarkable 1/10th of a second movement. While this feature may not find everyday practical use, it undeniably adds a touch of fascination to the watch. After all, how often do we find ourselves needing to measure time down to a tenth of a second?

Deciphering the Chronograph:

Understanding this watch's chronograph can be a bit perplexing due to its 60-counter and three sub-dials. The left register tracks the current running seconds, serving as the main time display. The seconds hand on this sub-dial completes a full rotation in just 10 seconds. Surprisingly, this same hand is used for measuring elapsed time when the chronograph is in operation. The right register shows the full seconds of the minute, also rotating every 10 seconds. To tell the minutes, one must consult the bottom register, which indicates the elapsed minutes. While this configuration might initially seem complex, it becomes more intuitive with practice.

Case Dimensions, Movement, and Dial:

The Zenith Chronomaster Original features a 38mm case diameter and a modest 13mm case height. It measures 46mm lug to lug, with a 19mm lug width that tapers to about 16mm at the clasp. Housing the impressive El Primero caliber 3600 movement, this watch offers an automatic hacking movement with 36,000 vph, translating to 5 Hertz. It boasts a substantial 60-hour power reserve and is water-resistant up to 50 meters. The vintage-inspired dial captures the essence of yesteryears, complete with a reverse panda silver layout and an authentic patina hue that matches the original strap seamlessly. The date execution on this timepiece is commendable and ranks among the best in its price range.

Wearability on Smaller Wrists:

The watch's wearability on smaller wrists is an interesting aspect to consider. Despite being marketed as a faithful reproduction of the a386 from the 1960s, it doesn't sit flat on the wrist. Instead, it elevates itself, adding a unique presence. This feature, initially puzzling, turned out to be quite comfortable, especially for those with sensitive skin. It doesn't rub against the wrist, making it ideal for humid and hot weather conditions.

Quirks and Practicality of the El Primero Movement:

While the Zenith Chronomaster Original impresses with its vintage details, it does come with some quirks. Notably, it lacks an hours counter in the chronograph, limiting its utility for longer events. Additionally, the minute hand of the chronograph behaves differently from traditional models, making it challenging to read accurately.

The Bracelet, Clasp, Leather Strap & Deployant Review:

The bracelet and clasp of this watch leave much to be desired, feeling somewhat out of place with its vintage charm. It appears that the bracelet was designed with the Chrono Master Sport in mind, rather than this model. However, the strap with its deployant clasp offers a comfortable and aesthetically pleasing alternative. It's soft and expected to develop a beautiful patina over time, matching the dial's vintage indices.

The Missing 'Star':

Notably, the Zenith Chronomaster Original no longer features the star on its seconds hand, setting it apart from its Chrono Master Sport counterpart. This subtle change symbolizes Zenith's new star within their collection.

In the end, the Zenith Chronomaster Original is more than just a watch; it's a piece of horological heritage that continues to captivate enthusiasts. It played a significant role in watchmaking history, contributing to the popularity of the Rolex Daytona and being one of the pioneers of automatic chronographs. Instead of focusing solely on its flaws, it's essential to appreciate its unique qualities, vintage details, and its place in the world of horology. As with any timepiece, it's about how it makes us feel, and the Zenith Chronomaster Original evokes a special sense of admiration.

For more info, watch our YouTube video review below:

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