Zenith Celebrates 50 Years of El Primero with Limited-Edition Anniversary Set

 As avid students of wristwatch history are aware, Zenith launched its legendary El Primero chronograph movement in 1969, which of course counts as perhaps the most significant anniversary in the wristwatch universe this year. We’ve been wondering for many months how Zenith would mark this horological milestone, and the answer (or perhaps, the first part of the answer; Baselworld 2019 is still on the horizon) was revealed in Geneva in January, with the unveiling of a new set of three limited-edition models in a special carrying case that embody the past, present, and future of the El Primero.

The Zenith El Primero 50th Anniversary set is limited to 50 pieces.
The Past: The first of the anniversary trio is a faithful re-creation of the original El Primero watch from that seminal year of 1969 — representing, believe it or not, the first time Zenith has offered a modern timepiece that hews so closely to its record-breaking ancestor. (El Primero, of course, means “The First” in Spanish, and the movement in that watch was “The First” to offer a high balance frequency of 36,000 vph, meaning times could be measured to the nearest 1/10 second, and “The First” with both an integrated column-wheel construction and a then-unprecedented 50-hour power reserve. It was also, of course, one of the very first self-winding chronograph movements in a wristwatch, sharing that distinction with a handful of other pioneering watchmakers; for more details, check out our story on the history of the El Primero.) The stainless steel case measures a now-modest 38 mm, with a curved, magnifying sapphire crystal, while the dial offers the same tricolored subdials (light gray for running seconds, blue for elapsed minutes, and anthracite for elapsed hours), tachymeter scale, hand shapes and hour markers as the original. The lugs and mushroom-style chrono pushers are also direct descendants of the vintage model’s. Only the caseback, which features a sapphire viewing window while its predecessor was solid, is a nod to modern tastes, and the movement visible through that window is the most up-to-date, contemporary version, the El Primero Caliber 400, composed of 278 pieces and equipped with the 36,600-vph frequency and 50-hour minimum power reserve that wowed the watch community a half-century ago. Dubbed the El Primero A386 Revival, the retro-look timepiece comes on a black alligator strap with rubber lining.
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