HANDS-ON: The Zenith Chronomaster Original Collection offers vintage perfection on a 38mm dialFergus Nash
Zenith have a track record for having their fingers on the pulse of the watch world. In the ‘60s, they spent nearly the entire decade developing the El Primero to be the world’s first integrated automatic chronograph movement. Back then, the world was crying out for innovation: new techniques, new designs and new possibilities. Now, the world seems to yearn for tradition, with vintage reissues, old darkened lume, and most importantly, smaller sizes. The Zenith Chronomaster Original offers both progress and nostalgia in spades, with a faithful recreation of the first Zenith A386 in a handsome 38mm diameter, and the modern generation of the high-beat El Primero movement.
The Chronomaster collection offers three variants of this Original design. The ever-loved white dial, available on either stainless steel or 18k rose gold, carries tri-tone subdials that seem to give the dial more space by the way in which they’re distinguished. The third variant is a gloriously warm reverse-panda affair, with a slightly off-white array of subdials that harmoniously compliment the parchment shade of faux-aged luminous paint. Overall, the dial layout is just perfectly balanced. The elongated numerals around the chapter rings and minute markers are crisp and add just the right amount of complexity. The colour-matched date window isn’t obtrusive, so the symmetry isn’t disturbed, while the Zenith logo is tastefully sized with the discreet El Primero script all that’s required.
Speaking of the El Primero, the latest generation of the tenths-measuring chronograph is both capable and gorgeous. It’s as technically impressive as it ever was, with its 36,000vph beat rate, 60 hour power reserve, 35 jewels, and of course that vibrantly-blued column-wheel. A great amount of the movement can be seen through the skeletonised winding rotor, decorated with the Zenith star, showing off a variety of attractive surface finishing techniques. The column-wheel gives the chronograph a satisfying click when engaged, enhancing the experience of using the movement as intended. Should you need any more convincing of the Chronomaster Original’s flair, that click of the pusher also unveils a unique display of the second’s hand skipping across the dial once every 10 seconds, allowing the tenths to be recorded as the whole seconds are recorded on the 3 o’clock subdial.
It’s well worth talking about the case of the A386 as well, because it’s not just special for being a medium size. It’s true that 38mm is a little smaller than we’re used to these days, with manufacturers pumping out seemingly endless chronographs and divers that treat 42mm as a sweet-spot, but there’s so much more involved than just case diameter. The lugs are well shaped, emboldening the curves of the case by angling down and forming a rather aggressive tip before meeting the strap, as well as helping the watch conform to the shape of a wrist of any size. But, the presence of the watch is in no way diminished. Its mix of finishes, with quite a harsh sunburst brushing on the lugs and a smooth high-polished thin bezel creates a wonderful contrast of textures that helps each individual element pop. Once on wrist, the Chronomaster Original carries itself with goldilocks proportions.
If you’re a leather strap fan, the gold reference comes on a coffee-tone brown 19mm strap while the white-on-steel reference is supplied on a navy blue to compliment the minutes register subdial, But, if opting for the reverse-panda dial, you’re treated to a suave steel three-link bracelet, with wide, flat, and chamfered outer links enhancing the retro style, and high-polished centre-links adding some reflective eye-candy.
Considering the prices of a vintage A386, the prices are absolutely reasonable. The white dial in stainless steel is $12,200AUD, the panda on bracelet is $12,900, and the gold case is $27,400. You may be getting a watch with a party trick in the flying chronograph seconds hand, which can certainly become a talking point, but more importantly you’re getting a vintage-accurate and historically significant watch. The construction and finishing is pitch-perfect, and the same must be said for the styling. As an ambassador for both Zenith and 38mm watches in general, the Chronomaster Original doesn’t disappoint.