The List




The List


Zenith El Primero



It was once said of Ferrari that the engine was what you actually paid for; the rest of the car was thrown in for free. A similar vein of thought may be applied to the watchmaker Zenith, whose El Primero movement could be compared to a high revving Ferrari V12, such is the level of its technical excellence.

Unlike Ferrari, however, which remains one of the world’s most widely recognised luxury brands, Zenith is not a name with which the layman would be instantly familiar. Despite supplying El Primero movements to Rolex for the Daytona line until relatively recently, Zenith has never become fixed in the public consciousness in the same way that some of its competitors have.

This is no bad thing, however, as it helps to prevent Zeniths from becoming the vulgar wealth indicators of the nouveau riches that many upmarket Swiss watches have become. It also contributes to the relatively (and we use the word advisedly, as no Zenith can be termed ‘cheap’) low price of the majority of its models.

The watch that is of particular interest to us is the El Primero Chronomaster, which has been given its place on the list both for its styling, which effectively bridges the gap between sports watch and dress watch, and for the magnificent piece of engineering that underpins it: the El Primero movement.

A few words about the El Primero, then, for those who are not aware of its significance. In the late 1960s, Zenith set out to create the world’s first mass produced automatic chronograph. Unfortunately for Zenith, so did a group of watchmakers comprised of Heuer, Breitling, Hamilton and Dubois Depraz, who were able to bring theirs to market a month prior Zenith's movement, which they had called the El Primero.

But whilst Zenith did not receive the ultimate accolade that they had sought, the El Primero was, and is, undoubtedly the more elegant movement. Beating at an astonishing 36,000 vph, it is the only widely available mechanical chronograph movement capable of measuring short time intervals to 1/10th second.

It is testament to the El Primero’s design that when Zenith came under the wing of the LVMH group, Tag Heuer, part of the same group, chose to base its high end calibre 36 movement on it.

There are a number of different Chronomaster models on the market, but the one to go for, in our opinion, comes with a basic stainless steel case and black alligator leather strap. Follow this advice and you will have a watch that will as happily accompany a dress suit at a summer ball as make split second timing of cars’ laps at a motor racing circuit.

The case design is thinner than dedicated sports watches, contributing to a feeling of lightness on the wrist – itself a relief in this age of weight seemingly being associated with quality. With its triple step bezel and roman numerals it also possesses a vintage quality, although not to such an extent that it appears dated today or will do in the future; this, puns aside, is a timeless piece of design.

So, if, like the Ferrari, the money that you pay for the Chronomaster is for its beating heart, you are getting an extraordinary deal for the rest of the watch.