|Dial Color:||Creme white|
|Box/Paper:||Handmade Leather Travel Pouch|
WRIST ICONS presents the Zenith El Primero reference A384 from the early 1970s.
The first El Primero from the 1969 until the early 1970s are considered really icons which are much appreciated among collectors. The A386 is a design classic with its tri-colour dial, and its ground breaking movement. This Zenith A384 is one of his siblings and combines great looks, a stunning brown patina panda dial, with an iconic movement.
History of the launch of the El Primero
Zenith is brand with a really big heritage and a focus on precision. With their caliber 135 they received 200 honors for their chronometers, of which 2/3 first prices. Since the introduction of the El Primero in 1969 they became famous for their distinctive high-beat chronograph timepieces – technically advanced wristwatches are very much in Zenith’s DNA. And - carrying the Calibre 3019 PHC - this piece belongs to the prestigious line of the first-ever automatic chronographs.
The Zenith El Primero represents one of the most iconic watches in the history of watch making. It was the first automatic chronograph introduced to the market and one of the first automatic chronographs produced in series. During the 1960s there were three parties competing to build the first automatic chronograph. The main players were a consortium of companies with mutual interests: Heuer, Buren-Hamilton, Breitling and Dubois-Depraz. In the Far East, Seiko was working on its own version. And then there was the dark horse from Le Locle: Zenith. Whether or not the so-called Chrono-matic group — Hamilton-Buren, Breitling, Heuer, and Dubois-Dupraz — or Seiko actually beat the El Primero to market is not important. What’s important is this: the Zenith movement that resulted seven years after the journey began in 1962 is arguably still one of the best automatic chronograph in its price range 50 years later. Zenith proudly claims the “El Primero” to be the first-ever automatic chronograph, emphasizing its full integration and completeness - with a column-wheel and central rotor on ball bearings - as opposed to a being a modular addition. The name “El Primero” by no coincidence translates to “the first”.
If you want to read more about the race for the introduction of the first automatic chronograph, I refer to Jeff Steins Jeff Stein, founder of On The Dash, and author of Project 99 his article The Race to Develop the World's First Automatic Chronograph and his recent publication of this article on Hodinkee.
Which was the best automatic chronograph of the three?
Besides from the fact that the Primero was the first automatic chronograph introduced to the market there is little question that Zenith’s El-Primero 3019PHC movement could be considered the most technically advanced of the three. This movement certainly had a huge impact on horological development. It was a completely integrated movement, as compared to the Caliber 11, which consisted of a Dubois-Depraz chronograph module mated with a base movement from Buren. It also featured a seconds, hour, and minute counter and the date function, as compared to the Seiko 6139, which had neither an hour nor continuous seconds counter (though it did possess the day function – and let's not forget that the 6139 was also the first automatic chronograph with vertical clutch).
In 1985, Zenith resurrected the “El Primero” line, reissuing the calibre 3019PHC (as the calibre 40.0), and it is still in production today under the designation “calibre 400”. This movement was so well build that even Rolex used it for its Daytona series. One of the most widely respected Rolex Daytona references, the 16520, used the base calibre 400 in its re-designed flagship sports watch from 1988 untilearly 2000. It was also used in watches of Ebel and Movado. The El Primero was a watchmaking marvel of its time — and not just for one reason. For one, the watch featured a column wheel chronograph with a tri-compax layout. Most chronographs at the time (and many today) utilized a cam-actuated chronograph. There are benefits and drawbacks of using both types of chronographs, but column wheel production is more complex and labor-intensive. That Zenith chose to utilize a column wheel chronograph shows the level of end-to-end watchmaking that went into the El Primero development.
The smooth sweep of the seconds hand is much beloved by watch wearers. Today, the balance wheel in most mechanical watches beats at 28,800 vibrations per hour (vph); if you look closely, that smooth seconds hand sweep is actually eight ticks per second. The El Primero, on the other hand, is what’s known as a high-beat movement, making 10 ticks per second, or 36,000 vph. Not only does this create a smoother sweep, the 5hz beat rate allows measurement up to 1/10th of a second, in comparison to up to just one-fifth of a second (at a rate of 2.5hz) of its contemporaries. High-beat movements were rare in 1969, and they’re rare today. Even Rolex slowed the El Primero down to 28,800vph for the Daytona.
With more beats per hour comes increased wear and tear on the escapement. To counter this, Zenith developed special lubricants that would keep the El Primero on the wrist more often than in a watchmaker’s hands. The other critical deficiency of a “quick tick”, though, is the tendency to lose power faster than normal. Zenith made the solution look simple: they used a mainspring capable of a 50-hour power reserve. These are the sorts of decisions that have proven Zenith is unwilling to cut corners, and they’ve paid off in spades (and by spades, we mean millions of dollars and a cult following).
Speaking of design, even though it is the movement that is historically iconic, the design language Zenith used for their El Primero is perhaps deserves just as much. In this A384, the black due to patina turned into brown sub-dials, the two tone dial with its brownish outer track, the tachymeter minute scale and red chronograph hand all combine to create a look that is undeniably Zenith. Not to mention, while the more popular A 386 is housed in a more traditional circular case, this A384 has a muscular tonneau shaped case.
This stunning example of the Zenith El Primero Ref. A384 is from 1969-1971 (With serial number 516 XXXX). According to the work of leading Zenith authority, Manfred Rössler, who stated in his book on page 240 only 2,600 A384s were made in 1971, compared to 2,500 of its slightly more common cousin, the ever-popular A386. This number has actually been updated to 4.500 by the Zenith book of Joe Duval. Uniquely, the A384 has blue sub-seconds hand on the 9 o'clock sub-dial, which is also painted with blue indices. In comparison, the A386 has all its sub-dials painted with white indices and uniformly white hands.
This Zenith El Primero A384 is in excellent condition. The case has certainly been worn, with superficial scratches throughout. The case is in a very good condition and not over polished. A tell-tale sign for this is via the top and bottom line of the case. These cases are notoriously difficult to polish, with the aforementioned lines being the hardest. You can tell it has either been polished or refinished in the past if those lines are wobbly. This example, has very good lines going through. This A384 still retains its original finish with its sunburst finish on the top, brushed sides and thick bevels throughout. When we received this watch the sunburst finish was a bit vague and therefore our watchmaker has done a light manual refurbishment of the case.
When you examine the case you will see that the brush marks are still visible on the top side of the case (also some scratches), the straight-line lugs are sharp and thick, and the side profile is as it should be, grained on the front and the sides. It has a slight shine/polish look to it from what I think is many years of wearing. The bevels on the lugs are polished, as is the deep Zenith hallmark star on the screw-down case-back, further accentuated by the use of graining at the center. The unique reference number is also visible on the caseback and the case comes with the original Zenith-signed crown. Overall, the exceptional finishing of the Zenith El Primero A384 is noteworthy, both for its design and execution. It is an really honest and exceptionally original example of an A384.
Dial and hands
Similarly to the case, the panda dial is in excellent condition, the base of the dial has a really nice patina with a kind of creamy colour. The dial has markers on it, indicating the minutes and (1/5) seconds, and applied, faceted silver index markers for the hours. The tritium lume on the matchstick handset and index hour markers have aged to a nice colored patina, complementing the patina on the sub-registers perfectly. Further to this, the watch also features a red paddle chronograph hand, displayed on many Zenith El Primero examples of the era, whilst the white portion of the dial is surrounded by a grey tachymeter and a Base 15 pulsations scale.
The watch carries the above-mentioned self-winding 3019 PHC calibre, considered by many as one of the most famous column-wheel operated chronographs of all time. The movement features 31 jewels and a bi-directional central rotor, beating at 36,000 A/h, with a power reserve of 50-hours. The movement is clean, and during the time of testing the watch was fully functional.
Together with its Zenith-stamped, original Gay Fréres ladder bracelet in steel, and matching ZKM end-links, this piece makes a showcase of what a classic vintage sports watch should be like.
Overall, the exceptional finishing of the Zenith El Primero A384 is noteworthy, both for its design and execution. This steel Zenith El Primero (ref. A384) is remarkably well preserved.
As with all of our pre-owned watches this watch comes with a full 12 month warranty with ourselves that will be invoked from the day of purchase.
Viewings can be arranged at our office by appointment.