SOLD-Zenith El Primero A386 MK2

SOLD-Zenith El Primero A386 MK2

Model: El Primero
Reference: A386
Gender: Male/Uni-sex
Year: 1969-70
Material: stainless steel
Dial Color: Creme white
Dimensions: 36 mm
Watch Movement: automatic
Bracelet/Strap: leather
Box/Paper: Handmade Leather Travel Pouch IF ordered at WRIST ICONS
Condition: Excellent

WRIST ICONS presents the Zenith El Primero reference A386 MK2 from the early 1970s. The Zenith A386 is the quintessential early automatic chronograph. The introduction of the first automatic chronograph movement was an horological milestone but besides that the design of the watch was really remarkable.


The first El Primero from the 1969 until the early 1970s are considered really icons which are much appreciated among collectors. It is a design classic with its tri-colour dial, and its ground breaking movement. This watch combines great looks while being the smartest kid in town. Zenith is brand with a really big heritage they won the most prices for their chronometers. 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.


History of the launch of the El Primero

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 until      early 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 perhaps deserves just as much.

Why the model is actually so popular? Because it was well-born. An incredible design combined with a multi-colored dial, rarely seen at the time, with the oversized intercrossing registers, and famous movement, the A386 is one of the most iconic wristwatches of the 20th century.

In this A 386, the tri-colour sub-dials, the two tone dial with its grey outer track, the triangular minute scale and red chronograph hand all combine to create a look that is undeniably Zenith. Not to mention, while the more common muscular tonneau shaped cased early Primeros, the A 386 is housed in a more traditional circular case.



This stunning example of the Zenith El Primero Ref. A386 is made between 1969 and 1970(With serial number 706D8xx). According to the work of leading Zenith authority, Manfred Rössler, who stated in his book only 1,500 tri-colour A386 were made. According to the book Zenith, by Joël Duval the model, ref. A386, was produced between 1969 and 1972, a total production of 4500 examples in stainless steel.


 Versions of the A386 model:

The model can be split into three production runs:

  • 1-the Mark I, early production series, with case no. 538DXXX to 539DXXX, estimate range in the 200 to 400, with thin sub dials hands, plain (or smooth) case back, no groove on the lugs, slightly different design from the two other mark, dial with letter P (from CHRONOGRAPH) and letter C (from AUTOMATIC) perfectly superposed, winding crown set with a four pointed star inside a circle inside case back engraved and centered, as follow, by order of appearance from top to bottom  « Zenith, Swiss Made, Acier Inoxydable » (no Spillman number)
  • 2-the Mark II, such as the present watch, with case no. 706DXXX to 708DXXX, made between 1969 and 1970, with a bit larger sub dial hands, plain (or smooth)  case back, groove on the lugs, dial with letter P (from CHRONOGRAPH) and letter C (from AUTOMATIC) perfectly superposed, winding crown with four pointed star and a circle (on our model has a later crown), inside case back engraved and centered, as follow, by order of appearance from top to bottom  « Zenith, Swiss Made, Acier Inoxydable, SP 1205 » , such as the present watch.
  • 3-The Mark III, with case no. 861DXXX to 233EXXX, D& E range made between 1971 and 1972, with large sub dial hands, case back with centered Zenith Star logo, embossed stylized four pointed star inside a circle, groove on the lugs, dial with letters P (from CHRONOGRAPH) and letter C (from AUTOMATIC) perfectly superposed, as well as second letter H from CHRONOGRAPH and first letter A from AUTOMATIC perfectly superposed, because of the larger overall size of all the writings, winding crown with four pointed star and a circle, inside case back engraved circumferentially, from first quarter to last «  Acier Inoxydable » , « Zenith », « Swiss Made » and «  SP1205 »  as follow, by order of appearance from top to bottom  « Zenith, Swiss Made, Acier Inoxydable, SP 1205 ».
  • 4-Many dials on the A386s have been replaced, and service dials feature long tails on the end of the "O" in « El Primero ».



  • Case: This Zenith El Primero A 386 MK2 is in excellent condition. The case has certainly been worn, with superficial scratches throughout the case which has been polished before although done by a true professional. 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 perfect lines going through but the caseback is more polished than the case itself. This A386 still retains its original finish with its sunburst finish on the top, brushed sides and thick bevels throughout. 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. The unique reference number is also visible on the case-back and the case comes with the original Zenith-signed crown. Overall, the exceptional finishing of the Zenith El Primero A386is noteworthy, both for its design and execution. It is an really honest and exceptionally original example of an A386.
  • Dial and hands: Similarly to the case, the tritone  dial is in excellent condition, the base of the dial has a really nice warm patina with a kind of creamy colour. The dial has hash 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 MK2 hour and minute handset and index hour markers have aged to a nice colored patina, complementing the patina on the sub-registers perfectly. The dial has the original Tachymetre Scale; the original tachymetre has an elongated “C”, whereas a service tachymetre scale has a rounded “C”. 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 pointed hands on the subregisters are service hands.
  • Movement: 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.
  • Strap: Together with its brown Horween leather strap, this piece makes a showcase of what a classic vintage sports watch should be like. 

Overall, the exceptional finishing of the Zenith El Primero A386is noteworthy, both for its design and execution. This steel Zenith El Primero (ref. A386) 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.



  • Brand:                 Zenith
  • Model:                 El Primero
  • Reference:           A386
  • Serial number:      706D8xx
  • Movement:           mechanical automatic in-house self-winding Calibre 3019 PHC
  • Functions:             date, hours, minutes, center seconds, chronograph
  • Features:              unrestored dial, original lumes
  • Case Diameter:     37.60 mm diam. Thickness 12.15 mm
  • Lug Width:            19mm
  • Case Material:      Stainless Steel
  • Crystal:                plexiglass
  • Bracelet:              brown Horween leather strap





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