Zenith El Primero A384 Revival: Cool Never Changes
by Martin Green
I can only imagine how cool a guy must have looked in 1969 wearing the then-new Zenith El Primero.
I wasn’t even close to being born, but I guess that anyone wearing one of the first El Primeros would have made quite an impression walking around with such an innovative automatic chronograph on their wrist. The automatic chronograph was, of course, brand new in that year – with Zenith one of the first to produce such a thing (see 50 Years Of Automatic Chronographs And The Recent Debuts From Zenith, TAG Heuer, And Seiko Commemorating The Milestone Invention(s).
The design has aged in a way much like that of a great actor – like Robert de Niro, Michael Caine, or Anthony Hopkins. A little older, but still cool and classy.
You cannot say the same thing about other things from the 1960s: shirts with ruffles and brown suits with bell-bottom pant legs (often made of synthetic fabrics, adding insult to injury) are best forgotten. So it’s no wonder that to celebrate the El Primero’s fiftieth anniversary in 2019, all that Zenith had to do was revisit its first watch.
I usually am not very keen on near-exact replications of watches from the past, as it is often too much like a greatest hits album. And living too much in the past can be a dangerous thing for a watch manufacturer.
While I admit that I would rather have an original piece from 1969, there is something to say for a modern watch with the same looks and the same feel on the wrist as the original but coming with a warranty.
That might be just what collectors need who think that getting a vintage piece is too much of a risk. It also might be a watch that people actually wear as the original will probably be treasured as a safe queen.
On the wrist, the El Primero A384 Revival is a powerful thing. With a diameter of 37 mm, it is small by today’s standards. But no need to worry as it compensates well.
The cushion-shaped case is formed something like a block, providing ample wrist presence, a design that goes very well with the piston pushers. It makes me want to get a leather jacket and a muscle car.
I love it that the chronograph second hand is big, bold, and red. It’s the only red thing on the entire watch (okay, except for the ruby bearing jewels in the movement), and that’s a stroke of genius.
It represents the pulse of the high-frequency watch and makes you forget that the rest is “just” black and white. Legibility is no issue on this El Primero; in fact, this watch might very well be the benchmark for it.
Too faithful to the original
The added attraction of this El Primero A384 comes from its new, unique “ladder” bracelet. Zenith had this developed in the 1960s by renowned bracelet manufacturer Gay Frères.
It is essentially your classic three-link bracelet design but with gaps in the middle, hence the “ladder” nickname. On the wrist, it amplifies the 1960s/1970s vibe of this El Primero.
Zenith had to recreate the bracelet itself as Gay Frères is no longer around as an independent company; it was bought by Rolex in 1998 and then integrated into the crown’s operations.
When Zenith decided to recreate the bracelet, it did the same as with the watch itself by very closely following the original design.
So far so good, but the clasp was also made as if it were still 1969, and that’s something I am less appreciative of.
I might offend a purist of two, but clasps from 1969 fall into the shirts with ruffles and brown bell-bottom suit category. They are not attractive and, more importantly, not comfortable.
I would have loved it if Zenith had updated this part of the bracelet as then it would have been perfect in my opinion. That being said, I doubt if it’s a dealbreaker for many watch connoisseurs. Some might actually see it as the icing on the cake and point it out to their watch buddies when they meet for drinks.
For more information, please visit www.zenith-watches.com/en/50th-el-primero-anniversary-el-primero-a384-revival.
Quick Facts Zenith El Primero A384 Revival
Case: 37 x 12.6 mm, stainless steel
Bracelet: ladder design originally made by Gay Frères
Movement: automatic Caliber El Primero 400 with column wheel chronograph, power reserve 50 hours, 5 Hz/36,000 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date, chronograph
Price: CHF 8,400