Not all chronographs are created equal – and if there ever was one to rightfully claim to be superior to at least most of the others, then that’s the El Primero caliber. The Zenith El Primero Original 1969 watch, contrary to its name, is a relatively new piece from Zenith, albeit one that promises to remain authentic to an original design with which Zenith debuted its remarkable chronograph movement family.
While all three calibers were unique in their own right, the El Primero offered something that even to this day sets it apart from the absolute majority of other movements: its 5 Hertz operating frequency.
Over the years, Zenith has modified the El Primero in countless ways, adding complex calendars and even gimbal-suspended escapements to it. And yet, as briefly discussed above, the complexity of this “base” movement is already truly remarkable. Luckily, the Zenith El Primero Original 1969 comes with a sapphire crystal case-back, exposing the strikingly beautiful and indeed very technical-looking movement inside. The large, skeletonized automatic rotor runs on seven ball bearings, and sports a skeletonized Zenith star logo in its center, along with wide Geneva striping and some bold “Zenith El Primero Manufacture Le Locle” scripts engraved.
The Zenith El Primero Original 1969 comes in a 38mm-wide stainless steel case and 100M water resistant, with proportions that, over the couple of weeks I have spent with this watch on the wrist, never failed to disappoint.
The dial, exposed under a raised sapphire crystal of the Zenith El Primero Original 1969 remains visually similar to that of the original – although it is true that some changes have been made. The triple sub-dial chronograph layout is the same, and so is the presence of the date at 04:30 – gone, though, is the 100 unit scale on the periphery of the dial, the Zenith El Primero designation at 12 is a bit different and, perhaps most noticeably, the way the three sub-dials overlap is the other way around now. That means that while on the Zenith El Primero A386 from 1969, the running seconds at 9 and the chronograph 30-minute counter at 3 were “on top” of the 12-hour counter at 6, for the new “Original 1969,” that is the other way around.