Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg Business

This Is Not Your Grandfather’s Zenith Watch (Although It Looks Like It)

Zenith uses a classic movement in a vintage-styled package

I'd forgive you for mistaking this watch for one of the vintage watches I show you every Monday. Meet the Zenith El Primero Chronograph Classic.

The El Primero is Zenith's flagship line of watches and has been since it was first introduced in 1969. The name actually refers to the movement inside, which was the very first chronograph movement to feature both a faster 5 Hz balance wheel and an automatic winding system. Speed aside, it was one of the very first automatic chronographs, period, ushering in the heyday of easy-to-wear sport watches that was the ’70s.

In rose gold, the El Primero Chronograph Classic has an especially vintage feel.
In rose gold, the El Primero Chronograph Classic has an especially vintage feel.
Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg Business

While the movement inside this version isn't much different from the original (there are certainly some refinements and technical updates, but the architecture is all there), this watch has a very different look from the El Primeros fans are used to seeing. The case is a relatively slim 11.8mm, the dial doesn't feature any funky-colored registers, and you could easily get away with wearing this with a suit to the office instead of having to save it for your weekend ride.

At 42mm across, the Chronograph Classic is larger than comparable vintage pieces, but the low profile, domed crystal, and thin rectangular pushers all make it look and feel smaller than it actually is. The combination of brushed and polished surfaces is really balanced, adding a lot of definition to the shape of the case.

The fast 5 Hz automatic El Primero movement is the core of this watch.
The fast 5 Hz automatic El Primero movement is the core of this watch.
Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg Business

Both the stainless steel and rose gold versions of the watch have a radially brushed silver dial that has only two registers. On the left is the running seconds and opposite you have a 30-minute counter. Other versions of the El Primero display the date and have an hours counter, too, but this pared-back version of the caliber keeps the dial open, with lots of negative space. The only real criticism I have of the dial is that the hands are all very thin (like, really, really thin) and can be hard to read at a glance.

The El Primero Chronograph Classic is understated and simple.
The El Primero Chronograph Classic is understated and simple.
Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg Business

If you're looking for something even more understated, Zenith also has a new time-only Elite watch with similar styling and a 100-hour movement.

The Zenith El Primero Chronograph Classic is available in steel ($8,900) and rose gold ($21,600), with the latter limited to only 150 pieces worldwide.

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