Monday Morning Find: Vintage Gold Zenith Chronograph, Oversize in the '50s, Just Right Today
"Oversize" is a relative term (just look at the evolution of mobile phones), but it's safe to say that in the 1950s not many watches were 38mm across. This Zenith from that era is solid 18K yellow gold and looks every bit the part of the 1950s dress chronograph but in a larger size that's a little easier to wear these days. It has little details that will get collectors excited but is also flat-out beautiful—and that doesn't require any explanation.
Simplicity, not size, is what makes this chrono so enticing, though. The ivory dial has Arabic numerals at 12 and 6 o'clock, with batons marking the other hours. The typography is clear and well-spaced, making the dial extremely easy to read, further helped by the faceted gold hands. At 3 o'clock is a 45-minute counter for the chronograph and at 9 o'clock sits a running seconds register. A lone black "Zenith" signature sits just below the 12. That's it. It's exactly what you need in a dress chronograph and nothing more.
Zenith's best-known chronograph is, without a doubt, the El Primero. Its in-house movement is automatic and has the signature high-beat balance wheel (which beats at 5 Hz instead of the more common 3 or 4). This watch predates the creation of that movement by more than a decade, and at its core is a Martel 156D. Without giving you a doctorate-level crash course in midcentury movement sourcing, it's sufficient to say that this is a high-grade chronograph from a source used by a number of high-end companies.
There are two particularly interesting details on this dial. First, you'll notice the extra-long hash marks on the chronograph register (on the right) at 3, 6, and 9 minutes. These might not mean anything today, but in the days of cord-bound, long-distance phone calls, these were the minutes when prices jumped. This let you keep the calls home on-budget. Also, if you look closely, you'll notice that the tachymeter scale around the very edge of the dial is actually light blue instead of black like the rest of the printing. Blue and red printing were used a lot during this era, but finding watches where these lighter colors haven't faded too badly is tough.
This 18k gold Zenith chronograph is available from Analog/Shift for $3,600.