For years the Zenith’s bold watches have been the very image of sleek, modern design with a high-tech functionality, which is why its re-release of its first El Primero last spring is such a contrast for the watchmaker. The retro chronograph, which celebrates the 40th anniversary of its movement, first introduced in 1969, has a decidedly vintage look to it. But inside the case beats the soul of avant-garde timekeeping.
The chronograph movement developed by Zenith four decades ago still represents the cutting edge of mechanical watch technology, capable of measuring short periods of time to the nearest 1/10th of a second. This is made possible through a unique balance in the movement that turns at 36,000 vibrations per hour, which is two to three times faster than most mechanical watch movements. The Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute has publicly confirmed the caliber’s accuracy.
Whether someone actually needs such precision in a chronograph is a question made moot by the popular use of mobile phones for the stopwatch function. Regardless, the Vintage 1969 is a beautiful watch with a handsome movement. Its looks hark back to the days of beautifully handmade sports cars and tasteful jet-set dreams. Think of Steven McQueen or Grace Kelley.
With a date function as well as the precision chrono, the 40mm case automatic watch comes in stainless steel, black titanium and rose gold. Functions include a jump calendar and a moon phase. The titanium has an open face, showing part of the movement. All the models have transparent sapphire backs as well. All come with either brown or black leather straps and they can be ordered with a rubber finished one.
The three watches come in two renditions—one with a purple band and one without. The latter is limited to 169 pieces for the world and the former to 69. Prices begin at $12,400 for the stainless 40th Anniversary Vintage 1969 and go up to about $30,000 for the rose gold.