Inside Zenith's Stunning Chronomaster Collab With Hodinkee

The remarkably serene piece of watchmaking manages to feel both retro and brand new.

Zenith’s El Primero movement is the gift that keeps on giving. Introduced in 1969, it was the first automatic chronograph movement. It’s something that may seem like less than a big deal these days. Back then, it was a major breakthrough—the equivalent, for watchmaking, of winning the moon race that raged the same year in the stratosphere. The El Primero, which debuted in a sporty, monobloc case design (the A386), got its name because, in a neck-and-neck race with Seiko and a separate Swiss multi-brand collaboration that included Heuer, Breitling, Hamilton-Buren, and Dubois-Depraz, Zenith got the word out first, announcing it just under two months before the debut of Heuer’s Monaco. But it was the Monaco—with its Calibre 11 movement and an equally groundbreaking square-shaped case—that got to market first. We call that a respectable draw.

The El Primero had distinction for many good reasons beyond its first-past-the-post debut. With a high balance frequency of 36,600 oscillations, it could record times down to one tenth of a second. At just 6.5mm thick, it meant the watches that featured it could be slimmer than traditional chronographs. These and several other innovations meant that the El Primero, with some more recent modern adjustments, is still able to hold its own more than five decades later. Arguably, it is the most famous movement in watchmaking.

Photo by COURTESY.

In the past decade, Zenith has amped up its Chronomaster Original collection with a number of sought-after designs, all playing on the original good looks of the A386 El Primero. And today, in a collaboration first for the Chronomaster with online watch mecca Hodinkee, Zenith unveiled a new limited-edition take on the Chronomaster Original. It features the updated version of the El Primero, the Caliber 3600 ,which preserves much of the architecture of the original El Primero but with added enhancements to ensure increased reliability and precision. One of its most nifty updates—and something perfect for a show-and-tell—is the main chronograph seconds hand, which, thanks to some Zenith jiggery-pokery, can do a complete rotation of the dial in just ten seconds, making reading elapsed time both more exact and (let’s face it) way more fun.

Zenith Chronomaster Original Limited Edition for Hodinkee


“If you haven’t seen a chronograph that measures elapsed time in less than one second increments, it’s pretty incredible,” explains Eneuri Acosta, Hodinkee’s chief brand officer. “The movement needs to beat at a reasonably high frequency even to have a chance at accomplishing that. When you see the central chronograph hand spin around six times faster than a normal hand, it can definitely cause you to do a double take. This was part of the reason we knew we wanted to work on something with Zenith’s highly advanced Caliber 3600. It just represents some of the best watchmaking out there right now.”

"It just represents some of the best watchmaking out there right now."

The new Hodinkee take on the A386 Chronomaster design—available in a run of 300 pieces—includes a striking matte salmon pink opaline dial in which the three distinctive overlapping sub dials—a hallmark of the El Primero—are picked out in shades of gray to echo the steel of the case and bracelet. It’s a remarkably serene piece of watchmaking that feels both retro and brand new at the same time. For Romain Marietta, product development and heritage director for Zenith, the collab was a particularly fruitful one. “We are very happy to partner with Hodinkee for this limited edition,” he says, “because it’s one that brings together elements from both of our worlds. It is in Hodinkee’s DNA to play with gray colors, which is very chic. Similarly, at Zenith, we are known for our three-colored counters, so the three shades of gray that we can see on the three counters in the dial are a nod to our identity, a great meeting point bringing together Zenith and Hodinkee.”

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The process by which Zenith arrived at the sub dials was far from straightforward, involving a multi-step galvanic process to nail the overlapping colors. The result, however, speaks for itself. The Chronomaster Original combines a strong retro flavor—especially in its period-correct 38mm case size—with updated specs and finishing, and its highly unusual color display. For us, it’s a killer combo that only adds to the ageless appeal of the El Primero family.

FromEsquire US

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About The Author
Nick Sullivan
Nick Sullivan is Creative Director at Esquire, where he served as Fashion Director from 2004 until 2019. Prior to that, he relocated from London with his young family to Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. He has styled and art directed countless fashion and cover stories for both Esquire and Big Black Book (which he helped found in 2006) in exotic, uncomfortable, and occasionally unfeasibly cold locations. He also writes extensively about men's style, accessories, and watches. He describes his style as elegantly disheveled.
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