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Hands-On Review – Zenith Chronomaster Original 38mm (Specs & Price)

For a very long time, Zenith had a watch named the El Primero 38mm in its assortment, a type of direct descendant to the traditional A386 watch, regardless of not being fully true to the unique design. Recurring readers of MONOCHROME definitely know my love for classic-looking, historic chronographs with compact dimensions, and that particular Zenith had lengthy been on my private wishlist… till the model discontinued it. In 2021, the model confirmed spectacular creativity within the area of El Primero-based watches, primarily with the introduction of the praised Chronomaster Sport. Objectively, it’s a nice watch that almost all of our staff thought of a house run. However it’s not a look ahead to me. The watch that basically did it for me final 12 months was the smaller, extra retro-styled Zenith Chronomaster Authentic. And I had the chance to spend a while with it on the wrist.

The A386 connection

With out doing your entire story of the El Primero once more – the story of its creation, discontinuation and revival might be learn right here – we will’t escape the subject of 1969 when speaking concerning the Chronomaster Authentic. The entire concept behind this contemporary watch is to be the closest (visually, no less than) to what’s most likely probably the most well-known watch in your entire historical past of Zenith, the reference A386, or the inaugural three-colour El Primero watch.

The 1969 trilogy of El Primero watches

This A386 is probably the most iconic mannequin within the trilogy launched in 1969, the three watches created by Zenith to function its newly developed and modern motion, the El Primero calibre, thought to be one of many earliest automated chronograph actions. This trilogy comprised the A384, a tonneau-shaped panda-dial mannequin, the A385, that includes the identical case however with an authentic gradient brown dial (presumably the primary of its form) and the A386, probably the most classical of the three fashions, with a spherical case but additionally the watch that first confirmed the signature tri-colour sub-counters, one thing that has grow to be an indicator of Zenith.

Zenith El Primero A386Zenith El Primero A386 – Picture by Hodinkee Store

Along with its excessive collectability and historic significance (the latter being shared with the 2 different watches within the inaugural trilogy), the A386 can be a watch that had an immense affect on the model and a supply of profound inspiration for Zenith through the years. As stated, the model had a watch in its portfolio that may very well be thought to be a tribute to this classic mannequin, the traditional 38mm Chronomaster with silver dial, three-colour counters, bezel-less case and calibre El Primero 400, the closest you possibly can get to the unique 1969 motion. In early 2021, nevertheless, Zenith discontinued this mannequin, leaving house to the Chronomaster Sport first, after which to the watch that’s the central matter of at this time’s article, the Zenith Chronomaster Authentic.

Spending Time with the Zenith Chronomaster Authentic

As defined above, the earlier model of the Chronomaster 38mm was comparatively trustworthy to the A386 mechanically, due to its El Primero calibre 400. But, the design was barely altered with (refined) updates and concessions to modernity. With the just lately launched Zenith Chronomaster Authentic, we by some means have a reversed recipe. The design, though utilizing a number of fashionable elements to make it appropriate with at this time’s expectations, is all about faithfulness to the emblematic 1969 watch. However, the motion that ticks inside its traditionally related case is all about bringing the signature El Primero base calibre into the twenty first century. And being somebody with a ardour for historic watches but additionally a deep curiosity in mechanical innovation, I can say that this recipe was, on paper, the promise of an incredible meal. And, in the long run, not solely on paper…

Zenith Chronomaster Original 38mm El Primero

When Zenith launched the fantastically acquired Chronomaster Sport, I used to be definitely impressed by the seems to be, the specs and the general high quality of Zenith’s proposition. Objectively, there’s rather a lot to be liked on this watch. But, because of the sportiness of the case and its measurement – regardless of being very cheap – I used to be nonetheless ready for one thing extra within the vein of the very (too) restricted fiftieth anniversary mannequin of 2019. This arrived in mid-2021 and it didn’t disappoint. The fantastic thing about the Zenith Chronomaster Authentic lies, to me no less than, in its design, its compactness and its relevance. The case is modelled after the A386 and reuses the form discovered on Revival editions, which means that it has been designed following digital scans of the unique 1969 watch.

Zenith Chronomaster Original 38mm El Primero

The Chronomaster Authentic isn’t solely about proportions, it’s additionally concerning the shapes. At 38mm in diameter, its case is likely to be a bit on the small aspect for a contemporary watch, and it’ll most likely discourage a number of potential fans – for these, take a look at the Sport. For me, that is the candy spot and being trustworthy to the unique watch, I’m not complaining. The thickness is completely acceptable too, at 12.9mm. Do not forget that it’s an automated chronograph after which, it includes a raised and domed sapphire crystal (a primary concession to modernity) that accounts for no less than 1.5mm of the whole top of the case. As such, the caseband seems thinner than what the specification sheet signifies.

Second, along with respecting the scale, Zenith has additionally been engaged on faithfully reproducing the design of the A386. It means a spherical, bezel-less stainless-steel case with the signature sharp and sloped profile, pump-style chronograph pushers, faceted lugs, and a mixture of radial brushed and polished surfaces – all virtually an identical to the 1969 mannequin. Surprisingly, the design stays fashionable sufficient and doesn’t really feel outdated in any respect. As a substitute of calling it a classic watch, I’d have a tendency to make use of the phrase timeless. Being a barely extra elegant model of the Chronomaster El Primero, this Authentic model has a water-resistance of fifty metres, which is greater than enough for me. And the opposite concession to modernity is to be seen on the again, with a sapphire crystal to look at the newly developed motion. Once more, this feels proper to me, because the motion has rather a lot to point out.

Zenith Chronomaster Original 38mm El Primero

Probably the most distinctive design ingredient of the A386 was, certainly, its dial with the now-emblematic three-colour chronograph registers in shades of gray and blue, the trapezoid date window at 04:30 and the purple chronograph seconds hand. All these parts are again within the Zenith Chronomaster Authentic, giving this watch its true character. Sure, some will complain about the way in which the registers overlap, however right here once more, I feel this quirky design ingredient contributes to the individuality of this mannequin in addition to its attraction. The historic connection continues with the fonts and logos, in addition to the hours/minutes fingers which might be executed in white with black and lume inserts. Additionally trustworthy are the utilized, faceted and rhodium-plated hour markers with SLN and the succession of white and black tracks on the periphery of the marginally gained silvery-white dial.

Zenith Chronomaster Original 38mm El Primero

Nevertheless, sharp-eyed readers may have seen one thing of significance within the show, which supplies a sign of the evolution of the El Primero motion. Whereas being a 5Hz watch and having a super-smooth central seconds hand, the A386 nonetheless used a traditional tri-counter show with small seconds, 30-minute and 12-hour registers. The Zenith Chronomaster Authentic seems to be an identical at first, however in truth, its show is pretty totally different. To begin with, the central purple hand doesn’t rotate across the dial in 60 seconds however in 10 seconds, and it takes full benefit of the 5Hz know-how by displaying, with the observe on the white, angled flange, the 1/tenth of a second – substituting the tachymeter scale. Second, the sub-registers are totally different because you’ll discover a traditional small seconds counter (mild gray), but additionally a 60-second register (blue) and a 60-minute register (darkish gray).

Zenith Chronomaster Original 38mm El PrimeroThe 3600 motion, right here on the model with a metal bracelet

Turning the watch over you’ll uncover the fashionable calibre El Primero 3600, shared with the Chronomaster Sport. That is the place the idea of “better of each worlds” involves life. Whereas the habillage of the Chronomaster Authentic is all concerning the late Sixties, the motion is true to the idea of innovation behind Zenith. Nonetheless utilizing the identical base because the historic motion, it has been radically up to date to satisfy fashionable requirements. Taking full benefit of the 36,000 vibrations/hour regulation, it may possibly show the 1/tenth of a second exactly, however it has additionally been made extra environment friendly, as the facility reserve has been elevated to 60 hours. It retains its column wheel and horizontal coupling structure. The ornament and design of the motion are additionally extra fashionable and extra technical, with extra opened bridges embellished with a radial brushed sample, revealing a blue column wheel and open rotor with the five-pointed Zenith star.

Zenith Chronomaster Original 38mm El Primero

The Zenith Chronomaster Authentic 38mm has been offered as a group of 5 watches. The current silver/three-colour dial is obtainable both on a blue leather-based strap or a chrome steel bracelet – each with a folding clasp. There’s additionally a black-and-silver version, additionally accessible on leather-based or metal. Lastly, there’s a gold mannequin with a three-colour dial on a leather-based strap. To me, the model you see right here on this article is the one to decide on – however that’s private, after all.


With its mix of historic look and fashionable technical content material, the Zenith Chronomaster Authentic is every thing I like in a watch. Whereas I like the look of classic watches, I’m not a lot into carrying them. Having a watch that mixes practicality and ease-of-use along with a design that’s trustworthy to its roots is often my sort of watch. On that entrance, Zenith has succeeded. Mechanically, the calibre 3600 can be an incredible evolution of the El Primero, making it extra dependable, with extra consolation because of the prolonged energy reserve but additionally fascinating due to the complete use of the 5Hz frequency.

Zenith Chronomaster Original 38mm El Primero

On the wrist, this 38mm Chronomaster Authentic is a superb companion, with sufficient character to be noticeable whereas additionally being compact and discreet sufficient for use as a day by day wearer. I’d simply change the strap for one thing much more vintage-ish with out the folding clasp – I choose an ardillon buckle… For the remaining, nothing to complain about, just some love for this watch.

Availability & Value

The Zenith Chronomaster Authentic is now accessible from retailers, Zenith boutiques and the model’s on-line boutique. The current mannequin, reference 03.3200.3600/69.C902, retails for EUR 8,300, CHF 8,400 or USD 8,400. The stainless-steel bracelet requires an additional 500 (regardless of the foreign money). For extra particulars and orders, please go to