“I thought “Oh god, this looks a lot like the modern Rolex Daytona”. And when looking at it for the first time, this may be true, but as soon as you look at it in more detail and learn about the history of the Zenith El Primero chronograph, this first impression slowly starts to vanish.”
A Quick Take For The Busy Enthusiast
52 years ago, Zenith launched the El Primero caliber, the first self-winding chronograph caliber with a high frequency of 5Hz. Now the manufacturer, founded in 1865 in Le Locle, is replacing the iconic movement with a new generation and packages it in a sporty-looking case. With its launch back in January of this year, the Zenith Chronomaster stirred up the watch industry mainly for one reason. The D-word… What exactly this means and how the watch performs, will be covered in this review of the new Zenith Chronomaster Sport.
The new Chronomaster Sport is available in three different variants. One in stainless steel with a crisp white dial and a black ceramic bezel, one also in stainless steel but with a black dial and a black ceramic bezel, and the last one is made from Rose Gold but features the same black ceramic bezel. All the different variants are built exactly the same, each of them measuring 41mm in diameter, 13.6mm in height, and just around 46.2mm from log to lug, which honestly, is less than I imagined. But hey, that’s a good thing, right? Speaking of good things, the Chronomaster Sport is available either on a stainless-steel bracelet, black or blue rubber strap, or a black leather strap. All of those options look great in combination with the case, the bezel, and the dial. But if I had to choose one for the stainless-steel options, I would go for that sweet bracelet, which together with the case, makes for one harmonic piece. Complementing the sporty-looking case is the polished black ceramic bezel, which looks absolutely stunning. But the real star of the show is the dial. With its overlapping sub-dials and the iconic El-Primero color scheme that dates back to the 1960s, the dial of the new Chronomaster Sport draws from a well-established Zenith-typical design vocabulary.
As many of you know, the Zenith Chronomaster Sport is powered by a new movement: the automatic caliber 3600, which takes advantage of modern materials and manufacturing processes, and offers improved functionality, like the water-resistance of 100 meters and the increased power reserve of 60 hours. By the way, did you know that the new movement has 311 components inside of it? This is what makes manufacturing the watch that time, labor, and cost-intensive and that on the other hand explains the proud starting price of $9,500.
Just a side note, but worth mentioning would be something that the attentive observer has surely already noticed. The Chronomaster Sport has some sort of resemblance to the Rolex Daytona – exactly how close the resemblance is, and whether the proximity is problematic, I will cover in one of the following paragraphs.
Overall, I think that the Zenith Chronomaster Sport is a great watch. You get a classic design and a very nice movement for a competitive price. In my humble opinion, the Chronomaster has the potential to be one of the most iconic watches from Zenith. Not saying that is the case today, but let’s wait a few years and see again.
A Short History Lesson
Let’s turn back the time all the way to 1865. At that time, in a small swiss village with the sounding name Le Locle, a swiss guy named Georges Favre-Jacot, decided to found a watch manufacturing company. And can you guess what the name of his company was? Exactly, Zenith. Was a difficult riddle, wasn’t it? After its foundation, Zenith quickly earned the reputation of making the most precise timepieces at that time. And that didn’t change much over the span of the next few decades, as Zenith went on to win many more competitions achieving the impressive record of more than 2,300 prizes for their timepieces.
Let’s fast forward to the 10th of January 1969, when Zenith announced the first fully integrated, high-frequency, automatic chronograph movement at a press conference. Zenith gave this project the codename 3019 PHC but soon figured out that this name won’t do them any good when it comes to their marketing. So, they went on to rename the movement to “El Primero”, which means “the first” in Spanish. After that Zenith went on to produce several references, all of them utilizing the El Primero movement, ranging from the first-ever El Primero with the reference A384 to the A385 and the A385, which were the last El Primero’s that were produced before the Quartz crisis hit in the 1960s and 1970s. And the Quartz Crisis hit Zenith hard. Really hard.
Then in 1976, the management of Zenith ordered that the presses and the tools required to manufacture the movement should be sold to the highest bidder. Luckily, Charles Vermot, the Zenith watchmaker in charge of the El Primero chronograph movement, disagreed with this decision, still believing that mechanical watchmaking had a future. After his concerns were ignored by the Zenith leadership, he decided to go against the management and hid over 150 presses along with many small tools behind a wall on the top floors of one of Zenith’s buildings. Basically, hiding it in the lion’s den.
When the demand for mechanical watches started to grow again in the 1980s, Zenith had one big advantage, thanks to Charles Vermot and his hidden treasure. Without the hidden presses and tools, it would have been impossible to produce the El Primero movement again since they were part of the trade secrets. But since this wasn’t the case and the presses still existed, Zenith was able to proceed with the production of the mechanical El Primero movements and even started to supply other watch manufacturers, like Rolex, with their movements. After that, Zenith continued to make precise, high-frequency timepieces and continued to write history.
But for the sake of keeping this article as short as possible, I will skip the part of Zenith’s history where they went into contract with Rolex to equip the Daytona’s with the Zenith El Primero movement or the launch of their iconic De Luca Line. Even though these were important times, I think you got all the necessary information on the El Primero history. But if you want me to make a full article, covering Zenith’s complete history from A-Z, just comment below or shoot me an email via the contact form.
Therefore, let’s fast forward to the 21st of January, of 2021, when Zenith released the Zenith Chronomaster Sport, a modern take on the 1969 original El Primero Chronograph, made by one of the greatest manufacturers in the history of watchmaking.
With the launch of the Chronomaster Sport, came the newest member of the Zenith El Primero movements. The El Primero 3600. And even though, Zenith used it in a handful of limited editions, the new Chronomaster Sport is the first regular produced model, where this particular movement is used. You may see no real differences to the prior, nearly identical El Primero 400 movement. But this is kind of deceptive because when you look into the details, you will notice, that with the EP3600 movement, Zenith made some major technical upgrades to the caliber 400.
Above you can see a picture of the mechanism of the El Primero 400 on the left, and the one of the new 3600 on the right. The caliber 400 has a traditional construction – the 4th wheel of the movement (lower yellow gear) drives the drive wheel and the clutch wheel (the two upper yellow gears). Then, when the chronograph is activated, the clutch wheel meets the central chronograph wheel and the chronograph starts to run, with the chronograph hand rotating around the dial once a minute. In the caliber 400, the hand continues to run every tenth of a second.
On the surface, the construction of the caliber 3600 looks about the same (for me at least). But if you look closely, you can see that the chronograph’s driving wheels are not driven by the fourth wheel. Instead, they are driven by the escape wheel’s pinion (the star-shaped wheel). This allows the caliber 3600 to measure in tenths of a second.
By the way, a big thank you to the guys over at Hodinkee, who helped me better understand the mechanical aspect behind it. As you may have noticed, I’m not a watchmaker, nor an engineer.
The Case and Dial
Moving on from the classic-inspired movement to the more modern-inspired design of the case, bezel, and dial. As mentioned above, the new Zenith Chronomaster Sport is available in three different variants. One in stainless steel with a crisp white dial and a black ceramic bezel, one also in stainless steel but with a black dial and a black ceramic bezel, and the last one is made from Rose Gold and features the same black ceramic bezel as the other ones. And I’m glad they used the same bezel for every model because it’s an absolutely stunning bezel. Made from the polished black ceramic bezel, it bears a close resemblance to the ones that Rolex uses on their Daytona’s, which isn’t a bad thing at all. The Daytona is a great watch with an even greater design. But I will tackle the Daytona controversy later, let’s move on with the Dial and the Case of the Chronomaster Sport.
Speaking of the case, all the different variants have the exact same case proportions, with each one of them measuring 41mm in diameter, 13.6mm in height, and just around 46.2mm from log to lug. The lug-to-lug distance really surprised me when I first saw the specs on this watch. For a 41mm watch to only have a lug-to-lug distance of around 46mm, is quite an achievement, and I think it’s fair to say, that all the guys and girls out there have slimmer wrists, are very thankful for that.
Now that we covered the different models and the cases, let’s briefly go over the dial, which in my opinion, is the real star of the watch. The dial features the iconic colored, overlapping, sub-dials, which are placed on the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions, resembling the typical El Primero dial layout. Besides the subdials, the dial also features polished, applied hour indexes, a date window at the 4:30 position, and an overall cleaned-up dial.
The Thing With The Daytona
Let’s tackle the elephant in the room. The Daytona controversy. I will be honest here and just state what my personal opinion is. So, here we go. When saw the first pictures of the Zenith Chronomaster Sport, I thought “Oh god, this looks a lot like the modern Rolex Daytona”. And when looking at it for the first time, this may be true, but as soon as you look at it in more detail and learn about the history of the Zenith El Primero chronograph, this first impression slowly starts to vanish. And this is especially true when we look at the hands of the Chronomaster Sport, which resemble a near match to the ones of the Daytona. But then, when you look at other watches from the Chronomaster lineup, you will quickly realize that Zenith used them before. The same goes for the indexes, the case shape, the pusher configuration, and the design of the subdials, which all look somehow similar, but they are not 1:1 the same. But now you may be asking, but Nicolas, why do I still get this strong Daytona vibe? Well, in my opinion, this is thanks to the black ceramic bezel, which really looks quite similar. And that’s completely okay, I mean it’s not that Rolex has a patent on their bezel. But I think the reason for the huge controversy is due to the fact, that Chronomaster Sport and Daytona are similarly priced and appeal to the same target group. And honestly, it shouldn’t matter if someone hates on the Chronomaster just because the bezel looks almost the same, the only thing that should count is the quality of the watch and if you like it. And with utmost confidence, I can say that either the Zenith Chronomaster Sport or the Rolex Daytona are highly precise, very prestigious watches, that are certainly worth your money. And maybe something to add to that, the Chronomaster has one big advantage. You can actually buy it from an AD…
As you may know by now, I really dig the new Chronomaster Sport from Zenith. The modest-sized case in combination with the different strap options and the dial makes for quite an attractive piece. I love the sporty but still refined look, which makes it really attractive to wear with jeans and a t-shirt, as well as with a suit. It just fits.
The only thing that I would have left away, would be the date window on the 4:30 position. Maybe that’s just my opinion, but I think that watches without the date window usually just look a lot cleaner and better. Especially in this case, where the design is on point and it’s hard to find any weak spot, the date window wouldn’t be necessary.
Please check out Zenit’s website for more information.
Specifications: Price: Starting at $9,500, Case Size: 41mm, Thickness: 13.6mm, Lug-to-Lug: 46.2mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Movement: Automatic El Primero 3600 movement, Power Reserve: 60 Hours, Crystal: Sapphire