Collectors of vintage chronographs will surely know the Zenith El Primero, and some may know that variants with blue dials were in short order. Like any rare watch, those blue El Primeros now command a rather high premium, and for some collectors represent the pinnacle of vintage Zenith chronographs. Cognizant of their rising appeal, Zenith has released the Chronomaster Revival Liberty, a blue-dialed El Primero in a vintage-accurate 37 mm tonneau case ($8,700).
The Liberty Revival is not an exact recreation of a vintage reference. However, individual aspects of the watch are directly taken from the 1969 Zenith El Primero A384. The case of the Liberty Revival is an exact copy of the case of the A384, with a tonneau shape that measures a modest and comfortable 37mm. The case also captures the funky, quasi-futuristic styles of the late 1960s.
The dial here has many deviations from the original blue-dial El Primeros, but the fact that the sub-dials do not overlap on the Liberty Revival (as they do on so many later El Primeros) is a direct reference to the A384 of 1969. The white subdials here give the Liberty a distinctly vintage layout that you won’t see on many modern El Primeros, and sometimes we hear this colorway called a “blue panda.”
The Caliber 400 El Primero movement is, of course, a modern machine, but the 400 remains faithful in being an in-house automatic mechanical chronograph that is more an evolution of—rather than a replacement for—the original 3019 PHC integrated auto-winding chronograph of 1969. The Cal. 400’s 50-hour power reserve and 5 atm of water resistance aren’t anything to write home about, though these aren’t uncommon specs for vintage-inspired chronographs (including the water-fearing Speedmaster and the Rolex Daytona with its modest 10 atm of water resistance).
Beyond the case and movement, the Chronomaster Revival Liberty begins to deviate from vintage specs. It wasn’t until the 1990s, for example, that Zenith included a sapphire caseback on the El Primero (a common nod to the massive uptick in mechanical watch fanaticism of that decade). The Liberty Revival watch also uses a sapphire box crystal on the front, which most collectors of vintage-inspired recreations accept as a great alternative to an acrylic crystal, because you get all the fun distortions and vintage vibes with greater clarity and durability.
The greatest difference, of course, is the colorway. Zenith’s blue dials were traditionally not given any vignetting effect, but on the Liberty Revival we have a rather striking fade to darker blue at the edges of the dial. The effect is fumé-esque and quite striking.
The red and white stripes of the chrono seconds hand are certainly a nod to the flag of the USA, but with only the date wheel text and the strap stitches in red, there’s just enough of a tie in to make the design hold together without clobbering us with patriotism. A fellow collector commented that he’d have preferred that the hands on the totalizing subdials at 3- and 6-o’clock matched the red and white chrono hand, as this is a common way to group the stop-watch information. However, that might have tipped the colorway a little too far toward the Stars-n-Stripes.
Anyone who has put on one of these chronographs knows how comfortable they are—they regularly trounce Speedmasters and even Daytonas for wearability on smaller and larger wrists alike. It’s refreshing to strap on a 37 mm chronograph and still feel massive wrist presence, which is accomplished here by the depth of the faded blue dial and the exceptionally bright polishing of the stainless-steel case.
Only 150 of the Liberty Revival watches available, so clearly, this model is aimed at collectors. The rarity of a modern limited edition is somewhat spurious, but given that vintage El Primeros with blue dials are indeed rare, this unprolific limited edition seems right in line with the original to which it nods.