A faithful throwback to the brand’s legendary 1969 El Primero, the world’s first automatic high-frequency chronograph, the 2021 reproduction differs from the original A385 in two small ways: a domed sapphire crystal replaces yesteryear’s acrylic glass and a display back offering a glimpse of the El Primero 400 movements supplants the closed back.
Reverse engineered by the Zenith team, which relied on original blueprints and production plans to build the model, the contemporary re-issue recreates both the 1969 edition’s look and feel. Housed in a 37 mm tonneau-shaped stainless steel case, the watch’s standout feature is its smoked brown gradient dial, which blackens toward the edges in a vignette effect and is adorned with a red chronograph central second hand and silvery-white chronograph counters. The face of the timepiece, like its proportions, mirrors the original’s perfectly.
“The decision to launch a faithful reproduction of the Chronomaster A385 was the logical step for Zenith after having released the A384 and the A386 revival pieces in the past few years (coming from the original catalog of 1969),” says Zenith CEO Julien Tornare. “The A385 is definitely one of the most historical El Primero models from 1969 and we were particularly keen to revive the gradient dial which was unique back in 1969 and visually very pleasing.”
One reason the El Primero A385 — one of three stainless steel models introduced in 1969 to be equipped with the El Primero chronograph movement, along with the aforementioned A384 and A386 — endures may be the reputation it earned in 1970 during “Operation Sky.” That’s when the watchmaker strapped the watch to the landing gear of an Air France Boeing 707 departing from Paris and proudly demonstrated the unscathed, in-perfect-working-order model that arrived in New York some six hours later.
That all of this took place on the eve of the quartz revolution that nearly demolished the Swiss industry in the 1970s makes the story all the sweeter.
The Chronomaster Revival A385 is available on a steel “ladder” bracelet, a modern take on the Gay Frères bracelets that accompanied the early El Primero watches, or a light brown calf leather strap that promises to develop a unique patina over time.
While pricing for the bracelet model has not yet been finalized, the strap version retails for $7,700 and will be available in February.