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Zenith El Primero
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Zenith – Precision and High Performance Since 1865
Luxury watches from Zenith represent precision, quality, and reliability. The Zenith El Primero was the world's first automatic chronograph caliber. Its 2017 successor can measure 1/100th of a second.
Ahead of the Times
The Swiss luxury watch manufacturer Zenith is inseparable from their famous chronograph caliber, the El Primero. This movement was initially released as the 3019 PHC in 1969 and was the first automatic chronograph movement ever produced. Thanks to a balance frequency of 36,000 vph, it can measure 1/10th of a second. Updated versions of the movement can be found in watches from the current Chronomaster and Chronomaster Sport collections.
In 2017, the manufacturer presented a new addition to the Defy line powered by the state-of-the-art Zenith El Primero 21 caliber. The successor to the famous El Primero has two escapements: one for displaying the time and the other for the chronograph function. The latter beats at 360,000 vph, allowing it to measure 1/100th of a second, while the system for the time display runs at 36,000 vph.
Zenith has since unveiled several other interesting variants of the El Primero 21. The Zero G series, for instance, features a gyroscopic module that ensures the regulating organ, i.e., the balance wheel and escapement, always realigns itself to counteract the effects of gravity. Other highlights include movements with a double tourbillon or a fusee. The latter relies on a fusee and chain mechanism to evenly transmit power from the mainspring to the rest of the caliber.
Alongside the various chronographs powered by the El Primero, Zenith also offers a range of high-quality three-hand watches. The pilot watches in the Pilot series and the Elite collection are both worthy of a closer look. The latter series are elegant dress watches with classic designs, some of which feature a moon phase display or small seconds.
Reasons to Buy a Zenith Watch
- Zenith El Primero – first automatic chronograph in the world
- El Primero 21 with two escapements, measures 1/100th of a second
- Top chronographs made of gold with a double tourbillon
- Defy Zero G with Gravity Control
- Pilot's watches in the Pilot collection with a vintage look
Prices at a Glance – Zenith Watches
|Model, reference number||Price (approx.)||Material, caliber|
|Defy Double Tourbillon, 40.9000.9020/78.R582||106,500 USD||Platinum, El Primero 9020|
|Defy Zero G, 18.9000.8812/79.M9000||93,500 USD||Rose gold, El Primero 8812 S|
|Defy Fusee Tourbillon, 40.9000.4805/75.R582||77,500 USD||Platinum, El Primero 4805|
|Chronomaster Open Tourbillon, 18.2050.4035/01.C713||33,000 USD||Rose gold, El Primero 4035|
|Defy Classic Rainbow, 32.9002.670/71.R583||26,000 USD||Titanium, Elite 670 SK|
|Defy Extreme, 97.9100.9004/02.I001||15,000 USD||Titanium, El Primero 9004|
|Chronomaster Sport, 03.3100.3600/69.M3100||10,500 USD||Stainless steel, El Primero 3600|
|Elite Classic, 18.3100.670/01.C920||10,500 USD||Rose gold, Elite 670|
|Defy Midnight, 16.9200.670/01.MI001||8,400 USD||Stainless steel, Elite 670|
|Chronomaster Original, 03.3200.3600/69.C902||8,300 USD||Stainless steel, El Primero 3600|
|Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Silver, 05.2430.4069/17.I011||7,300 USD||Silver 925, El Primero 4069|
|Chronomaster Revival A384, 03.A384.400/21.C815||6,400 USD||Stainless steel, El Primero 400|
How much does a Zenith watch cost?
You can find vintage Zenith wristwatches or pocket watches in good condition starting for just a few hundred dollars on Chrono24. The former are usually simple, three-hand watches with either mechanical or quartz calibers.
Prices for chronographs powered by an El Primero movement start around 2,500 USD. At that price point, you'll mostly find pieces from the Prime series dating from the 1990s. Most feature hand-wound El Primeros. You can purchase a model with an automatic El Primero on Chrono24 for between 4,800 USD and 15,000 USD, depending on whether you opt for a vintage timepiece or one from the current Chronomaster or Chronomaster Sport lines.
The baseline watches powered by the state-of-the-art El Primero 21 cost around 12,000 USD, while timepieces from the Fusee Tourbillon, Double Tourbillon, or Zero G lines will set you back between 60,500 USD and 88,000 USD.
Three-hand models such as the Defy Classic, Pilot Type 20, or Elite Classic are significantly more affordable. Plan on spending from 4,800 USD to 6,300 USD on one of these timepieces.
Zenith Chronomaster With the El Primero
The current Chronomaster collection is comprised of four lines: Original, Revival, Open, and Sport. While the first three series are aimed at those who love retro designs, the timepieces in the Sport series are decidedly more modern.
Chronomaster Original – Particularly Authentic
The famous A386 from 1969 serves as the inspiration for the current Chronomaster Original. The 38-mm case, mushroom-shaped push-pieces without a guard, and the overall dial design are almost identical to the historic Zenith model. The ref. 03.3200.3600/69.C902 comes the closest to the original 1960s watch with its tricolor subdials and red lacquered chronograph hand. When it comes to technology, however, this watch is clearly superior to its historical muse thanks to the El Primero 3600. This movement is based on the classic El Primero 400, but has a stop-seconds mechanism and a 60-hour power reserve – an improvement of 10 hours from previous versions. The price of this watch is roughly 8,200 USD.
The Zenith Chronomaster Original is also available with a rose gold case and a number of different dial variants. Prices for gold watches start around 17,500 USD.
A stainless steel alternative for El Primero purists is the Chronomaster Revival A386 Manufacture Edition ref. 03.Z386.400/60.C843, which is powered by the El Primero 400. You can easily recognize models powered by this movement by the tachymeter scale around the dial's outer edge. These watches also boast a 30-minute counter at 3 o'clock, a 12-hour counter at 6, and a small seconds at 9. In comparison, chronographs with the caliber 3600 have 60-second and 60-minute counters at 3 and 6 o'clock, respectively. Set aside around 10,500 USD for a Chronomaster Revival A386 Manufacture Edition.
If you prefer slightly larger watches, check out the Chronomaster El Primero 42, which was in production until 2020. This 42-mm stainless steel watch is also powered by the El Primero 400 and shares a lot of visual cues with the A386. However, this model stands out because the date display has been moved from 4:30 to the 6 o'clock position. On Chrono24, you can find unworn examples of this watch starting at around 6,000 USD.
Chronomaster El Primero Open – A Glimpse of the Balance at Work
The Chronomaster El Primero Open is a variation of the El Primero 42. The two watches share virtually identical case and dial designs with one major difference: Zenith cuts out a portion of the dial between 9 and 10 o'clock on the Open models. This gives the wearer a view of the balance and escapement at work. However, it also means the small seconds are displaced.
The caliber 4061, an evolution of the 400, keeps this watch ticking. The main difference between the two movements is the newer caliber's state-of-the-art escapement. Zenith uses silicon for both the escape wheel and pallet fork. As a result, the movement does not require any lubricant.
The Chronomaster El Primero Open comes in stainless steel, 18-karat rose gold, and two-tone versions; the latter has a stainless steel case and rose gold bezel.
Rose gold models on a leather or rubber strap cost around 14,500 USD on Chrono24. Two-tone watches on a rubber or textile strap are significantly cheaper at around 8,900 USD. You can purchase a stainless steel Chronomaster El Primero Open for between 7,000 USD and 7,400 USD, depending on whether you opt for a leather, rubber, or steel band.
El Primero Tourbillon
Up until a few years ago, the Chronomaster El Primero Tourbillon was also part of the Chronomaster collection. These watches are based on the design of the Open models, but come in slightly larger at 44 mm. The dial cutout sits at 10:30 and offers a view of the flying tourbillon. The edge of the cutout also serves as a pointer date.
You can find numerous unworn examples of the Chronomaster El Primero Tourbillon on Chrono24. You have the choice between stainless steel, rose gold, or white gold. Prices range from 19,000 USD to 50,500 USD, depending on what case material you choose.
Chronomaster Revival – Remakes of Old Classics
The Zenith A384 from 1969 was the manufacturer's first watch to feature the legendary El Primero. Vintage examples of this iconic stainless steel chronograph are extremely popular with collectors and easily sell for some 15,000 USD.
The Chronomaster Revival A384 from 2019 is a substantially more affordable option. It features the same, slightly angular 37-mm tonneau case as the original. The panda dial (black subdials on a white background) is also a faithful remake of the original. Even the so-called ladder bracelet with three rows and spacious middle gaps makes a reappearance. The price for a Revival A384 on a leather strap is roughly 6,300 USD, while the watch on a ladder bracelet costs closer to 7,000 USD.
The Revival series has been steadily expanded since 2019. In 2021, for example, the Revival A385 with its beige gradient dial and the Revival 3817 were added to the lineup. The latter combines the case of the A384 with the tricolor dial of the A386. Other variants include the Revival Shadow, Revival Safari, and the Revival A384 Lupin the Third, which is limited to just 250 pieces. Each of these watches is made of titanium, but the Shadow features a blackened case. Plan to spend around 6,500 USD for a Revival Shadow or Safari. At the time of writing, the Lupin the Third was not yet available for sale on Chrono24, but the official list price is 9,900 CHF (approx. 10,400 USD).
Zenith Defy – A Classic in a Modern Guise
The Defy collection is another mainstay in the Zenith portfolio. Its roots go back to the early 20th century. At that time, Zenith produced robust pocket watches that were labeled "Défi" (French for "challenge"). In the 1960s, Zenith revived the range with timepieces like the A3642; this time using the English moniker "Defy."
The current collection includes a wide range of futuristic-looking timepieces that are equipped with modern in-house calibers and innovative technology.
Zenith El Primero 21 – A Chronograph for the 21st Century
Zenith unveiled the Defy El Primero 21 at Baselworld 2017. This watch houses an updated version of the El Primero caliber, bringing it up to speed for the 21st century. The movement is officially known as the EP 9004 and has two separate escapements. The first displays the time and beats at the usual rate of 36,000 vph, while the second runs at the impressive rate of 360,000 vph or 50 Hz. This enables the watch to measure 1/100th of a second.
Zenith currently offers the 44-mm Defy El Primero 21 in rose gold, ceramic, carbon, or titanium. Regardless of which case material you choose, you'll be hard-pressed to find a watch with a closed dial. The only part of the dial that remains is the rehaut on its outer edge. Here, you'll find a 1/100th scale and applied hour indices. The subdials also only consist of thin rings. This elaborate skeletonization affords an almost unobstructed view of the movement at work. Depending on the exact version you choose, be prepared to spend between 9,800 USD and 35,500 USD.
The Defy Extreme could be considered the older sibling of the Defy El Primero 21. This watch is also powered by the EP 9004 and it likewise features a largely skeletonized dial. What sets it apart, however, is its case, which is slightly larger at 45 mm and has a more robust design. You can easily tell the difference when you look at the crown and push-pieces, both of which are surrounded by extensive guards. The Defy Extreme comes in brushed or microblasted titanium as well as a two-tone version with rose gold bezel accents and push-pieces. Prices for this timepiece range from 14,000 USD to 18,500 USD.
Zenith Defy With Gravity Control and a Double Tourbillon
Zenith has continued to improve upon the El Primero ever since it was first introduced in 1969. One such development is the caliber EP 9020, which is based on the El Primero 21 but comes with two tourbillons instead of the usual oscillation and escapement systems. The tourbillon for the time display rotates on its own axis every 60 seconds, while the tourbillon for the chronograph function rotates every 6 seconds. You will find the caliber EP 9020 in the Defy Double Tourbillon, for example, which is available in platinum, sapphire crystal, or carbon. Depending on which model you choose, you should set aside between 87,500 USD and 189,000 USD for this watch.
Another interesting El Primero variant is the EP 4804. This movement also has a tourbillon at 6 o'clock, but that's not what makes it so special: Instead of using a traditional transmission system, Zenith outfits this movement with a fusee-and-chain transmission. This ensures that the power from the mainspring is evenly transmitted to the rest of the movement. Zenith uses this skeletonized caliber to power the watches in the Defy Fusee Tourbillon series. You can purchase a carbon version of this watch for around 61,500 USD, while a titanium model costs 77,500 USD.
The El Primero caliber EP 8812 also deserves some extra attention. It is the movement behind the so-called Gravity Control system. This is a gyroscopic regulating organ module that always aligns itself parallel to the ground. Thus, gravity always acts evenly on the balance and escapement, which stands to improve the watch's accuracy. You can view this fascinating component at work in the watches from the Defy Zero G series, thanks to the skeletonized movement. Be sure to set aside around 73,500 USD for a titanium Defy Zero G. Rose gold versions of the watch cost some 93,000 USD.
Zenith Defy Classic and Midnight – Dress Watches for Men and Women
The Defy Classic offers an extensive collection of 41-mm three-hand watches. The design is largely based on the Defy 21, i.e., a round dial with a narrow bezel, slightly angular case, and an integrated bracelet. You have the choice between brushed and microblasted titanium, carbon, or ceramic for the case material. Ceramic watches come in black, white, blue, or a black and white version.
The majority of the Defy Classic timepieces have skeletonized dials. If you prefer watches with a closed dial, however, you will also find plenty of options in this collection. In either case, the watches are powered by calibers from the Elite series. These run at 28,800 vph and offer a 50-hour power reserve. Prices for a Defy Classic range from 4,800 USD to 26,000 USD.
The Defy Midnight line is specifically aimed at women. These watches share design cues with the Defy Classic, but come in 36-mm cases and are made of stainless steel. The dials are closed and available in your choice of blue, gray, or mother-of-pearl. Diamonds serve as the hour markers, and certain models also feature gem-studded bezels. Similar to the Defy Classic, Midnight watches are powered by calibers from the Elite series. Have between 7,000 USD and 8,500 USD on hand for one of these timepieces.
Zenith Defy Revival
In early 2022, Zenith expanded their Defy collection once again with a Revival model. The concept here is similar to that of the Chronomaster Revival series: take a popular model from the watchmaker's long history and breathe new life into it with a remake that remains faithful to the original. In this case, Zenith turned to the Defy A3642 from 1969. This watch boasts an octagonal case, polygonal bezel, and the so-called ladder bracelet.
Each of these characteristics has been retained in the Defy Revival A3642 (ref. 03.A3642.670/75.M3642). The block indices, hand shape, and gray dial gradient likewise correspond to the original watch. What is new, however, is the modern caliber Elite 670, which oscillates at 28,800 vph and offers a 50-hour power reserve.
The Defy Revival A3642 has a limited run of 250 pieces and an official list price of 7,000 USD.
Defy Skyline – Three-Handed El Primero
At the start of 2022, Zenith surprised the watch world with a completely new Defy line: the Defy Skyline. The design of these watches is reminiscent of classic sports watches from the 1970s with an octagonal stainless steel case, a faceted bezel, and an integrated bracelet. The sunburst dial, which comes in blue, black, or silver, also features a delicate pattern of four-pointed stars. The time is easily legible thanks to the applied luminescent bar indices.
The most interesting thing about this timepiece, however, is hidden inside its case: the new El Primero 3620. This is a three-hand caliber, based on the EP 3600. It displays the hours and minutes at the center of the dial and has a small seconds at 9 o'clock. Due to the high balance frequency of 36,000 vph, it only requires 10 seconds for one full revolution.
Zenith's official list price for the Defy Skyline is 8,400 USD.
Zenith Pilot's Watches
While watches powered by the El Primero caliber are the most well-known models from this Swiss manufacturer, Zenith also has other popular collections in its portfolio. One of these is the Pilot collection of – you guessed it –pilot's watches. Zenith has long had close links to aviation and has been supplying pilots and aircraft with their timekeepers since the very early days of flying. The manufacturer even had the term "pilot's watch" protected in 1904, and thus they remain the only brand that is permitted to use the word "pilot" on their dials.
The retro look of the Type 20 series is reminiscent of historical models from the 1940s. The watches' most striking features include large cases, cathedral hands, Art Deco-style numerals, and oversized onion-shaped crowns that can even be operated with gloves on.
Since 2020, the collection has also included watches made of stainless steel, bronze, and 925 silver. The three-handed bronze watch bears the reference number 29.2430.679/21.C753 and can be purchased for around 5,800 in new condition. If you want a chronograph function, expect prices closer to 6,300 USD for this 45-mm pilot's watch. If you'd prefer a stainless steel timepiece, be prepared to spend around 5,400 USD for a three-hand variant, and close to 6,500 USD for a chronograph. The Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Silver is the most expensive watch is this line at around 7,000 USD.
Zenith Elite – Timeless Elegance
The Zenith Elite series was launched in 1994, a time when mechanical watches were regaining popularity. Slim, automatic movements with high power reserves tick away in these elegant watches to this day. Even back in 1994, the Elite caliber was just 3.3 mm thick and boasted a power reserve of 55 hours.
Watches in the Elite collection are characterized by classic, simple designs. Both 40.5-mm and 36-mm models are available, making them great unisex watches. Both sizes come with your choice of a date display or moon phase.
Prices for stainless steel watches range between 4,800 USD and 6,200 USD. If you'd prefer an 18-karat rose gold version, you should budget at least 10,000 USD. Models with a moon phase and diamond-set bezel cost even more at around 12,500 USD.
Watchmaking Tradition Since 1865
Zenith has over 150 years of watchmaking experience and history to look back on. Watchmaker Georges Favre-Jacot founded his company in 1865 in Le Locle, Switzerland. According to legend, Favre-Jacot named the company "Zenith" after creating a movement of extraordinary quality. The company logo, a five-pointed star, is a fitting symbol of this excellence.
In the early years, Favre-Jacot focused on the production of pocket watches. He brought all of the important players in watchmaking together in his company to achieve independence from third-party suppliers. From the very beginning, the manufacturer was producing incredibly precise timepieces, which later competed in the Neuchâtel Observatory's chronometer competition and won multiple times starting in 1903. Favre-Jacot departed from the company in 1911, leaving it in the hands of his nephew, James Favre. Zenith has belonged to the luxury goods concern LVMH since 2000.
In addition to pocket watches, Zenith also produced countless deck clocks. At the beginning of the 20th century, they introduced one of the first wristwatches with an alarm function. Around this time, easily readable pilot's watches were also being developed and used in the First World War. Chronographs have been a part of this manufacturer's repertoire for about a century. Still today, the El Primero caliber is Zenith's most famous product. It was the first automatic chronograph in the world and has been reliably and precisely keeping time since 1969.