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New & Old: The Zenith A386 El Primero Revival, and Its OG Sibling

It’s a limited edition chronograph with some serious horsepower under the hood, and a legendary reputation to go along with it—the Zenith El Primero A386 Revival 50th Anniversary Limited Edition. Released in 2019 to mark the historic watch’s 50th birthday, the A386 Revival is exactly what you want in a reissue; it’s a painstakingly-faithful recreation with a few subtle 21st century updates. 

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Like the original, The Zenith El Primero Revival is an automatic chronograph with a 5 Hz (36,000 vibrations per hour) escapement. This high beat rate means the escapement oscillates more rapidly, subdividing each second into more precise increments, resulting in a more accurate watch. 

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The Revival was unveiled as a limited edition in white gold, pink gold, and yellow gold, limited to 50 pieces per metal with an MSRP of $19,200. We’re lucky enough to have one of the original A386 models within our doors, so we took advantage of the opportunity to showcase the duo side by side.

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The Zenith El Primero and the race for an automatic chronograph

The El Primero A386 was the result of an extraordinary challenge Zenith set for itself back in 1962 to celebrate the company’s upcoming 100th anniversary: create an unprecedented self-winding chronograph that measured to 1/10th of a second, making it the most accurate chronograph wristwatch in the world. On top of this, the chronograph would be fully integrated into the watch movement, rather than simply being mounted atop a base movement. The time-keeping function would be actuated by a column wheel, which would make it both better quality and harder to produce than cam actuated chronographs. Add to this a date window and you have a truly complicated watch, in every sense of the word.  

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The challenge proved so great, in fact, that Zenith missed its own deadline for completing the watch by four years. And Zenith wasn’t the only manufacture trying to create the first automatic chronograph, either; Seiko, as well as the Chronomatic Group (a partnership between Heuer-Léonidas, Breitling, Hamilton-Büren and Dubois-Dépraz), raced to develop a working prototype. El Primero was famously the first company to announce that they had accomplished the feat, stunning their big-name competitors. Still, by the time the watch was finally released for sale in the fall of 1969, the El Primeroor “the first”— was something of a misnomer; competitors had already beaten Zenith to the marketplace a few months prior. 

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Still the El Primero’s impressive frequency, fully integrated chronograph movement, and slim case made it stand out from the crowd. This caliber was so well engineered, in fact, that it took on a life of its own beyond the El Primero. Variations of this movement would eventually power, among many others, the Rolex Daytona.

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Celebrating 50 years in style

The Zenith El Primero A386 Revival was released last year in three 18k gold iterations: white, rose, and yellow. Each of these versions was limited to just 50 pieces, as noted above. In fact, the El Primero’s legion of die-hard fans were understandably ruffled when the anniversary edition was announced with so few pieces, but it certainly didn’t stop them from salivating over these 150 precious-metal recreations.

Aside from the change in metals, the other physical differences in the A386 Revival are subtle to say the least. Case dimensions are maintained (38mm in diameter), is the dial design/configuration. If you look closely at the images above, you can see subtle changes to the hands, as well as the tachymeter printing. Lastly, the applied indices are made of the same metal as the case—white gold for this example, and either pink or yellow gold for the others.