Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 38mm Review

The El-Primero is possibly the most iconic chronograph movement and a very significant one at that. Why? Read our full review to find out.

Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 38mm Review

My first impression is that the 38mm mm Zenith El Primero wears and looks like a larger watch when on the wrist. If you compare it to other famous chronographs such as a 42mm Speedmaster or the 40mm Cosmograph Daytona, you'll notice that the dial looks larger on the El Primero due to the fact that there is no bezel taking up that extra space on the dial like on the Omega and Rolex chronographs.

Since we're bringing up the Rolex Daytona, it's good to also mention that there was a time when the Cosmograph Daytona used the El Primero movement (a fun little factoid there).

Let's review details and facts about the iconic El Primero movement:

  • It takes nine months to manufacture all of the 278 components that go into the El Primero caliber.
  • 300 sets of hands are involved in its manufacturing and assembly.
  • 1st 5Hz / 36,000 VpH high-beat chronograph which beats so fast that you can barely see the balance moving
  • It is a column-wheel chronograph that has a horizontal clutch in order to accommodate other complications such as triple date and moon phase
  • It has a jumping minutes hand
  • Few in-house chronographs cost under $10k
  • It was the first, or at least one of the first automatic chronograph movements ever created. At the time that it was introduced, it was by far the best chronograph
  • The El-Primero movement was also involved in what Inc. Magazine called one of the most compelling ad campaigns in the last decade. Of course, this was the famous ad for Red Bull when daredevil, Felix Baumgartner strapped the El Primero Stratos watch to the wrist of his right hand before making history. He along with his Zenith watch jumped out of a stratospheric balloon and broke the sound barrier during a 126,720-foot free-fall from all the way up in the stratosphere. The Zenith, of course, never skipped a beat.

Click here to read the full Stratos article and watch the video of the drop.

Zenith Elm Primero Stainless Steel Bracelet

The new Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 38mm VS the original 1969 El Primero

  • Tri-toned sub-registers over a silver sun-ray dial
  • Three colored overlapping sub-dials are layered slightly differently than the original one where the middle sub-register is on the top layer on the newer models whereas the older models had the 6 o'clock position sib-dial was layered under the other two sub-dials.
  • Double-deployant / triple-folding clasp on both the leather strap and steel bracelet versions.
  • Leather strap versions have a vulcanized rubber inlay on the reverse side of the strap which protects the leather from moisture and sweat.
  • Many enjoy the look of the new multi-layered sunburst dial instead of the original matte dial
  • Classical pump pushers
  • Tachymeter
  • Caliber 400 B is the new name of the new El Primero movement, the older version was the 400
  • No longer has the telemetric scale on the dial which made the dial look quite busy
  • The logo on the dial now has the Zenith star icon above it and the words "El Primero" printed below the logo in a sans serif font whereas the original El Primero had no star icon, and the word El Primero printed in a script style font.
  • The red central chronograph has a zenith star icon and the tail end of the hand which acts as a counterweight whereas the original version didn't.

Is the El Primero worth it?

You can get one for under $10,000 and at this price point, there are few (if any) high-quality and high-beat chronographs that can compare to the El Primero. So yes, you are certainly getting bang for your bucks.

There are numerous styles of the El Primero 38mm. Then there is a larger semi-skeletonized, Open El Primero 42mm and the flashier Full Open El Primero 38mm as well as a 42mm version that is also Full Open which has a full skeleton version. All of them are gorgeous watches in my opinion but there are always those purists that prefer the look of the standard non-skeletonized version which has more of a semblance to the original. And who can blame them? The original was a looker! Most serious watch collectors will have one of these iconic watches in their collection and as a result, one less thing on their bucket list. Click the button below to browse the full collection.

Zenith El Primero Dial

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