Zenith Revived: The A386 in blue
In Zenith’s storied attic, the brand finds treasures that still inspire today, including a new Chronomaster Revival “Manufacture Edition”.
If you know about Zenith and their watches, it’s likely you also know of the famed story of Charles Vermot, a watchmaker at Zenith, closing off an attic in the Zenith manufacture in the 70’s to preserve its mechanical heritage. It’s one of the most stirring stories in the industry, highlighting the importance of traditional watchmaking for its legacy and those who depend on it.
Zenith has been sharing that story for a few years now, since it redid and opened its manufacture for visits, so you can see the very attic Vermot sealed off with all the components and machinery to make the brand’s famed El Primero movement. In doing so, Zenith found precious treasures, including a dial variation of the A386 El Primero never before seen—the tri-colour dial with three different shades of blue. In this spirit, Zenith is releasing a special edition Chronomaster Revival “Manufacture Edition” featuring this new dial, available only online or upon visiting the Zenith Manufacture.
Chronomaster Revival © Zenith
Before going into the details of this watch, it’s important to underline why the El Primero movement (and the A386, the first watch to house that movement) still matters today. In 1969, after five years in development, Zenith introduced the El Primero, the world’s first high-frequency automatic chronograph, beating at a frequency of 5 Hz and accurate to 1/10th of a second. Though other notable chronographs were introduced around the same time, Zenith’s was the most accurate and fully integrated, rather than a chronograph module added on top of an automatic movement. Vermot was one of the watchmakers who worked on the development of the El Primero and, as we now know, it’s greatest champion and eventual saviour. The El Primero remains, to this day, one of the most accurate mechanical chronograph movements—even Rolex used it in their Daytona, which proved to be Zenith’s saving grace.
Dials © Zenith
When the quartz crisis rolled around, Zenith, like many others at the time, decided to stop producing mechanical movements—all tools, machines and components were essentially labelled useless, to be sold and gotten rid of. Vermot, convinced that mechanical watchmaking would not only make a comeback but be the future of the company, spent his last few months at Zenith working late, hiding away blueprints, instruction binders on how to make these movements, tools and machines in an attic, forgotten by management who were most likely preoccupied on keeping the company afloat. In the mid-80’s, Rolex wanted to modernise its iconic Daytona with an automatic movement and looked to the El Primero, asking Zenith to produce a movement that, by then, it hadn’t produced in nearly a decade. That’s when Vermot revealed the attic, stored with Zenith’s heritage, effectively saving the company as it launched into producing El Primero movements.
Chronomaster Revival © Zenith
Along with all the components and detailed instructions on how to produce the movement, it turns out there were also dial prototypes for the original A386, the watch that was introduced in 1969. One dial featured the three counters in different shades of blue—the original A386, which has since become a hot commodity on the vintage market, featured a beige/grey/dark blue combination. Though it remains unclear, even to Zenith, if this blue variation was intended for production, it’s original purpose also doesn’t really matter—the dial is a part of Zenith’s history, and that’s enough reason to make relaunch it today.
The Chronomaster Revival “Manufacture Edition” features this white dial with blue counters in the same Revival case that Zenith created in 2019 for the 50th anniversary of the El Primero: 38mm, in stainless steel with the pump-style pushers that are an exact reproduction of the original A386 model and, of course, housing the El Primero movement. Intended as an exclusive piece, the Manufacture Edition is available for those who visit the Zenith Manufacture but, given the current situation, Zenith has also made it available on the e-commerce platform until the Manufacture reopens for visits. The platform is being rolled out gradually, starting with Italy, France and Switzerland, followed by Germany, Spain, the UK and the US. To commemorate the watch’s special place in Zenith’s history, the packaging mimics a book that can be displayed on a bookshelf and bears a blueprint of the Zenith Manufacture, and will also include a reproduction of the vintage dial and a comic book on Vermot, created by Swiss cartoonist Cosey.