We all like the three, differently colored sub-dials on a Zenith chronograph, don’t we? It’s a distinct look for sure. And it stands for something; it clearly says “In know my chronographs.” But that connoisseur-approved look can also be very present. What if you want something a bit more understated. The distinguished Zenith El Primero 36,000vph Chronograph 42mm with its black dial could just be the chronograph for you.

I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes so I’m not going to make a ranking based on qualities, but I think the unofficial chronograph Top 3 must include the Rolex Daytona, the Omega Speedmaster, and a Zenith El Primero-powered model. But which El Primero? Is it going to be the El Primero A384, A385, or A386? Have a closer look at Jorg’s article about Zenith watches in the ’60s and take your pick. The “problem” with Zenith’s El Primero chronographs is the lack of a resonating name for a specific model. I think a lot of people think of an Airbus when they hear A384 while Daytona and Speedmaster are powerful names that are known even outside the realm of wrist-staring watch lovers. Sure, El Primero stands for something, something big even, but only when you’re a watch insider. A name like Chronomaster, which Zenith uses, hardly sets your imagination on fire.


A distinguished Zenith El Primero 36,000vph on Zeitauktion

The same can be said about the name of the distinguished Zenith El Primero 36,000vph Chronograph 42mm we spotted on Zeitauktion. To be honest, 36,000vph only sounds like a specification, not like a name that suggests break-neck speed or breathtaking adventure. But that doesn’t mean this El Primero from around 2015 is nothing special because it is. This 42×12.75mm chronograph has a steel, 100m water-resistant case that features alternating polished and brushed surfaces. The same goes for the bracelet. Because of its introverted, monochromatic design, the watch looks a lot smaller than the dimensions on paper lead you to believe. And it feels smaller too.

Le Locle-made and beating at 5Hz of course

You guessed it, inside the El Primero 36,000vph Chronograph beats a version of the illustrious El primero caliber. In this case, it’s the automatic caliber 400 B with a column wheel. And this, a 5Hz, 326 component movement has a maximum power reserve of fifty hours. The oscillating weight is skeletonized and has been finished with Geneva stripes. The open-worked rotor and the sapphire case back allow a good look at the Le Locle-made movement with circular graining on the bridges.


Triple counters on a reserved black dial

Back to the front, we see a domed sapphire crystal with anti-glare treatment on both sides. The gloss black dial features Zenith’s signature semi-integrated triple counters. The sub-dial for the small seconds at 9 o’clock blends in with the black background. The chronograph counts up to 12 hours at 6 o’clock and up to 30-minutes at 3 o’clock on sub-dials with a silver outline. The seconds are recorded via the central seconds hand and, of course, this El Primero 36,000vph Chronograph measures exact tenths of a second. The flange has a printed tachymeter scale in the same silver color you see around the two sub-dials. And let’s not forget the square aperture just below the subsidiary dial at 6 o’clock that shows the date. It shows the date against a white background. Black could have made more sense aesthetically but definitely not functionally.

A spot of red in a predominantly silver and black design

What is functional, though, is that the faceted and rhodium-plated, applied hour markers and hands are coated with Super-LumiNova SLN C1. But overall this El Primero 36,000vph (03.2040.400/21.M2040) is more about style and sophistication than outright functionality. Nevertheless, the El Primero chronograph movement is a prime example of chronograph technology, precision, and functionality. Color is scarce in this black and silver creation but the central thin seconds hand of the chronograph has a red tip. It’s subtle, but it’s a much-needed touch of color in an otherwise sober design. It also represents the sporty origins of the chronograph.

Box and papers and a price tag

The Zenith El Primero 36,000vph Chronograph 42mm is fitted on a steel bracelet with a deployant buckle. And in case you want to have the option of wearing the distinguished Zenith El Primero 36,000vph Chronograph 42mm on a leather strap or fabric NATO, the lug width is 21mm. The original list price of this 36,000vph Chronograph is €8,100. This particular watch is listed on Zeitauktion and appears to be in very good condition. It also comes with its box and papers, and costs €5,550. There are many pre-owned chronographs out there with much heavier price tags lacking the history and reputation of this six-year-old Zenith. Please find more info on Zeitauktion’s website.

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