The Fast And The Fratelli — Final Lap: RJ’s Speedmaster Calibre 321 Vs. Andreas’s Zenith El Primero A386 Revival
Here we are, race fans — in the final race of The Fast And The Fratelli competition! The last four weeks have seen 30 other contenders come and go, all in our quest to determine the best racing chronograph watch released in the last decade. Up until a few days ago, we thought the final round might see two Speedmasters facing off against each other. But the Fratelli have spoken, and such a race wasn’t to be. Instead, today, in the very last race, two heavyweights of watch history are going head-to-head!
Interestingly, both watches are tightly connected to the year 1969. It was the year of humankind’s first moon landing, and the year the first automatic chronograph sprung on the market. This time there can be only one. It’s up to you to decide which watch shall be the overall winner!
RJ — Omega Speedmaster Calibre 321
The Fortis army was working hard yesterday during the semi-finals, but it seems that Zenith did a little Max Verstappen and had the perfect end sprint. In all honesty, I believe that the Calibre 321 I have here on my wrist would destroy the Fortis. With Andreas’s Zenith, however, I am less certain. There are a lot of things going for the Zenith. I visited the brand’s facilities in 2014 and was very impressed by this true manufacture. However, I don’t own a Zenith. I’ve looked at them more than once, but there’s always something holding me back. My favorite Zenith is still the Rainbow Flyback from the 1990s with the colorful dial. Anyway, I don’t have a Zenith, as I am just waiting for the right model to come by. And if it doesn’t, I will just buy a 1990s Rainbow Flyback at some point.
One watchmaker per watch
Andreas already put his Zenith preach in before I did mine here, so I was able to read what he has written below. There’s a slight but important mistake in his assumption. The Zenith movements are made by one watchmaker each, apparently, but for the rest of the watch, all the assembly is done on a production line. You’ll see the same with most watch manufacturers. Each complete Omega Speedmaster Calibre 321 watch is assembled by hand by one watchmaker, full stop. The “321 Atelier” is located next to the “Tourbillon Atelier” at the Omega manufacture, both physically separated from the normal production line of all of the other watches. Does this make the Omega a better watch? Perhaps not, as I do believe that industrialization will reduce (human) errors.
It does, however, add to the romance of watchmaking. Real watchmakers, with screwdrivers in hand, instead of super modern workstations where a “technician” assembles a few parts or tweaks a component. In theory, a watchmaker of the Speedmaster Calibre 321 should be able to recognize his “own” watch when it comes back for service, for example. Anyway, for me, it’s interesting to see that a company like Omega has a small department where they still make watches the old-school way.
This could also be something between the ears, but somehow, you can feel and sense this when you put the Speedmaster Calibre 321 watch on the wrist. And even if this feeling is something that I made up in my own mind, who cares? It’s the connection that someone has with his or her watch that is the most important thing.
Speedmasters and racing
I believe Michael Schumacher, who is still the F1 GOAT, was the last one to be involved with Omega when it comes to motorsports. But even if there’s no official connection between Omega and car racing anymore, the Speedmaster was specifically designed for this purpose. Although a lot has changed for the Speedmaster over the years, especially when it comes to movements and their precision and anti-magnetism, Omega reached back to the legendary caliber 321 and the design of the reference 105.003 watches for this Speedmaster Calibre 321.
And the brand did an absolutely marvelous job. If this watch withstood a crazy set of tests (shocks, temperature changes, etc.) to survive a ride to the Moon, surely it will also survive a car race. In the picture above, you will see the F1 driver Willy Mairesse who is known to wear a straight-lug Speedmaster with a 321 movement. Omega’s Speedmaster Calibre 321 has all the ingredients for being a very readable and reliable watch for racing. Andreas complains about the low ticking speed of the Speedmaster, compared to the high-beat (36,000vph) rate of the Zenith El Primero. In theory, a high-beat movement is interesting, but there’s a reason that Rolex tuned the ticking speed down when it decided to use it for the Daytona between 1988 and 2000. Reliability is key, especially in a high-performance environment.
The incredible demand for the Calibre 321
I have a lot of respect for Zenith, and I think they are definitely on the right path today. Due to a lot of wrong-doing in the past, they really had to make an effort to be where they are today. But, in the end, I feel the Speedmaster is really something else, and that goes for this Speedmaster Calibre 321 in particular. The incredibly huge demand is tough to fulfill, with only about 2,000 caliber 321s available per year. If you’re on the list, however, you will get yours for sure. It just might take a while. And let’s not forget that there is a good reason for this demand — it’s simply a stunning Speedmaster iteration, and for many enthusiasts, it’s the cherry on the cake.
Andreas — Zenith El Primero A386 Revival
The A386 Revival made it to the finals! That is an impressive feat in and of itself. But the hardest part always comes last. The Calibre 321 is currently the most popular Speedmaster. The waiting lists for this watch remind us of another brand. But regarding the Calibre 321, we learned that this shortage is caused by the fact that each 321 movement is assembled entirely by one watchmaker. For Zenith‘s watchmakers, it is normal to assemble watch movements by hand. But it’s not necessarily a single watchmaker who assembles an El Primero movement. And the El Primero isn’t any less complicated than a Caliber 321. It’s the number of watches that Omega produces which require different manufacturing methods. But what is rather extraordinary for a Speedy movement is absolutely normal for an El Primero.
Certainly, an El Primero today is produced in a different way than it was in 1969. But Zenith, in a likable way, is a slightly old-fashioned manufacture. You still see watchmakers with loupes in front of their eyes, bent over watch movements. I had the chance to visit the Zenith manufacture in Le Locle in 2015. The different buildings that are connected to one complex give you an idea of what it meant to create an integrated manufacture for the first time. Walking through that attic where Charles Vermot had hidden the tools to produce the El Primero movement conveys the feeling of directly experiencing watchmaking history. Therefore, the El Primero A386 Revival primarily represents watchmaking, while the Speedmaster Calibre 321 primarily reminds us of Ed White’s first spacewalk. Which is more important to you here?
In the gears
Omega’s 321 caliber is quite an interesting watch movement. The effort Omega exercised to analyze an old caliber 321 to correctly reproduce it is impressive. However, technically, the El Primero is superior. Both chronograph movements are controlled by a column wheel and operate via a horizontal coupling. The El Primero oscillates at 36,000 vibrations per hour, offering a power reserve of 50 hours. The caliber 321 oscillates at only 18,000 vibrations per hour, which yields a significantly reduced accuracy for time measurement. This lower frequency leads to a power reserve of merely 5 hours more than the El Primero. And the caliber 321 is a hand-wound movement while the El Primero, as you know, is automatic.
To conclude, the El Primero A386 Revival offers a greater significance in watchmaking history, with a superior movement than that of Speedmaster Calibre 321. Which design you prefer depends on your taste. But don’t forget that this competition is about the best watch to time a race.
The final decision
It’s your turn, folks! Decide the winner, and share your thoughts as to why you chose the one that you did. While this race will decide the best racing chronograph released in the last 10 years, your comments will determine who wins the Traxxas RC car!