I’ll just come out and say it. There is no chronograph in the world that I love more than the tri-color Zenith El Primero! An irreverent statement coming from a writer at Fratello, I know. After all, it’s no secret that we love our Speedies around here. However, an absolute, exclusive enthusiasm for the Omega icon is actually not a necessity. And personally, there is just no other chronograph that speaks to me the way the tri-color El Primero does.

Known these days as the Chronomaster, everything about the watch just does it for me. From its history as the world’s first high-frequency automatic chronograph in 1969 to its unmistakable blue and gray sub-dials, the watch rings both my intellectual and emotional bells. So you can imagine my excitement when Rob asked me to cover the latest addition to the Zenith line, the Chronomaster Original E-Commerce Edition! Not only does this watch offer a host of geeky upgrades under the hood but it also subtly takes the tri-color theme up one more notch with a blue, dark gray, and light gray chronograph scale on the dial. Let’s see what this watch is all about, shall we?

Echoing a Zenith classic

The Chronomaster Original E-Commerce Edition marks one year since Zenith opened its online boutique to serve customers during the pandemic. The watch pays faithful tribute to one of the first (and undoubtedly best-remembered) El Primero pieces, the A386 from 1969. The Chronomaster Original case is nearly an exact copy of that 52-year-old design. It measures 38mm in diameter, 12.6mm thick, and 45.8mm lug-to-lug with a 19mm lug width. The case is 50m water-resistant, with a push-pull crown and pump pushers. It is equipped with a domed sapphire crystal on the front, mimicking the acrylic crystals of the past, and it features a modern sapphire exhibition case back.

The signature overlapping tri-color sub-dials are present and accounted for. Like the A386, they feature a radiant sunburst finish in blue and two contrasting shades of gray. They sit above a silver backdrop, accented by a slim red chronograph seconds hand. The hour, minute, and chronograph register hands, as well as the indices, 4:30 date window, and the cursive El Primero logo, are all spitting images of those on the A386. And like all El Primeros before it, the movement’s 36,000vph frequency provides accuracy to 1/10th of a second. But despite the copious historical similarities, the new Chronomaster Original E-Commerce Edition is, in fact, a very different watch.

Unlike the A386, the Chronomaster Original E-Commerce Edition uses the next-generation El Primero 3600 movement. The new caliber has a “triple 60” sub-dial layout, with running seconds at 9 o’clock, chronograph minutes at 6 o’clock, and chronograph seconds at 3 o’clock. As opposed to a traditional chronograph, the sweeping red chronograph hand zooms around the dial once every 10 seconds. It accurately measures 1/10 of a second thanks to a white outer scale decimal-based scale and a special tri-color 1-100 tracker.

Celebrating the tri-color motif

This blue, dark gray, and light gray scale is exclusive to the Chronomaster Original E-Commerce Edition. It’s a subtle change from the black scale on the old A386 and the modern-day Chronomaster Original, but it’s one that tri-color fanatics like me are sure to enjoy. On this model, it complements the white scale as an alternative way to read 1/10th of a second. Using the counter at 3:00, one can discern whether over 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50 seconds have elapsed. To read individual seconds and tenths on the tri-color scale, one simply imagines a decimal between the indicated digits (reading “85” as “8.5 seconds”).

The three segments of the tri-color scale are colored to match the sub-dials closest to them. Zenith also carries this theme into the strap itself. The rubber-lined strap is a gray nubuck leather that matches the darker gray sub-dial. Subtle blue and light gray horizontal stitches on either side match their respective sub-dials. The strap is fitted with a stainless steel dual-deployant buckle with twin push-button release and ceramic ball-bearing snaps for longevity.

Caliber 3600, the next-generation El Primero

The movement, however, is where even more gloriously geeky details lie. First released in a limited capacity in 2019 to mark the 50th anniversary of the El Primero movement, the 3600 made it into wide-scale production this year. As a 36,000vph high-beat, integrated, and automatic chronograph, it carries on the legacy of its El Primero forebears. A list of technical upgrades, however, truly make caliber 3600 the El Primero for the next generation.

As I mentioned earlier, the new caliber 3600 features a chronograph hand that sweeps the dial once every ten seconds. Zenith first released this complication around 2010 in the caliber 4052. It used an additional silicon 100-tooth wheel to speed up the rotation of the central chronograph hand. Unfortunately, the rest of the movement had a 40-year-old design. The additional energy required for the complication caused the 4052 to suffer massive amplitude loss when the chronograph was running. The central chronograph even stuttered when fighting gravity.

The 1/10th of a second hand on the new 3600, however, forgoes the 100-tooth wheel. Instead, it is intentionally driven from the escape wheel, directly harnessing the capabilities of the 10 beats-per-second frequency. Now, normally, running a chronograph from the escape wheel would be detrimental to amplitude and accuracy. By the time the mainspring’s energy passes through the entire gear train, the energy the escape wheel receives is not nearly enough to power a chronograph. Zenith, however, has redesigned everything in this movement from the ground up, including each individual profile of the gear teeth. This minimizes energy loss, giving the escape wheel ample power to drive the chronograph without even stuttering. A nearly frictionless, unlubricated silicon escapement also aids big time in this endeavor.

Chronomaster Original (standard version) case back

Balancing tradition and progress

Continuing its refinement of the El Primero, Zenith has blessed caliber 3600 with a 60-hour power reserve. Up from 50 hours in the older movements, this is quite impressive for an energy-sapping chronograph running at 10 beats per second. Again, this is thanks to Zenith’s efforts in redesigning the movement for ultimate efficiency. And unlike the El Primero movements of the past, the new caliber features hacking seconds for easy and accurate syncing. Though hacking wasn’t as common in 1969 as it is today, it’s awesome to see Zenith giving its bread-and-butter calibers the upgrade that many modern-day enthusiasts demand. Some things, however, don’t need fixing at all, like the chronograph’s traditional column wheel and horizontal clutch mechanisms. The column provides crisp pusher action, while the horizontal clutch provides a slim, traditional design.

Final thoughts, pricing, and availability

It’s probably painfully obvious how I feel about this watch — I love it! I’m an unabashed fan of the tri-color motif and the traditional El Primero styling, and the Chronomaster Original E-Commerce Edition hits all the right historical notes. The subtle aesthetic changes in the tri-color scale and strap are all in good fun. I feel the technical upgrades to the El Primero movement were exactly what the doctor ordered, and they will help Zenith remain a true contender in the ever-advancing modern horological landscape.

The Chronomaster Original E-Commerce Edition comes packaged in a special book-shaped box, with a tri-color theme and a 2D simplified drawing of the watch on the cover. Though the watch is not a strictly limited edition, it is sold exclusively through Zenith’s online boutiques. The Chronomaster Original E-Commerce Edition is available now for a retail price of €8,300.

At not a penny more than the standard version of the Chronomaster Original and €900 less than the Chronomaster Sport, the E-Commerce Edition could be the perfect El Primero for the enthusiast who values traditional styling, subtle exclusivity, and palpable watchmaking prowess. Find out more by visiting Zenith’s website, Zenith-watches.com.