The Zenith Chronomaster Revival El Primero A3817 — The Obvious Next In Line
Quite often, the fusion of two designs leads to controversial results. Can you really combine two unique design ideas successfully? When Zenith introduced the El Primero A3817 in 1971, watch fans must have raised an eyebrow or two when seeing the amalgamation of the iconic A384 and A386. Then again, the 1970s were an age of experimentation, so fusion design was definitely a part of that era. Five decades after the initial release, Zenith has released the modern version with the Chronomaster Revival El Primero A3817. Does my purist heart accept this pairing of iconic styles?
Zenith has been releasing watches at a rapid rate over the last roughly two years. With a mixture of limited releases and full new product lines, the Le Locle brand has stepped into the spotlight quite a few times. The new Chronomaster Sport collection definitely had people talking. Additionally, the new Defy Extreme line introduced during Watches & Wonders takes the Defy line a step further. The design is modern and bold, and the watches technically spectacular with its 1/100 chronograph. For most watch enthusiasts, the heart of the brand is, however, in the Revival collection. Especially the re-issues of some of the brand’s biggest classics make the hearts of Zenith fans beat faster.
Zenith Revival collection
I am certainly no different. I loved seeing the re-issues of the trio of models that sparked the El Primero legend in 1969. However, Zenith did not release a steel version of the initial A386 with the original dial outside of the El Primero 50th Anniversary box set. And that will most likely not happen anywhere soon because of the limited edition box set. Up until now, the closest thing is one of the gold A386 Revival models introduced at Baselworld 2019. Or the other option would be the A386 Manufacture Edition released last year with a slightly different prototype dial.
It has been great, though, to see both the El Primero A384 and A385 return in their full glory. Tomas recently wrote an in-depth review about the El Primero A385, where his closing statement was: I need one. If ever you needed a clear opinion in a review, this would be it. I agree with Tomas that the A385 is a stellar release but my heart has always been with the A384. The tonneau case shape with the Gay Frères ladder bracelet combined with that iconic panda dial is pure design gold. Add the brilliant El Primero movement, and it’s no surprise that an A384 is high on my list of future must-haves. But with prices for a vintage piece currently between 15K-20K, the Revival El Primero A384 that came out in 2019 seems like a much more tempting offer.
The 1970s Zenith El Primero A3817
But Zenith did not just stick to the original executions of the A384. In the early seventies, the brand introduced both the iconic A3818 “Cover Girl” and the A3817. With the first Zenith introduced a fully blue dial for the A384. With the second, the brand introduced the iconic colorful A386 dial for the A384. Both are believed to be produced in a limited production run of only 1000 pieces each. Both their looks and their rarity have made both pieces heavily sought-after by collectors.
Zenith and Revolution Magazine released a brilliant re-issue of the A3818 “Cover Girl” in early 2020. The original watch got its nickname from being on the cover of Manfred Rössler’s famous book “Zenith. Swiss Manufacture Since 1865”. With the original trio of El Primero models and the A3818 being re-issued, the A3817 is the obvious next in line. Once again, Zenith has honored the original watch by sticking to the original watch as much as possible. The result is a watch that is very close to the 1971 original. I can already give away that it’s incredibly well done.
The Revival El Primero A3817
Looking at the A3817, the first thing that stands out for me is its brilliant case. In an article about my favorite case designs, I explained why I love the design of the A384 case so much. It is an iconic case in all its simplicity and serves as a perfect canvas for the dial to shine. The proof of that cannot only be found in the A384 or this A3817. Zenith has recently released a series of Revival models that show that the case works well with modern executions. One of those examples is the Revival El Primero A384 Shadow that was released last year. It shows that the case also works well with a dark aesthetic. And just last week, Robert-Jan reviewed the Revival A384 Safari edition that shows that a modern green aesthetic also works well with the case.
The case is a modest 37mm in diameter, 12.6mm in height, and 47mm lug-to-lug. I say modest because it is smaller than most watches out there nowadays. But it does fit very well on a variety of wrist sizes, I must add. Another detail I love about the case is the finishing. The face features radially brushed surfaces contrasted by polished facets and sides. I love that the radially applied finish combines with the angular case as it creates a nice contrast, and once again, it magnifies the impact of the dial design.
The iconic dial design
Speaking of the dial, it seems to be identical to the dial used for the original A386. But it’s not actually. The majority of elements are the same, but some details are different. The basis is identical with the white dial, with the registers in blue and grey tones. But where the dial differs from the A386 dial is that the running seconds counter at 9 o’clock features blue markers and a blue hand. Additionally, the seconds track on the dial is different with its “shark tooth” scale. It adds a quirky detail to the dial. Lastly, the outer tachymeter scale also serves as a pulsometer from 12 o’clock to 3 o’clock — and serving as a normal tachymeter scale for the remainder of the track.
Another detail I like a lot is the rhodium-plated and faceted hands, coated with beige Super-LumiNova. What I love about it is that not for a second did I have the feeling that it tries to be vintage. The color fits the design perfectly and adds character to the dial. Speaking of a bit of color, the red central chronograph hand does give the watch this nice little sparkle that contrasts well with the white dial and its colorful registers. Overall the dial design still feels modern and fresh, and that’s pretty impressive from a watch that was first released over five decades ago.
Zenith El Primero Caliber 400
Inside the stainless steel case, Zenith has equipped the watch with the automatic El Primero Calibre 400. It’s a movement that the brand has also used for the previous Revival releases. The movement is visible through the sapphire display case back and operates at 36,000vph, and has a power reserve of 50 hours. The movement is still very much like the original El Primero chronograph movement from 1969 with a column wheel and a horizontal clutch.
Seeing the movement in action through the display case back is an absolute joy. Out of all the automatic chronograph movements introduced in 1969, the El Primero has always been the one that impressed me much. Seeing a direct descendant of that movement in action is a true joy. The sapphire case back is the biggest step away from the original A3817, which featured a stainless steel case back. But it’s a detail that I definitely enjoy.
Wearing the Revival El Primero A3817
When buying the El Primero A3817, you have the choice of a calfskin brown leather strap or the iconic Gay Frères ladder bracelet. On the leather strap, the watch is €7,800, and on the ladder bracelet, the watch is €8,300. The question of which one to go for is a no-brainer for me. The ladder bracelet adds so much more style; it’s an easy choice. So when we received the A3817 for review, I was happy to try out the watch on this iconic bracelet. During the time I was able to wear the watch I started loving the bracelet more and more.
If there is one thing that I had my reservations about, it was the double-folding clasp. It feels a bit flimsy, in all honesty. And while there is definitely nothing wrong with ’70s charm — and the watch has that in abundance — the build quality is the one thing that could do without that charm. Especially considering its price, you would expect a bit more from the quality of the clasp. When wearing the watch, you don’t notice it, so whenever I had the watch on my wrist, I mostly forgot about it until I took the watch off.
The dial is the charm
The moment I put the watch on my wrist, one big concern was immediately taken away. Despite its modest case size, the watch does not feel small at all. Where the Revival Shadow and Safari tend to feel smaller because of their mat cases and thus subdued presence, the A3817 fits perfectly on my wrist. Secondly, the combination of the case and the ladder bracelet makes for a very comfortable watch. I was able to try out the watch for 3–4 days, and it wears brilliantly. It has the perfect balance between comfort and wrist presence.
And that wrist presence becomes even more impressive with this particular dial. The color combination of white and black with the blue and grey registers works very nicely. It’s a color combination that feels balanced and lively at the same time. My eyes kept going towards the blue register as I seem to love that shade of blue Zenith used. Using the chronograph is a joy. The pushers are easy to use, and they activate the red chronograph hand that flows nicely across the dial. I usually use the chronograph mostly at the beginning of wearing it; with the A3817, I found new inspiration to time things or simply activate the chronograph to see the hands move on the dial.
There is no other way to say this: I love the Zenith Chronomaster Revival El Primero A3817. The watch combines great 1970s style with an iconic movement and a great deal of comfort. The combination of the characteristic case of the A384 and the iconic dial of the A386 works perfectly. On top of that, the El Primero movement is watch industry royalty and a joy to experience. As you would have guessed, if there is one point of critique, it would be the folding clasp. Would it stop me from buying it? Absolutely not. But it does take my love for ’70s charm to step over it.
The main question I was curious to find out is whether the watch would be better than the A384? And after wearing the watch for a couple of days, I must admit that it has a lot of charm, so much that it makes a choice between the two incredibly hard. Because if there is one thing I know, I will have to make that choice in the future. Whether it will be the A384 or this A3817, the outcome is the same: I need one!
For more information about the Revival collection, please visit the official Zenith website.