Two For Tuesday — Zenith Chronomaster Sport Vs. Chronomaster Revival A385
It’s time for Two For Tuesday where we pit two watches against each other that you just might find yourself hemming and hawing over at the local boutique. We’re moving at a fast pace here with the high-frequency Zenith Chronomaster Sport and the Chronomaster Revival A385.
It’s already been quite a January for chronograph lovers. The month kicked off with a brace of steel Speedmaster models. Not to be outdone, Zenith has also dropped not one, but two new El Primero chronographs. One is the all-new Chronomaster Sport and the other is the retro Chronomaster Revival A385. Which will you choose?
Let’s just start this discussion by saying that I really like Zenith. Within the annals of watch history, the brand is one of the few that can lay claim to bringing real innovation to our wrists. Most are likely tired of hearing about the whole “first automatic chronograph” story, but I still find it fascinating. Plus, I still think that Zenith came out with the most impressive watch in 1969.
Seiko made it to the gates with its 6139, but couldn’t get the more complex two-register 6138 ready in time. The Caliber 11 was certainly impressive, but what an incredibly tall movement with just a couple of sub-registers. Zenith, on the other hand, bested them all with a triple register, hand winding, and quick set date (!) caliber in the A386 (above). Oh, and did I mention that it operated at 36,000vph? All of the introductions were special in 1969, but that was the year Zenith really lived up to its name.
On the comeback trail
History ever since has been somewhat odd to Zenith. For certain, the brand made some highly memorable pieces in the 1970s, but I believe the decision-makers blundered by making the original A386 a limited edition watch from the beginning. This classic beauty should have been kept as a serial piece — perhaps with different dials to help keep the originals a bit more special.
Maybe such a decision would have helped them avoid extinction and resurrection, but maybe not! Despite producing the El Primero for other brands such as Ebel and Rolex in the 1980s, the brand itself was a bit of a no-show. Honestly, it wasn’t until about ten years ago that Zenith began making a major push towards relevance. With a full lineup of watches, Zenith now takes aim at the big “attainable luxury” brands. The Chronosport models on today’s docket just happen to be the latest additions.
The Zenith Chronomaster Sport
The Zenith Chronomaster Sport is a brand spanking new model for 2021 and, whew, it is not without controversy. This watch dropped less than a week ago and it has certainly garnered its fair share of attention. The Sport brings in a 41mm stainless case (good to 100 meters) with a 13mm thickness and just under 47mm length. It’s available with either a black or white dial and on a strap or bracelet. No matter what you choose, there are tell-tale signs that this is a Zenith. This means blue, light grey, and dark gray sub-registers.
It also means a date window at 4:30 just like the old A386. The highly chamfered lugs pull from both the original 1969 model and ’80s and ’90s De Luca pieces. The struggle begins, though, when we look at the bezel. Zenith brought gasoline to a bonfire by adding a highly “Dayton-ian” black ceramic bezel to this watch. Some commenters also called out a resemblance to another LVMH chronograph: the 2020 TAG Heuer Carrera. Grab those pitchforks! Things continue down a tricky path because the bracelet clasp looks almost identical to the Rolex. Tough stuff…
What a movement…
We’ll get to my thoughts on the Zenith Chronomaster Sport in a moment, but it’s important to discuss the movement. With Zenith, you have a brand where it’s incredibly important to look under the hood — or through the display back in this case. Folks, the engine room houses some serious horsepower. The 3600 caliber is not new per se, but it has never been used in a serial production watch. In a year when Co-Axial finally hit the Moonwatch, Zenith has also upped its game considerably. The 3600 keeps the machine gun-like 36,000 vph, but ups the power reserve to 60 hours. That’s not the most notable part, though.
It’s important to glance back at that polarizing bezel on the Chronomaster Sport. We’re so used to a tachymeter that most would skip right over the fact that this bezel only counts to ten. Depress that upper pusher and prepare yourself because the chronograph hand traverses the dial in ten seconds! That’s right, the bezel actually allows for 1/10 of a second measurements. This, watch geeks, is the power of a high-frequency movement and I like that Zenith made it usable (ok, by the time you actually stop the chronograph, you’ve burned some tenths) and understandable. The El Primero is and has always been a difference-maker versus its competition.
Addressing the elephant in the room
The fact that the Zenith Chronomaster Sport possesses an amazing movement makes it all the more frustrating that this isn’t an overly fresh looking watch. Maybe we watch fans expect too much. Perhaps asking for a revolution when there’s only so much one can do with a three register chronograph is unfair. All that being said, I don’t dislike this watch and it is attractive in the metal.
The traditional sub-register colors make a splash and if we put away the crankiness, they make the watch a Zenith. Plus, Zenith doesn’t lack for high end finishing prowess, so it punches well within its weight class. In the end, prospective buyers will have to decide whether this watch is distinctive enough to grab their attention and their wallets. On that front, this is a pricey introduction at €9,700 on a bracelet and €9,200 on a strap, but as many are saying, it will be findable. However, if this move forward isn’t creative enough for you, you can always look to the past…
The Zenith Chronomaster Revival A385
With all the Speedmaster news, much of the watch world missed the announcement of the Zenith Chronomaster Revival A385. I’d call that a crying shame because this is one beautiful piece. If we head back to 2019, Zenith celebrated the 50th anniversary of its El Primero movement with the release of several A386 limited edition watches. Since that time, the brand added some more pieces with that case design. In 2019, we also saw the A384 revival, a funkier styled case, but with a traditional reverse panda dial. The new Revival A385 uses the same case from the A384 as it did in 1969 but adds a faithful brown and beige gradient dial.
Zenith claims that the original A385 had the first-ever gradient dial and it looks great here more than 50 years later with its faux patina lume. The Chronomaster Revival A385 watch has a 37mm stainless steel case and sapphire crystal that adds up to 50 meters of water resistance. Dimensionally, it’s roughly 12.6mm thick and 47mm lug-to-lug, so wearing this beauty is easy. Zenith offers a ladder style bracelet reminiscent of the original Gay Frères model or light brown leather strap.
Funky and fresh
The Chronomaster Revival A385 is a funky retro piece. The stark white sub-registers contrast with the gradient dial and are certainly different from the multi-colored affairs on the Sport. Despite this unique look, the watch retains classical Zenith hallmarks like the 4:30 date and red central chronograph hand. Nods to modernity come in the form of the sapphire crystal and the display back. Here, the caliber 400 can be seen as it cracks away at 36,000vph. This movement is a direct descendant of the original 3019 PHC El Primero and that makes it pretty special. For good measure, Zenith has tweaked it over the past five decades to aid manufacturing and reliability.
I’m a huge fan of these retro Zenith Chronomaster Revival models and, therefore, the A385 appeals to me. It’s a regular production model and I think it adds some real charm to the lineup. At €8,300 on a bracelet or €7,800, it also undercuts the modern Chronomaster Sport by nearly 20%. Of course, one watch has the absolute latest in Zenith technology whereas the other is a deliberate look to the past.
Looking forward or looking back with a Chronomaster
Creating retro watches is not a unique habit for most brands these days. Breitling and Omega, for example, have been at it for a while. Zenith, on the other hand, is relatively new at the reissue game and that makes it a bit more challenging to choose between the old and the new. With the Chronomaster Sport, Zenith has paired this release with a new movement, while the Revival aptly sticks with the old El Primero. Therefore, opting for either the Chronomaster Sport or the Chronomaster Revival A385 is truly a choice between new tech and looks or purely retro. So here’s the question — when it comes to Zenith, are you ready to embrace the future or are you not ready to let go of the past?