If you’re like me and somewhat of a watch geek you’ll know all about the history and story behind the now legendary Zenith El Primero. The year was 1969, and the race was on to make the first automatic chronograph watch.
There are many different and conflicting stories about who was first to achieve this, but overall it’s generally accepted that the El Primero was first. For more about the history of this great brand you can see our Zenith Watch History & News page.
One has to remember that at this time, watches were critical tools for science, like going to the moon with the Omega Speedmaster and motor racing with models such as the El Pimero and Rolex Daytona. Interestingly enough the El Primero movement was (and still is) so great that Rolex even used them for their own Daytona watches for many years.
During the course of this review we’ll take a look at the watch on the wrist, its technical specifications (especially the high beat rate), price, and my final thoughts on the watch from its value to who it might be suited for, as well as what occasions it is ideal for.
Zenith Watch On The Wrist Review
I was lucky enough to borrow this watch for just over a week, and during that time I wore it in a multitude of occasions.
They ranged from an anniversary dinner, to a golf tournament (note: I did not wear the watch while playing). With its rose gold case, dark brown strap and multicolored face I found it to be quite versatile.
Original 1969 – 38mm Size & Design Cues
Being a fan of vintage watches this design and 38mm case size suited my eye. With my wrist being on the larger size at just under 8″ (20.3cm) I feel that this case size is more than adequate and to be honest I personally prefer this size.
I don’t really understand the trend in HUGE watches, but if you do like larger and more substantial size timepieces, the El Primero does come in several larger sizes including both 42mm & 45mm.
Beyond the case size, I really liked the un-guarded crown and pushers giving a nice vintage feel. This is even more impressive considering that the watch still carries a 100 meter water resistance rating! This is huge for me as I like to have watches, especially in this “smart-casual” category, that I can have on and not worry about getting it wet (unlike the Omega Speedy for example at 30 meters).
It’s also worth mentioning I personally much prefer the sub-dials on this current version, as several years ago they not only “kissed” but quite starkly overlapped. Further, compared to the earlier sub-dials these are slightly beveled adding depth and character to the face.
Watch Size & Dimensions
Bravo here to Zenith, as they actually include many of these measurements on their website (unlike many brands, which I never understand).
Some of the critical numbers are:
- Case diameter: 30mm
- Case including crown: 42mm
- Lugs end to end: 46mm
- Strap width: 19mm
- Case thickness: 13.5mm (note website states 12.45mm – maybe from a different area)
On The Wrist Angles
Overall my experience on the wrist was great. It was a very comfortable wear, and the pushers were easily accessible.
Case & Exhibition Back
This case is made from a stunning rose gold, not too red being more on the yellow side which I prefer.
I especially loved the abbreviated lug ends seen above. The way the lugs “cut back” give the watch great wrist presence even for its 38mm size, but also make it super wearable. My girlfriend with a 6″ wrist wore it comfortably. Making this a watch that may be an easier sell to your better half if she can also wear it on occasion.
It’s also worth mentioning the finishing was second to none. From the beveled case edges seen above to the movement itself seen via the exhibition case back seen below.
For me having an exhibition case back adds lots of value as you get to see the actual heart of the watch you’re buying.
Not much needs to be said about this movement, aside from it being one of the best.
With its column-wheel construction, and high beat rate of 36,000 VpH it offers, in my opinion, one of the best movements on the market with respect to value for money and history in one robust package. The clear snap and click of operating the chronograph is truly something that all watch guys must try.
The high beat rate also makes the hands “sweep” smoothly, a joy to watch!
Zenith El Primero Watch Price
This particular model retails for $13,400 USD, as it’s rose gold.
If gold is not your thing the stainless steel models can be bought for retail in the $7,000 range new, and new on the “pre-owned” market for around $5,000. Further, watches can be bought with leather straps, bracelets and even rubber (as it’s for a 10 bar depth rating this rubber strap may appeal to some people).
However, the El Pimero is a “watch-family” and thus comes in many variants and limited edition. Such complications include a skeleton tourbillon for around 50,000 Swiss Francs, with some models even exceeding 100k.
A recent example of a limited edition collaboration is with Range Rover. Both brands celebrated 1969 as a significant year in their histories, and thus the watch shown below was born to celebrate these two iconic designs / brands.
Final Thoughts On The Watch
This is one hell of a watch package offering outstanding value for money.
It’s a versatile watch from a design perspective that I found okay to wear in business meetings as well as more casual settings like the golf course. This is further backed by the 1o bar rating, and one of the best watch movements and model provenance in the industry.
If you’re in the market for a chronograph and / or a smart-casual watch you can’t do much better than the El Primero 38mm in my opinion.
"The El Pimero is a legendary watch. that deserves attention from any collector, or anyone looking for a robust watch that looks and performs well in a great variety of situations."Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★