Zenith nailed it. And all they had to do was to revive a past great icon. The last time they hit a home run with the A386 revival limited edition, and now they have found their Speedmaster.
The Zenith A384 is a truly exciting piece to see homaged. And given the trend of smaller case sizes, they dispensed with the need to modernize the case and reissued the original 37 mm 1969 case. Since the revival, we have seen several limited edition iterations, with cosmetic variations of this truly iconic watch. A lesson out of the Speedmaster playbook but it works, and fortunately so, for vintage Zenith fans.
The Case and Dial
The 70’s styling is increasingly embraced today. Grand Seiko, Tudor, Rolex, Patek, Audemars Piguet, Omega are all beneficiaries of catching the homage trend. Zenith started early as well, close to a decade ago, but they succumbed to the 41 mm case sizes.
The new A384 revival is sized in the original 37 mm size and has a beautifully crafted tonneau-esque case. Contrasting polished chamfered edge outlines the case, which curves symmetrically peaking at the center. Strong bold lines and sharp break edges in case design were synonymous with 70’s watch cases. Grand Seiko re-marketed the concept with their branded ‘Grammar of Design’ – think 44GS and 62Gs. Zenith’s A384 has elements of the same design era but the revival piece shows greater quality in finishing and manufacturing. Complete with the pump pushers and a replica of the original ladder bracelet, the A384 is as close as it gets to the original.
The dial is a lovely panda, with contrasting black subdials on a white lacquer dial. Applied hour markers are filled with superluminova as with the hands. A central red seconds hand with a rectangular luminous well is the cherry on the cake.
Another benefit of the revival edition, apart from modern manufacturing and reliability, is the open caseback. The domed sapphire front with double sided anti-reflective gives the watch dial clarity and scratch resistance that the old hesalite hadn’t. A debatable benefit/aesthetic choice, but an open sapphire caseback is definitely a perk.
Possibly the best looking and performing automatic chronograph movements ever made – the El Primero is the essence of the Manufacture. Most modern entry level chronograph movements today are not even close in terms of design. Never mind the ETA and Valjoux based movements. There are but a handful of in-house chronograph movements, and the newer in-house movements only started showing up in the past few years.
Seiko & Tag Heuer share the 6S37, Rolex used the El Primero in its Daytona till year 2000. Breitling B01 and IWC 69355 only recently released their in-house chronograph movements, but with a vertical clutch configuration. Most of the movement parts are hidden behind a main plate, and the movements are thick.
The El Primero uses a horizontal clutch configuration, and shows a lot more of the complex movement. Think; Lemania that was used on Vacheron and Patek – that uses a horizontal clutch, hand-winding, for maximum movement visibility. Technical benefits and detriments to both horizontal and vertical clutch movements is a thesis on its own; but the horizontal clutch movements are proven to be both desirable and reliable.
Unlike Omega’s Speedmaster 1861 movement which uses the easier to produce cam-lever actuation mechanism, the El Primero uses a considerably more ‘premium’ column wheel mechanism. The benefits of the column wheel include more precise ‘start-stop’ actuation, and more importantly, looks and feels better.
Judging by how we are waxing lyrical about the watch, it will require little perceptiveness to tell how much we like the watch. The Zenith A384 revival is priced at US$8200. In comparison, the Omega Speedmaster Professional 006 comes in at US$6350. IWC’s Portugieser Chronograph with the new in-house movement at US$7950. Breitling has some stuff too. While there are alternatives around this price range, the El Primero stands out among its competition. At a time when time-only Grand Seikos with base manual wind movements are priced at US$8000, (shots fired at SBGW259), Zenith is quickly becoming the new value proposition brand. A historically accurate horizontal clutch chronograph, with column wheel, high beat, nicely balanced case and all round iconic design; it’s hard to beat.