A timepiece shrouded in mystery. Its existence has eluded collectors and Zenith collaborators alike for decades. As the legend goes, in 1970, not long after Zenith debuted the groundbreaking El Primero calibre, the manufacture had produced a prototype of a manual-winding chronograph, housed in a blackened steel case – a rarity for the time. Only a handful of this spectral prototype was made, but the model was never officially produced or commercialized. Many watchmakers and longtime employees of Zenith had heard of and even seen one of the rare prototypes, even though official records about this piece are extremely scarce.
Zenith Chronomaster Revival “Shadow”
Fast-forward to 2019. As Zenith began celebrating the 50th anniversary of the seminal El Primero chronograph calibre, the team at the manufacture began to go through the secret walled-off attic where Charles Vermot had once hidden all the plans and parts necessary to produce the El Primero movement. There among the countless artifacts was a box and in it, the original prototype of the black chronograph that hadn’t been seen by anyone since the early 1970’s. For the team, surely this couldn’t be a coincidence, but fate calling. It was enthusiastically agreed that the timing was perfect to complete the black chronograph project that had begun almost 50 years ago.
The Case and Dial
The Chronomaster Revival “Shadow” reimagines what could have been, rather than directly reproducing a historical Zenith timepiece. Inspired heavily by the obscure black chronograph prototype from 1970, the Shadow is housed in a 37mm case, a faithful reproduction of the very first watch fitted with the El Primero, the A384.
But instead of the traditional choice of stainless steel, Zenith has opted for microblasted Titanium, bringing out the dark grey nuances of the lightweight yet highly durable metal with a matte finish. And unlike the prototype from 1970, which feature a manual-winding chronograph movement, the Chronomaster Revival Shadow features the most prolific automatic chronograph ever made, the El Primero, visible through the display back.
In spite of its dark demeanor, the Shadow remains a highly legible chronograph, with grey counters and tachymeter scale subtly contrasting against the deep, matte black dial. The hands and applied markers are filled with white SuperLuminova that emits a bright green glow in the dark. The black rubber strap with a cordura-effect features a touch of white on the stitching, fixed to a microblasted titanium pin buckle that matches the stealthy finish of the case.
As we had mentioned, the Zenith El Primero which premiered in 1969 is the world’s first self-winding integrated column wheel chronograph. Nearly five decades have passed since its launch, and with all that time the movement has seen its fair share of tweaks and improvements. Performing at the high beat rate of 36,000 vph, the movement is well known for its reliability and time keeping accuracy. The activation of the chronograph is smooth. Higher beat movements usually consume more power, but the El Primero still manages a 50 hour power reserve, a 10-20 hour supplement relative to other column wheel chronograph movements available today.
This is probably the best Zenith watch to buy right now. It has the A384 case shape with the same dimensions as the 1969 model. Sized at 37mm the integrated lugs design wraps nicely around the wrist and has sufficient wrist presence despite the smaller dimensions. The sandblasted titanium case creates a highly attractive case complete with entirely matte pushers and crown. It alludes to a time of famous PVD treated automobile themed watches like the Monaco. A full black El Primero on the A384 case without a date is also new to Zenith. The watch represents a hybrid of innovation with stylistic cues from the past. Safe to say, this model while not limited, is very iconic, and will likely be highly collectible in the future. The watch is priced at 8400 CHF.