Hands on review of the Zenith Chronomaster Original

Jul 05, 2021,21:14 PM

Zenith has been extremely (no pun intended) active for several months: some very important novelties have been revealed in a rather short period of time, such as the Chronomaster Sport, the Defy Extreme and now the Chronomaster Original. All this gives the impression that Zenith is accelerating not only the renewal of its catalogue but its profound reorganisation. When I look at the situation today, a few days after the release of the Chronomaster Original, I can't help but think that the strategic orientations of the brand are clearly apparent: the El Primero movement is at the centre of everything either through a classic style (Chronomaster) or through a more technical or daring approach (Defy). The other collections such as Pilot or Elite certainly remain present in the catalogue but their role seems much more discreet.

In any case, the release of the Chronomaster Original is excellent news for the brand's fans. It is the return of a re-edition of the 1969 A386 model in steel and through different models that join the permanent collection. I feel like saying "finally" after several attempts by Zenith to reintroduce this model via limited series with gold cases or alternative colours (the Revival model was for example inspired by prototypes and offered sub-dials in shades of blue). When I look at the Chronomaster Original with white dial that I had the chance to test for several weeks, I can only appreciate the similarities with the original model: steel case, 38mm diameter and above all the respect of the typical colours of the sub-dials, the watch ticks all the boxes from an aesthetic point of view.

However, this watch is absolutely not a clone! The difference is perceptible by observing the peripheral graduation. Indeed, the Chronomaster Original presents a 10-second scale including the 10th of second instead of the traditional tachymeter present on the 1969 model. This scale reminds us of the graduation of the black ceramic bezel of the Chronomaster Sport. There is no more doubt: the Chronomaster Original is thus driven by the El Primero 3600 calibre and not by a "classic" El Primero calibre. In fact, when the chronograph is started, two things happen:

- its central second hand makes a complete turn of the dial in 10 seconds,
- three second hands move at the same time: the central second hand, the auxiliary chronograph second hand which makes a complete revolution in sixty seconds and the permanent second hand.

It is an excellent idea to have used the El Primero 3600 movement. It renews the Chronomaster A386 without denaturing it and above all it gives it a much more contemporary touch thanks to this new generation calibre. This calibre makes sense in the context of the A386. The original A386 had a black graduation from 1 to 100 under the tachymeter scale, which in the context of the reissue echoes the peripheral 10 seconds scale. However, there is one point to note. In order to respect the original design, the Chronomaster Original has the 5th of a second graduation of the timer between the hour markers. When measuring the elapsed time of the chronograph, it is imperative to refer to the 10-second scale or to the black intermediate scale, because this graduation is not operational for the El Primero 3600 calibre which, I remind you, makes one turn of the dial in 10 seconds.

Anyway, the Chronomaster Original gives a lot of pleasure. First of all by finding this classic, traditional and so characteristic Zenith aesthetic context. Then by operating the chronograph whose behaviour shows the mastery of the manufacture not only in the high frequencies but also in the capacity to master the alternative displays. The only drawback concerning the chronograph is the somewhat hard triggering pusher, but its stop and reset operations are much smoother.

The use of the El Primero 3600 calibre for the Chronomaster Original is a brilliant idea!

The play of colours (blue, light and dark grey) of the sub-counters is charming, the succession of the graduations is done with precision and a lot of care. The watch with the white dial is luminous and aesthetically versatile. It is equally suitable for a casual look as for a more formal outfit. The date window is, of course, located at 4.30 o'clock between two sub-dials. It is not my favourite location but it is the most natural in the context of a watch with several scales. The slender shape of the lugs, the slightly glassboxed look of the glass and the sloping flange, all contribute to the perceived size of the watch. In fact, I had the permanent sensation that it was more than 38mm in diameter. This size is therefore ideal because it allows to preserve the balance of the dial, its elegance while ensuring a sufficient presence on the wrist.

The El Primero 3600 calibre is visible through the transparent back. I really like the presentation of this movement. I think it has a nice depth effect, it offers a very technical and complex rendering and the fact that it is more airy and open reinforces its perceived quality. Its finishing is correct and neat but as often with Zenith, it is more the architecture of the movement that is pleasant to observe than the decorative finishing as such. I would have liked, for example, to see a slight contrast between the winding mass and the rest of the movement. In any case, the performances of the movement are there with a power reserve of 60 hours for a frequency of 5hz and especially this capacity to make a turn of the dial in 10 seconds which considerably improves the reading precision. A high frequency calibre without an adapted display is a bit vain and this 10 second scale is very practical. However, it is important not to lose the reflex of observing the other second hand of the chronograph to determine the exact measured time.

It is important to refer to the correct scales and not to use the scale between the indexes for the chronograph function. Remember that the chronograph second hand makes one complete revolution in 10 seconds, not 60:

The Chronomaster Original comes with a triple folding clasp and nubuck leather. The whole thing is comfortable and the watch sits well on the wrist. When worn, the Chronomaster Original offers balanced proportions. Its diameter (38mm) / thickness (12,6mm) ratio is a little bit weak but it is not felt and the piece even seems rather slender. Note that a metal bracelet is also available but I did not try it. From an aesthetic point of view, I have a clear preference for the bracelet versions.

2 types of dial are proposed for the moment: the white dial (the most traditional and luminous one) and a black dial with a more sporty inverted panda look. The white dial is also available with a rose gold case. The selling prices are 8,300 euros for the steel watches with leather strap and 8,800 euros with the steel bracelet. The rose gold watch with a leather strap is priced at 18,600 euros.

The price is thus in the usual range practiced by Zenith and close to the Revival models. There is a price difference of 900 euros compared to the Chronomaster Sport. The question is to know which is the most relevant watch to take advantage of the performances of the El Prime 3600 calibre. I personally have a slight preference for the Chronomaster Original whose elegance and more traditional aesthetics suit me well. On the other hand, the Chronomaster Sport is bigger, more dynamic and its black ceramic bezel gives it a more contemporary and casual look. Its water resistance is 100 metres whereas it is only 50 metres with the Chronomaster Original. It depends on what you are looking for but it is clear that the Chronomaster Sport renews the genre more than the Chronomaster Original which, as its name indicates, remains very faithful to the 1969 watch. In any case, they are excellent watches animated by a new generation El Primero caliber, reliable, precise and performing. Let's not forget that its display makes it special in the segment of manufacture chronographs and that when the pusher is engaged, a kind of magic operates...


+ an aesthetic approach faithful to the 1969 model and adapted to all contexts

+ the performances of the El Primero 3600 calibre

+ the presentation of the movement which offers depth effects and a technical rendering


+ the reading of the measured times requires a period of adaptation

+ the winding mass lacks contrast with the rest of the movement

More posts: Defy ExtremeEl PrimeroElitePilot

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Wow... Thanks for the wonderful reviews!

 By: Watcholic_id : July 6th, 2021-02:50
Really like this Chronomaster Original. Finally, Zenith releases something that is very close to the A386 & it's not a limited edition I just wish they kept the original red chrono hands like what they did with the Revival A3817. Thanks again for the revi... 

Great review!

 By: Watches&Men : July 6th, 2021-09:26
I really love this, much more than the polarising Zentona… Zenith has done well to bring back the classic and upgraded it with a modern engine

Great review!

 By: Jp75 : July 6th, 2021-11:28
Great review which made me look at this newly released version. Thanks for the care that went into these descriptions and pictures! I now look forward to seeing in the metal, especially the fast second hand that revolves around the dial in 10 seconds. Qui... 

Thank you

 By: chikai168 : July 7th, 2021-17:35
For such a great review. This is a really convincing offer from Zenith!! BW, Chi Kai