The Zenith Chronomaster Revival A385 Channels Legendary 1969 ‘El Primero’ Watch

A retro reissue of the world’s first high-frequency automatic chronograph.


Luxury Swiss watchmaker Zenith has dug deep into its archives for the brand’s latest retro-minded release, a recreation of the famed El Primero, the world’s first high-frequency automatic chronograph.

The groundbreaking timepiece was first unveiled as three distinctive stainless steel models in 1969, including the A385, a tonneau-shaped chronograph with a striking brown gradient dial, considered to be the watch industry’s first-ever “smoked” dial.


Perhaps even more notable than the El Primero’s signature features was its 1970 publicity push, when Zenith launched an “Operation Sky” p.r. stunt in which the watch was strapped to an Air France Boeing 707’s landing gear on a flight from Paris to New York to test its resistance to wild temperature fluctuations, wind force and varying air pressure. 


When the El Primero was still functioning perfectly upon landing, it was seen as proof by horological aficionados of the day that a mechanical movement was, in fact, superior to the era’s more popular quartz movements, which would surely have been damaged by the extreme temperature changes during the flight. 


Now, more than 50 years later, Zenith has brought back the El Primero A385 in the form of a new Chronomaster Revival, an unusually faithful reproduction of the original 1969 watch. Zenith designers used original blueprints and production plans to ensure that each part of the A385’s 37mm tonneau-shaped stainless steel case, including its pump-style pushers, was a painstaking recreation of the iconic 1969 model. 

Zenith allows that the only differences between the new watch and the classic timepiece are the domed sapphire crystal instead of acrylic glass and a display back instead of a solid steel case back, offering a gloriously unobstructed view of the El Primero 400 chronograph movement. 


But the new A385 boasts the same signature smoked brown gradient dial that blackens towards the edges to provide a truly unique sense of visual depth, red chronograph central second hand and silvery chronograph counters.

The retro-themed reissue is available in two options: an era-appropriate steel “ladder” bracelet—a nod to the classic Gay Frères bracelets that adorned early El Primero watches—for $8,400 and a light brown calf leather strap version for $7,900. 

The Chronomaster A385 is available now at Zenith Boutiques and online store, as well as authorized retailers around the world.