Zenith’s Chronomaster Original is Back in Black

Zenith’s 2023 facelift of its fan-favourite icon ties the best of its recent releases to a rich heritage
Published: 25 September 2023

If Zenith is known for one thing, it is their legendary El Primero movement: the world’s fastest oscillating automatic chronograph movement at the time of its unveiling in 1969. Although having struggled (like many other watchmakers) during the Quartz Crisis of the ’70s to ’80s, Zenith’s popularity of late has been largely fuelled by the re-releases of its trio of 1969 El Primero-powered offerings. Comprising of the A384, A385 and A386, the lattermost timepiece is arguably the most iconic of the trio, with its tri-coloured silver, grey and blue sub-dials going on to become a hallmark of the Le Locle manufacture.

Today, the A386’s spiritual heir is the Chronomaster Original, unveiled in 2021—a watch deliberately designed to visually resemble its storied predecessor as closely as possible. Initially, the Chronomaster Original was offered in two variations: a creamy-white dial, and a two-tone, black-and-white reverse panda dial. Both (especially the "reverse panda" variant) were extremely well-received, leading Zenith to combine the best of both in the 2023 release. Culminating in an elegant union of the black dial from the reverse panda with the famed tri-coloured sub-dials of the cream-white dial variant, the timepiece marks the first time the combination has been seen on the Chronomaster Original’s brush-polished and chamfered-edge visage.

As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Apart from the dial, everything else from the 2021 Chronomaster Original is carried over to the 2023 iteration. It measures in at 38mmx13mm and retains the 4:30 date window and chronograph pump pushers—staying true to the visual cues of the 1969 A386. The only concessions to modernity are the domed sapphire crystal, and an update of the iconic, vintage “ladder” bracelet to a modern, three-link steel bracelet. The Chronomaster Original’s case is also manufactured from digital scans of the original A386’s, further strengthening the lineage between the two timepieces.

The El Primero Calibre 3600 movement at the heart of the Chronomaster Original is a contemporary take on the manufacture’s iconic El Primero base calibre.

Although visually identical, the high-beat, El Primero Calibre 3600 movement inside the historically accurate case brings the signature El Primero base calibre into the 21st century. The integration of a 1/10th of a second chronograph means the central red chronograph hand completes a rotation around the dial every 10 seconds—a configuration not present on the original A386. 

The 2023 Chronomaster Original is may largely be similar to its 2021 siblings, but its release still warrants celebration. The marriage of the watch’s heritage-inspired design cues with contemporary sophistication marks a noteworthy evolution of the A386’s lineage.

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