El Primero is a name that Zenith gave to its automatic chronograph presented in 1969, and it has become one of the watch-making legends. The name, which means “the first” in Spanish, was chosen to stake the Zenith claim for the first automatic chronograph; at that time, several brands were working on the concept, and Zenith also set a standard by opting for the column-wheel arrangement which subsequently became a benchmark for quality chronographs.
From then on, El Primero has been made in a sequence of new editions, and this year, the Lightweight is distinctive for its sports look. It shares some features with last year’s El Primero Lightweight, but while that had a chronograph seconds hand that made one revolution in ten seconds and so could display tenths of a second on a large scale, this year’s Lightweight has a conventional seconds hand, revolving once per minute and marking tenths of a second on a conventional scale with each second divided into fifths.
The 2014 Lightweight has a composite case with aluminium core and carbon-fibre coating that reflects the Formula 1 motor-racing look. As the principal objective was to reduce the weight of the watch, Zenith used titanium for the movement bridges, and silicon for lever and escape-wheel, lighter than conventional metal alloys and with the added advantage of anti-magnetic properties. The El Primero Calibre 400B Titanium movement runs at 5 Hertz, or 36,000 vibrations an hour, which enables it to mark tenths of seconds. Part of the movement, with 328 components, is revealed by the open-work dial. It has a 50-hour power reserve.
The three colours of the subdial, light grey, blue and anthracite, have been part of El Primero’s image from the very first 1969 model, and just as in that historic piece, the two darker colours are used for the chronograph dials, while the light grey is reserved for the small seconds, part of the regular time display. So chronograph minutes are on the 3 o’clock subdial, the 12-hour chronograph counter is at 6 o’clock, and the subdial at 9 o’clock is for the continuous seconds. New in this version is an interesting date display, made using a peripheral disc with cut-out stencil-type numerals so that the date is picked out by a red area below the disc. Hands and hour-markers are coated in SuperLuminova, The sapphire caseback reveals the Zenith-branded oscillating weight.
It’s a large watch at 45 mm diameter, but weighs just 40 grams, with a movement weighing 15.9 grams and possibly the lightest chronograph movement in the world. By comparison, the total weight of the Omega Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon is 91 grams. The strap reinforces the sports image, made in Nomex-coated black rubber. The reference number of this piece is 10.2260.400/69.R573. It is a limited edition of 250 watches, priced at about $19,000.