Measuring short times to the nearest tenth of a second may not be your everyday requirement, but if you need to do it, you can count on your El Primero from Zenith.
Presented on January 10, 1969, it was to be the first automatic chronograph ever. The legendary movement took seven years to make. Fully integrated, the construction was built around a column wheel and a central rotor mounted on ball bearings. There would be no additional module. And it was fast. In order to be the most accurate chronograph, it had to beat at a high frequency, and 36,000 vibrations per hour made it the fastest.
The movement also had to be miniaturized and equipped with a date mechanism. In fact, its performance was such that two new calibers were developed – one for the chronograph with date and the second for the chronograph with triple date and moon phase.
Aesthetically, the El Primero models showed off a range of colours unseen at the time, with the lightest shade for the seconds and the darkest for the hours. An intermediary hue showed the minutes. The colours: light grey, anthracite and blue, are now familiar and even iconic.
Unveiled at SIHH 2016 earlier this year, these new Royal Oak Yellow Gold editions – otherwise known by reference 26574BA – will sit alongside the iterations in stainless steel and rose gold that hit the market final year.
The El Primero has received numerous distinctions. It maintains its cadence of 36,000 vph even when enriched with a minute repeater or with a mechanism like the gyroscopic “Gravity Control” module, and boasts a power reserve of over 50 hours. The evolved versions of the calibre are now housed within a complete collection.
The seconds and chronograph hands mark off tenths of a second with 10 jumps per second. The precision is matched by improved rating regularity, since the higher the number of oscillations, the smaller the variations in rate due to external factors such as gravity or impacts.
The integrated El Primero caliber represents the noblest interpretation of the chronograph with a column wheel to coordinate its functions rather than a cam. It has constantly evolved over the years, regularly enriched with additional complications, original mechanism and new materials.
Even today, it takes nine months to make one El Primero watch.
It now comes in many versions, including special editions like the recently introduced El Primero for the new Range Rover, and we wanted to share some of them with you today in our Month of the Chronograph.