Zenith is a storied Swiss watchmaker that produced one of the very first automatic mechanical chronographs, and aptly named it the “El Primero” which means first.
Whether the Zenith caliber 3019 PHC (El Primero), Seiko caliber 6139, or the Caliber 11 development consortium consisting of Heuer-Léonidas SA, Léon Breitling SA, Hamilton-Büren, and Dépraz & Co was the first automatic mechanical chronograph is debatable. Regardless of the exact timeline — each of the three automatic mechanical chronographs was introduced at some point in 1969.
While all of the chronographs were important to each brand, no watchmaker leaned on this development more than Zenith with their El Primero. And in the 50 plus years following there have been many references powered by one version of the El Primero or another. Being the pioneer of the automatic chronograph, Zenith even sold its El Primero chronograph movements to Rolex, which powered its famed Daytona chronograph from 1988 to 2000. Nicknamed the “Zenith Daytona” it was featured Zeniths base movement that was heavily modified, including having the oscillation rate slowed down from 5Hz to 4Hz, and renamed caliber 4030. It was the first automatic Rolex chronograph and was subsequently replaced by the caliber 4130 in 2000, which was Rolex’s first in-house chronograph, and is still in service today.
Often overshadowed by the iconic Omega Speedmaster and the Rolex Daytona — Zenith, whose pioneer status within the realm of chronographs is legendary — is perhaps finally poised to take its rivals head-on.
Building on the El Primero, once again as a cornerstone of the Le Locle-based watchmaker, today, Zenith introduces the all-new 2021 Chronomaster Sport. Delivered in a well-proportioned 41 mm diameter round stainless steel case, topped with a black polished fixed ceramic bezel, the new Chronomaster Sport is a contemporary watch, designed to hit close to what most collectors consider the sweet spot diameter: 40 mm. The Speedmaster Professional and Daytona are 42 mm and 40 mm, respectively.
Despite the undeniable connection to the Daytona, and resemblance, Zenith managed to differentiate the Chronomaster Sport enough to make it distinct in three key ways. One, the dial features the company’s signature tri-colored subdials. Two, the case profile, particularly the lugs, clearly come from Zenith. The last key differentiator is the 1/10th of a second capability of the caliber 3600 chronograph movement made possible by the 5Hz oscillation frequency. And for the Chronomaster Sport, Zenith has made this innate ability even more apparent by engraving a 1/10th of a second scale on the bezel, allowing 0.10 of a second precision to be calculated with utter ease. In conjunction with the center chronograph tenths of a second hand that circles the entire dial in 10 seconds when the stopwatch is activated — you simply stop the chrono and read the fraction of second off the bezel.
The dial configuration is set up in a way that adds further ease of use to the often confusing chronograph dials we’re used to. Instead of the main chronograph seconds being shown by a central hand, a 60-second elapsed time readout is located in the subdial at 3 o’clock, with a 60-minute counter placed at 6 o’clock, and running small seconds at 9 ‘clock.
Available in black or white, with hand-applied faceted luminous baton-shaped indices, baton-shaped luminous hour and minute hands, and an angled date window at 4:30 — the three chronograph hands are distinguished by bright red-colored lacquer tips, enhancing legibility and giving a little pop without ruining the predominatly monochromatic color scheme. Time, date, and winding can be achieved via the crown, which is polished and embossed with Zenith’s star emblem. Pump pushers control the start, stop, and reset of the chronograph. Water-resistance is 100 meters.
With Rolex having shortages on all of its steel sports watches for years now, the longest-running supply issues dating back to the release of the Rolex Daytona with ceramic bezel in 2016 — the timing of the Chronomaster Sport could not be better. In speaking with numerous collectors ahead of this launch, most so far have liked the look but also likened its aesthetics to the Rolex Daytona. With the intrinsic ties to one another and similar looks, it’s no surprise. Similarities aside, unlike with the Daytona, you’ll be able to actually buy these now, at retail.
The retail price is $10,000 for the tapered integrated bracelet with polished center links and $9,500 for a blue or black rubber strap with a Cordura effect.
(Ref. 03.3100.3600/69.M3100 – white dial/metal bracelet, 03.3100.3600/69.C822 – white dial/blue cordura strap, 03.3100.3600/21.M3100 – black dial/metal bracelet, 03.3100.3600/21.C823 – black dial/back cordura strap)