Titanium, Aluminium, Steel, Rubber or Alligator leather
Open skeleton dial (in grey or blue)
< 100 metres
Screw-down with pushers
£10,000 - 16,000
In the year 1865, Georges Favre-Jacot established Zenith El Primo in Le Locle. The company rapidly earned a reputation as the maker of some of the most accurate watches. The first prize won in the chronometry competition of the observatory of Neuchâtel in 1903 is an early testimony of Zenith’s excellent watch artistry and craftsmanship.
Zenith has led in many more competitions and achieved great feats (it has won the record of over 2000 prizes). These accomplishments fueled the growth of the company. In 1911, it was turned into a stock company and did not start making watches including alarm and chronograph functions until after the end of World War I. Automatic chronograph movement had not been developed in the 1940s and 1950s yet, the automatic movement for three-hand watches became a trend.
In 1962, Zenith started building the idea of making the first automatic chronograph in watchmaking history to release it in 1965, on the occasion of the 100 years celebration of the company. Unfortunately, this did not happen until four years later. At a press conference in 1969, Zenith made it widely known that it would launch the first fully integrated, high-frequency, automatic chronograph movement. This movement was known as 3019 PHC before it was later renamed as “El Primero”, a Spanish which means “the first”.
The El Primero timepiece is more than just a well functioning unit, it is about being associated with an essential and celebrated heritage. Regardless of your personal preference when it comes to style, there is one thing equally available for you. Every timepiece manufactured by El Primero proudly exhibits quality and legacy. Whether you want to keep the memory of Vermot – a chronograph specialist who worked on Zenith El Primero and saved the watch – or not, you will no doubt be holding a unique story.
Zenith Defy El Primero 21
This is a modern spin on an old classic with a titanium case, a skeletonised dial, and a new movement. The Defy was initially called The Defi. It has been a part of the brand’s signature since 1865. In 1969, the “i” was replaced by a “y” and the Defy collection was birthed. The line existed until the late 1990s. But now, it is back again in a different dimension.
Zenith Defy El Primero 21 is available in three different versions; two titanium versions and one ceramicised aluminium version. The titanium version has either an open or closed dial, while the dial of the aluminium version is open-worked. The open skeleton dial is blue-coloured (it could also be silver-toned with black-toned counters). It features a chronograph power-reserve space at twelve o’clock, with the hours and minutes in the centre. The small seconds display nine o’clock; the black 60-second counter stays at six o’clock and the Defy El Primero 21’s trademark, blue 30-minute counter at three o’clock. The hands are large, baton-shaped and luminescent.
Housed in a 44mm wide case, the Zenith Defy El Primero 21 boasts a magnificent frequency of 360,000 vph (50 Hz), supporting the chronograph. At the same time, the other escapement runs at 5 Hz, supporting the regular timekeeping of the timepiece. The watch is driven by the impressive Zenith Calibre El Primero 9004 automatic movement and its case is also water-resistant up to 100m. It has a 50-hour power reserve, a domed sapphire crystal anti-reflective face and case-back and titanium bracelet.
The watch case is available either in a ceramic-coated aluminium case, a titanium case or a premium carbon-fibre case. The case type usual depicts the bracelet material also except for the top-line carbon-fibre Defy El-Primero, which comes with a rugged rubber strap.
The Defy El Primero 21 features an inner bezel; its scale increases from 1 to 100 around which a 1/100th of second-hand moves at lightning speed of one turn per second. The visual effect is exceptional, with the real sensual experience of time for the wearer. The watch boasts 293 components and 53 jewels.
This makes the timepiece even more versatile, the straps are available in three options: A black alligator strap with rubber backing and blue stitching, a black rubber strap with a fibre effect and blue stitching, and a textured blue rubber strap. The strap width is 27mm, and the maximum strap length is 19.7mm.
In terms of pricing, there isn’t much of a different between the models apart from the cases and two-tone skeleton dials. Therefore, the pricing is quite similar. With the brushed titanium (open dial) Defy El Primero 21, this usually starts around £10,100 ($12, 680 or €11,270). The titanium models starts from around £11,000 ($13,800 or €12,250) the black ceramicised model around £13,100 ($16,460 or €18,350) and the top-line carbon-fibre two-tone dial Defy El Primero 21 is available from £15,400 ($19,300 or €17,100).
Another essential timepiece in the Zenith El Primero family is the Pilot/Diver. This was manufactured between 1971 or 1972 to 1975 and production numbers are still unofficially confirmed; some sources claim only about 2,500 pieces were made, while others declare numbers as low as 1,000 pieces. This timepiece is designed and cleverly presented to the market as a sports chronograph.
Let us give you a tour of the dial. The black or grey dial (depending on the version) has subsidiary dials for the 12-hour and 30-minute log and the regular seconds. The dial is surrounded by a chapter ring with markers for the minutes, seconds and 1/5th seconds. The watch features an external tachometer scale, and finally, the date window is fixed between 4 and 5.
The Pilot/Diver 3019PHC steel case is measured 44mm in diameter and 13.9mm in thickness – no doubt a large and enormous chronograph, emphasised further by its tonneau-shaped. It features bi-directional friction notched bezel in two variations: a diver’s bezel with a 1-55 graduation and an aviator’s bezel with numerals 1 through to 12. The robust case has polished and brushed finishing.
The legendary El Primero 3019PHC movement drives the classic Zenith Pilot/Diver. It has two versions: El Primero Pilot 3019PHC (variation with date) and El Primero Diver 3019PHC (variation with triple date and moon phase). It was the first completely organised automatic chronograph and also an outstanding high frequency that beats at a rate of 36,000 vibrations. The speed of 36,000 vph grants the chronograph to measure up to a 10th of a second. Some other features: this watch comes on a so-called Lobster style bracelet with the stainless steel Zenith deployant buckle.
Zenith Pilot/Diver El Primero 3019PHC is a classic timepiece and due to its limited edition status, can fetch between £4,000 to £8,500 ($5,030 to $10,800 or €4,460 to €9,450).
Review: Zenith El Primero
Among watch enthusiasts, the Zenith El Primero is famous for being the unsung hero that inspired the machinations behind more household names. Without the El Primero, there'd be no Panerai Luminor Chrono, no Bulgari Chronograph or even Rolex Daytona.