If there were to be an accessory for fireside chats and icebreakers, the latest Zenith remix is beyond any shadow of a doubt, the best watch for the job.
Since 2019, watch enthusiasts around the world have come to discover the delightful story of how in 1976, a zealous Zenith employee became pivotal in the emergence of a rather magnificent movement and subsequently, a series of coveted timepieces.
The 1970s saw the quartz movement send mechanical watches closer to the brink of downfall. Despite the great success of a world’s first, the El Primero column wheel chronograph, Charles Vermot’s bosses wanted to get rid of all things related to mechanical watches. So he decided to hide everything that was needed to build an El Primero behind a sealed wall high up in the attic of the watch factory. He kept extensive, detailed records and managed to conceal away over 150 presses, small tools, old watches, plans and mechanisms.
Modern meets vintage
Fast forward to the 1980s when mechanical horology became cool again. Business was picking up with clients like Rolex asking about an update to their El Primero calibre in the Cosmograph Daytona, but Zenith could not afford the start up costs. News of the secret stash reached the head honchos, the treasures hidden by Vermot were unearthed, and the production line cranked back up again. The discovery was monumental as it meant less time and money were needed to retool the formidable calibre. Since then, the El Primero has been placed – in no less than 20 adaptations – into the cases of big names including Panerai, Rolex and Tag Heuer. It also meant that Zenith could now rifle through these archives to create new pieces that drew upon blueprints of the past to embody a retrospective feel to modern pieces.
Last year, the A384, A385 and A386 welcomed careful reproductions and gained success under the gavel amidst the 50th anniversary celebration of the El Primero. In fact, 70 limited edition EP chronographs sent waves through the community when they were snapped up in just 30 minutes. Word has it that a platinum version with a lovely lapis lazuli face sold for a quarter of a million.
An unexpected discovery in the attic
It seems this exceptional attic continues to surprise. So it was not unexpected to hear that yet more lost treasure was found. A year ago, folks at Zenith were looking for archival papers in the attic when they chanced upon a box carrying a timepiece in blackened steel. No one had ever seen it before and only a few knew scant details about it. There were 3 prototypes created in 1971 but since then had been written off as missing or sold away. This prototype was the last man standing; a lone testament to this tale.
The timing could not be any better. The idea of having a vintage-style acromatic ‘timewriter’ could very well stand out right now. Zenith decided that this darker-than-dark prototype, originally nicknamed Ghost, was to be plucked out of obscurity and resurrected as the Shadow.
Not afraid of the dark
The reimagination of the Shadow stays true to the masculine tonneau form of the A384 case and restrains itself from adding a date window popular to modern watches. The dark demeanour carries over to the matte black dial with charcoal grey sub dials and tachymeter on the outer ring with a pop of contrast from white lume-filled markers and hands.
Tweaks towards the contemporary
Instead of the initial hand-wound feature, Zenith opted to have the El Primero 400 from the A384 shoehorned into the Revival “Shadow”. And like the Manufacture Edition, the movement will be clearly visible through the sapphire crystal display back.
The end product is a resurrection of the A384 in an all-black suit of textured Cordura-effect rubber straps and 37mm bead-blasted titanium case for that dark military-esque feel which is also a departure from the original choice of steel. And being just a touch skinnier than the original, the latest Chronograph from Zenith oozes the right balance of stark modernity and retro charm. Most importantly, many will agree that in this case, who doesn’t love a good story to go with their timepiece?
Images courtesy of Zenith, artwork by Curatedition. All rights reserved.