Zenith’s Take On Technical Femininity

by Jamie Tan

The El Primero Chronomaster Original offers technical watchmaking in a feminine guise.

Conversations around icons in watchmaking are usually centred on specific models that have been elevated to become classics, and we have covered several of them in our earlier stories. What’s arguably Zenith’s most iconic creation, however, is actually a family of chronograph movements – the El Primero. Because of this, the brand has had the freedom to develop the El Primero’s eponymous watch collection in various novel ways, while staying true to the calibre’s spirit. The latest to emerge is a feminine interpretation of the El Primero Chronomaster Original, which still offers technical content in spades.

First of Its Name

Zenith unveiled the original El Primero movement in 1969. As its name declared, the El Primero (lit. “the first”) was a world’s first – specifically the first self-winding integrated chronograph calibre to beat at the high frequency of 5Hz. This established a standard that still stands today.

For perspective, consider the improvements in watchmaking standards. In the five decades since the El Primero’s introduction, movements have generally transitioned from 2.5Hz and 3Hz frequencies to today’s de rigueur rate of 4Hz. This is now widely considered to be the best balance between various factors including precision, power reserve, and reliability. In contrast, the 5Hz frequency remains uncommon. In fact, the El Primero is still the only 5Hz integrated chronograph movement that’s produced in significant numbers today.

The El Primero has maintained its exclusivity because of the technical challenges that a 5Hz frequency presents. A balance that oscillates at 5Hz requires more energy, which lowers the power reserve. An escapement beating more quickly must by extension swing with greater force, and thus demand stronger yet lighter components. The lubricants that keep these components working together need to be lighter, yet also last longer. The list goes on. In exchange for these overcoming these hurdles, however, a high-frequency chronograph offers much in return, as the El Primero Chronomaster Original demonstrates.

High Resolution Timekeeping

A movement’s frequency doesn’t just affect the parameters discussed above, but also its timekeeping resolution. A 4Hz chronograph movement’s escapement, for instance, will go through four cycles of the familiar tick-tock motion every second. In other words, its seconds hand will advance with eight little jumps in a second, which gives it a resolution of 1/8th of a second.

The El Primero’s 5Hz frequency, on the other hand, allows it to measure time down to 1/10th of a second. This is more accurate, obviously, but the bigger advantage is that this division is far more intuitive.

Reading a chronograph down such a resolution on a regular chronograph will be a challenge though, to put mildly. To that end, the El Primero Chronomaster Original has a modified layout that improves its chronograph’s legibility – to the nearest 1/10th of a second, no less. The star here is the semi-foudroyante (lit. “lighting”) hand that sweeps around the dial once every 10 seconds. This allows the markings on the flange to be further apart, so reading the elapsed time down to the fractions of a second is still a cinch.

Because of the semi-foudroyante hand, the layout of the chronograph has also been modified elsewhere. The seconds totalizer is now a sub-dial that sits at three o’clock, while the minutes totalizer has been moved to six o’clock. The small seconds counter’s position, however, is unchanged at nine o’clock. Zenith has made a brilliant move here with these tweaks, as the El Primero Chronomaster Original still looks like a “regular” chronograph at first glance. When the chronograph is actuated however, the timepiece will quickly reveal itself to be much more than just another such watch.

Technical Femininity

The El Primero Chronomaster Original’s technical slant does not preclude it from being a feminine timepiece though. Note its mother-of-pearl dial, which has diamonds serving as hour markers. Diamonds have also been set on its lugs, with a light blue calfskin strap completing the overall package to make it a women’s watch through and through. For the female connoisseur who appreciates technical watchmaking, this is a strong contender indeed.

Artwork, additional feature and stylised images by Curatedition.

Related Links:

Latest Zenith Chronomaster Original Gets the A386 Rewind

Zenith Chronomaster Sport: Decisecond and Counting

Zenith Defy Midnight: Cosmic Kismet

Playing the blues with Zenith Chronomaster Revival Manufacture Edition

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