I'll begin this review by discussing this watch within the context of the brand that produces it. Zenith, under the control of Mr. Jean-Claude Biver, has been a bit of a curiosity to me. We've seen a mish-mash of product offerings, from some absolutely bonkers limited editions in the Type 20 collections, including these at 60 mm, to this truly lovely lacquer dial El Primero Chronograph, to the very Hublot-feeling carbon striking tenth "lightweight." We saw some super impressive (though not to my taste, aesthetically) pieces like this celebrating the brand's 150th anniversary, and we saw a beefed-up El Primero with screw-down pushers that, while large for my taste, was well executed.
Finally, around this time last year, we saw the downright embarrassing parlaying of Hublot-style marketing tactics to this relatively pure brand with the introduction of a Rolling Stones limited edition El Primero. This idea was so obviously misguided I simply could not believe it was happening – it did, and the partnership with the Rolling Stones continues to this day. When I saw that watch released last summer, I really believed that the Zenith of old – austere, classic styling, in-house movements, and little gimmickry – was being pushed out the door.
But, if you've learned anything about Mr. Biver from HODINKEE, it is that he is, at the core of it, a lover of all watches, and that includes the refined. Don't believe me, watch his episode of Talking Watches below.
A Week On The Wrist With A Simple, But Really, Really Good Watch
Part of the reason that I like this Zenith so much is because it reminds me of a watch I used to own – a 1950s Zenith chronograph that I bought off of eBay for a song. It was wide – 38 mm – but thin, and simple. It just featured two registers, two rectangular pushers, long, thin lugs and no date. Essentially, that watch born in the 1950s looked a heck of a lot like the El Primero Chronograph Classic born in 2015.
Herein lies the charm of this watch – it simply has no right being the product of a giant luxury conglomerate run by Jean-Claude Biver in 2015. And yet, here it is, and it's awesome. The watch clocks in at 42 mm – okay, would I prefer it at 38 mm? Sure, but I can't fault Zenith for simply making a watch the size at which most men today look for a piece in 2015. And frankly, the Chrono Classic doesn't feel too large at all at 42 mm.
This watch has no right being born in 2015, from the likes of a Biver-run, conglomerate-owned brand. But here it is.
The watch's balance, even at 42 mm, is provided by one of the simplest, but most beautiful dials to be shown in all of 2015. This watch is a high-beat chronograph belonging to one of the most iconic chrono families in existence, the El Primero. And you know what is says on the dial? None of that. So often do we see beautiful watches ruined by full manuscripts on the dial side – here you just read "Zenith." Can't blame them for putting the company name on the dial at all. We see serious restraint here, because Zenith is one of those brands that at times decides to label watches that don't need labeling. Like, take for example these two.
Now don't get me wrong, what you see above isn't terrible at all. But what we have with the Chronograph Classic is even better – cleanliness and extreme purity in design.
This is achieved not only through the lack of Proust-like verbiage on the dial, but also simple stick markers and a truly stunning dial façade. The finish is a gorgeous bright silver sunburst that reflects light so, so well.
What's funny is that Zenith has one of the most attractive dial schemes in all of watches, all stemming from the original A386 El Primero. But on this watch, it's not missed whatsoever.