Zenith El Primero A386: An Affordable Grail

When we usually talk about grail pieces, the dollar signs can be dizzying. Here we have a case when you can get an important and truly cool piece of horological history for under 10K. Yes, you read that correctly.

So why is the Zenith El Primero A386 considered so important? It was the first commercially released automatic chronograph. Now we take auto chronos for granted but prior to 1969 they didn’t exist. Considering most watches primarily use an anchor escapement, which is over two and a half centuries old, the automatic chronograph is a relatively new invention.

In the horology world, there is a race to be first and with the automatic chronograph, this was the case. In an alliance with Breitling, Buren and Dubois-Depraz, Heuer was in competition with Zenith and Seiko. Though Seiko likely was the first to market, sales were limited to Japan. There is debate as to who won the race. It depends upon how you define the finish line. Zenith was the first to announce their achievement in public, thus the name of the watch El Primero, which means “the first” in Spanish. It’s also noteworthy that while the Heuer partnership brought to fruition an automatic chronograph it was modular, while Zenith claims the crown as producing the world’s first integrated chronograph–and with that fantastic high-beat escapement still considered one of the best today. (For the full story on the race to build the worlds first automatic chronograph, see Project 99 – The Race to Develop the World’s First Automatic Chronograph.)

The A386 is so iconic that Zenith updated the concept twice in the past year with the Striking 10 and Stratos models in order to get full benefit of that fast beat movement that measures increments in 1/10th of a second. We show you here.

Now you have the opportunity to own a Zenith El Primero, ref. A368 from 1969 with the characteristic tri-color registers still in use today. It hits the auction block on December 14th at Christie’s. At an estimate of $3,000-5,000 we’d snap this one up. See more on the lot here.

Categories Chronograph, ZenithBookmark http://blogs.christies.com/longitude/function-movement/chronograph/zenith-el-primero-a386-an-affordable-grail/