2021 Zenith Chronomaster Original Revealed

by Samuel Kan
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Let’s rewind a little, back to 2019. Zenith was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the El Primero and presented a box of 3 watches limited to 50 sets. Included in the set was the highly sought after A386 re-edition in steel. The only way to get your hands on this piece was to buy the box set, which came with a fourth slot for a forth-coming “1/1000th of a second” chronograph, to be released at a later time.

Yes there were other A386 anniversary editions that can be had separately, but they came in precious metal. What people wanted was the steel A386. Zenith kept teasing the market with various versions of it, but not the exact iconic version that was released in 1969, as one of the first to house this ground-breaking chronograph movement. 

Then in 2020, the Manufacture edition dropped, with a prototype dial that was found in a little box up in the attic where Charles Vermot hid the tools, parts, and plans to build the El Primero back in 1975. The idea was that you could only purchase the Manufacture edition when you visit the Zenith Manufacture. Sort of like a gift shop purchase at the end of the tour. It would be extremely difficult to come by as you’d have to have made the trip to Switzerland to pick one up. 

Look, we gotta give it up to the product designers and planners. hats off to Romain Marietta, who probably has one of the best jobs in the industry. This was a superb idea. This guaranteed exclusivity and collectability. But then we all knew what happened next… So rather than waiting for the pandemic to clear (and it still hasn’t) the decision was made to have the piece available to everyone, as an E-commerce exclusive which, made it a bit easier to come by, and maybe a little less exclusive, but still quite collectable.

At the end of 2020, it was decided that the classic tri-colour subdial Chronomaster, both the 42m and 38mm would be discontinued. This was a shock to everyone, as they were best selling models, both of them. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke… It was a huge gamble and everything was riding on the success of the err… successors…

January, 2021. The launch that stopped the watch world. Chronomaster Sport took the watch world by storm. It was all everyone was talking about. Whether good or bad, Daytona references abound, it was a runaway success for Zenith, a brand which has never had a waiting list for a regular production piece before. Such was the demand that within a couple of weeks of release, (and kudos to Zenith for making them available almost on launch date) the wait list blew out to around 6 months. 

All of a sudden it seems that Zenith could do no wrong. Minor management hiccups aside (one could blame it on the knee-jerk reaction on the aftermath of the COVID), but overall it’s a big year for the brand. And today, another major bombshell hits. And it will hit hard and fast. Be prepared for another wait-listed watch. Everyone knew this was inevitable. A 38mm Chronomaster was a must and a no-brainer. It just came down to how it would look…

Presenting – The Chronomaster Original.

Reference: 03.3200.3600/69.C902

This is the one the fans have been waiting for, albeit with a twist. Well, as twists go it’s a doozy. You could call this a “resto-mod” in a way, (hat tip to Chief Brabon) as it retains the styles of the 1969 A386, down to the minute details, but under the hood is the brand new Calibre 3600; the updated and upgraded El Primero movement first seen in 2019 and the same engine as the Chronomaster Sport. 

Reference: 03.3200.3600/69.C902

I suppose fitting the “older” El Primero was never an option given it was already done as a limited edition. But for those wanting the steel A386 with the tri-colour subdial, this is as close as it gets. And it’s a regular production piece to boot! The only real noticeable difference on the dial is the 1/10th of a second indication instead of the tachymeter. And before the hate mails pile in, tell me when was the last time you used the tachymeter? 

Reference: 03.3200.3600/69.C902

Given that the movement is the same (you can read all about it HERE), let’s focus on the watch itself. It retains the original size and specs, and it is available on a calf strap or the same style bracelet as fitted to the Chronomaster Sport. However, I have been told that it is possible to order the ladder bracelet with the specific end links to suit the case. That could make all the difference…

Reference: 03.3200.3600/21.M3200

Releasing at the same time is a vintage-styled reverse panda dial, complete with “faux-lume” and believe it or not, this is actually my pick of the Chronomaster Original. Yes, it’s not as iconic as the tri-colour dial, but man this thing just works. I’m a sucker for vintage-looking watches (and who isn’t these days?). The strategy is to get the watch on the bracelet and option the straps, as that is generally the more cost-efficient way to go.

Reference: 03.3200.3600/21.M3200

So how does it wear on the wrist? Completely opposite to the Chronomaster Sport, which felt smaller on the wrist. The Chronomaster Original, even at 38mm, wears bigger as the lugs are straighter and longer. The case is also flatter, meaning it actually doesn’t suit smaller wrists as well as the bigger Chronomaster Sport. The same complaints about the bracelet are still there – the clasp is fine, but the quality isn’t quite there at this price point, and a lack of an on-the-fly adjustment may deter some. Otherwise, the bracelet is comfortable, fits well and slips under the cuff easily.

Reference: 03.3200.3600/21.M3200

There is no doubt that this is another winner from Zenith and the answer to all the negative feedback on the Sport. It is very difficult to fault (apart from the bracelet), given its distinctive Zenith styling, the perfect sizing, and an up-to-date integrated in-house chronograph movement. The queue starts here…

Reference: 03.3200.3600/69.C902

** and just on a side note – have a quick look at the secondary pricing of the just-discontinued 38mm Chronomasters on the strap, ref 03.2150.400/69.C713. They’re trading at the above recommended retail price…

Zenith Chronomaster Orignal Specification:

  • Case: 38mm
  • Case Material: Steel
  • Dial: Silver dial with three colour counters or Black matt with silver-toned counters
  • Crystal: Sapphire, domed on both sides, anti-reflective coating inside
  • Water resistance: 50 meters
  • Movement: El Primero 3600, (column-wheel chronograph, hour, minutes, hacking seconds and date)
  • Power reserve: minimum of 60 hours
  • Strap: Steel Bracelet with stainless steel double folding clasp or Calfskin strap with stainless steel triple folding clasp

Australian Retail Pricing :

Zenith Chronomaster Original on Stainless Steel bracelet : 12,900.00 AUD

Zenith Chronomaster Original on Calfskin strap : 12,200.00 AUD

Availability: Available July 2021

Enquire at local Authorised dealers :

  • Brisbane – The Hour Glass
  • Melbourne – Monards (Collins Street and Crown Casino), Gregory Jewellers and The Hour Glass
  • Sydney – The Hour Glass and Swiss Concept
  • Perth – Barbagallo Watch

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