Zenith El Primero | G381 | yellow gold
Technically advanced, high-beat chronograph timepieces are today very much in demand. The Zenith El Primero ‘G381’, has few rivals in that regard; both in style and rarity. According to Manfred Rössler, in his important work on the history of the brand, only 700 examples of this 18k gold G381 were made between 1969 and 1972. And - carrying the Calibre 3019 PHC - this piece belongs to the prestigious line of the first-ever automatic chronographs.
There has been a continuing and passionate debate about which manufacturer developed world’s first self-winding chronograph, amongst the consortium of Heuer, Buren-Hamilton, Breitling, Dubois-Depraz and Seiko. Much of the argument has subsided in recent years, thanks to almost a decade’s tireless documentation by the original sports-chronograph collectors, such as Jeff Stein, founder of On The Dash, and author of Project 99 - The Race to Develop the World's First Automatic Chronograph.
According to the latter, Zenith was the first to announce the innovation. Having begun research and development as early as 1962, it debuted a working prototype at a pre-emptive press conference in Switzerland in early 1969. Rivals entered global production in August of 1969, while Zenith made the 3019 PHC publicly available in October the same year. Zenith proudly claims the “El Primero” to be the first-ever automatic chronograph, emphasizing its full integration and completeness - with a column-wheel and central rotor on ball bearings - as opposed to a being a modular addition. The name “El Primero” by no coincidence translates to “the first”.
The debate that may never truly be extinguished, but the “El Primero” movement will forever keep its claim as a first. It certainly had a huge impact on horological development. Other than being the first fully-integrated automatic chronograph, the movement was also a pioneer of high-frequency. Beating at a rate of 36,000 A/h, vs. at 19,800 A/h of its ‘Calibre 11’ competitors, the 5hz beat rate allows measurement up to 1/10th of a second, in comparison to up to just one-fifth of a second (at a rate of 2.5hz) of its contemporaries.
In 1985, Zenith resurrected the “El Primero” line, reissuing the calibre 3019PHC (as the calibre 40.0), and it is still in production today under the designation “calibre 400”. One of the most widely respected Rolex Daytona references, the 16500, used the base calibre 400 in its re-designed flagship sports watch in 1988.
This stunning example of the Zenith El Primero Ref. G381 is from 1969/70 (With serial number 200 XXXX). Whilst the aesthetics are undeniably attractive, it is the condition that stands out. Vintage sports watches typically have tell-tale signs of being over-worn. However this rare G381 has been remarkably well preserved. The round, yellow gold case measures 38 mm in diameter (48 mm from lug to lug) and has large chronograph pushers and the original, signed, fluted crown, each retaining their definition. Both the case and the straight-line lugs are sharp and thick, and the bezel beautifully grained with sunburst patterning. The unique reference number is visible on the screw-down case-back.
Similarly to the case, the silver dial with black sub-registers is in excellent condition, has applied, faceted gold index markers for the hours. The tritium lume on the matchstick handset and index hour markers have aged to a creamy yellow patina. Further to this, the watch also features a red paddle chronograph hand, displayed on many Zenith El Primero examples of the era, whilst the dial is surrounded by a silver tachymeter scale.
The watch carries the above-mentioned self-winding 3019 PHC calibre, considered by many as one of the most famous column-wheel operated chronographs of all time. The movement features 31 jewels and a bi-directional central rotor, beating at 36,000 A/h, with a power reserve of 50-hours.
Together with a grey suede strap and matching, vintage gold Zenith buckle, this piece makes and excellent dress and sports watch.
Viewings can be arranged in Central London by appointment.
|Model:||El Primero Ref. G381|
|Movement:||Mechanical Automatic Cal. 3019 PHC|
|Functions:||Date, Chronograph, Hours, Minutes, Sub-Seconds|
|Features:||Unrestored Dial with Tachymeter Scale|
|Case:||38 mm 18-carat Yellow Gold|
|Bracelet:||Grey Suede Strap with gold Zenith Tang Buckle|
|Box & papers:||N/A|
This 18k Gold Zenith El Primero (ref. G381) watch is remarkably well preserved. The round, yellow gold case measures 38 mm in diameter (48 mm from lug to lug) and has large chronograph pushers and the original, signed, fluted crown, each retaining their definition. Both the case and the straight-line lugs are sharp and thick, and the bezel beautifully grained with sunburst patterning. The unique reference number is visible on the screw-down case-back. Similarly to the case, the silver dial with black sub-registers is in excellent condition, has applied, faceted gold index markers for the hours. The tritium lume on the matchstick handset and index hour markers have aged to a creamy yellow patina. It is guaranteed for authenticity and comes with a two-year warranty from A Collected Man.
All of our pre-owned watches have undergone thorough mechanical inspections, including being ultrasonically cleaned, serviced and resealed if appropriate and tested for at least four days, to ensure they meet our highest timekeeping standards. Our pre-owned and vintage watches are covered by a full, or a limited twenty-four month warranty. For example, due to their age, some vintage watches should not be subjected to the same conditions as when they were new. Please see our Terms & Conditions for further information.
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