Zenith Chronomaster Original Triple CalendarJanuary 31, 2024
Now this is the kind of release I can get behind. This is the Zenith Chronomaster Triple Calendar, featuring a new complete calendar caliber. On its face, the watch already grabs my attention: It’s a good-looking, balanced design. It’s 38mm. It’s a triple calendar moonphase chronograph. Maybe three years ago, I never would’ve believed these are three things I’d say about a new release.
But that’s only the beginning of the story: The Zenith Chronomaster Triple Calendar actually pays homage to a rare prototype El Primero from 1970, only 25 of which were produced as a proof of concept. Zenith has done an excellent job dragging its heritage into its modern lineup, and this is one of its better efforts yet.
Zenith says the case isn’t just vintage inspired, but that it used the exact blueprint and proportions of the original A386 from 1969. The Zenith Chronomaster Triple Calendar‘s stainless steel case measures 38mm (46mm lug-to-lug) and 13mm thick. It comes in three dial colors: white with black subdials, a slate grey with white subdials, and a boutique-only green edition. I got hands-on with the white dial version, which is why you’ll see some live photos of it here.
But before we talk about this watch, I want to talk about the watch from which it takes inspiration because it’s the kind of thing that makes me weak in the spring bars. In 1969, the original El Primero A386 was designed to accommodate a triple calendar, moonphase, and chronograph. Zenith made a series of 25 prototypes to test the idea. But in the meantime, the core chronograph took off in popularity – being one of the first automatic chronographs to market will do that – and the plans for a calendar El Primero were abandoned until eventually being revisited in something more space-age in the ’70s.
Only a few of these El Primero prototypes have ever surfaced: an example sold in 2012 for about $40,000, and then another for about $75,000 in 2015. Zenith later revealed that it acquired the example in 2012. Twelve years later, it’s reemerged in a new version, and Zenith, I have to say: I like what you’ve done with the place.
The new slate grey is a direct callback to the original prototypes, while the other two offer a modern take. These aren’t 1:1 reissues, though. The CO Triple Calendar looks like it threw on a jacket for dinner, with the hands and indices plated in rose gold giving it a more dressed-up look.
The most significant change comes on the inside, with Zenith’s new El Primero caliber 3610 adding a calendar module to the existing El Primero chronograph caliber. It’s the same base movement beating at 5 Hertz, with the chronograph hand zipping around the entire dial every 10 seconds. No, I never got tired of playing with it. The white and grey dials will be generally available; the green dial is a boutique-only edition available only in Zenith physical and online boutiques. All three are offered on a calfskin leather strap or steel bracelet. MSRP: $13,900 on bracelet; $13,400 on strap.
I’ve been impressed with Zenith’s releases over the past few years, and you can add this one to the list. When I first started paying attention to watches a decade or so ago, I’ll be honest: I didn’t pay much attention to Zenith. That’s completely changed. From last year’s black dial “Evil” El Primero to the titanium Defy Revival Shadow (a watch that legitimately held its own against Tudor and Grand Seiko in our Three On Three), Zenith has managed to find that sweet spot between heritage and modern watchmaking that so many brands strive for. All of these watches have clear connections to Zenith’s vintage watches, but they don’t overdo the whole heritage thing.
These watches aren’t perfect. I still want a better bracelet and clasp from Zenith, but I covered that in my last El Primero review, so I won’t beat that poor horse anymore. There’s one more small detail I’d ask for: notice how those original prototypes had star indices at 10 and 2 o’clock? I would’ve loved to see a way to incorporate that into the new Chronomaster Original Triple Calendar.
But it wears exactly the same as the core chronograph El Primero and remains legible (at least, the white dial is; I haven’t had the chance to see the others in person yet). And sure, maybe they could’ve updated the triple calendar with an annual or even a perpetual calendar in 2024, but presumably that would’ve also “updated” the price even more, too, and made this a less appealing package.
By the way, Zenith Chronomaster Triple Calendar has done this before. In 2014, it released a limited-edition El Primero Triple Calendar. But it was 42mm and lacked a soul. We’ve all come a long way in the last 10 years, and it shows in Zenith’s product.
While the price of the standard El Primero chronograph ($10,000 on bracelet) faces stiff competition, it’s tough to think of a direct competitor once you slap a triple calendar and moonphase in it. The most direct comp is the Breitling Premier B25 Datora 42, a nice watch that is also $14,000 but measures 42mm x 15.3mm thick. It’s hard to say that the two are competing for exactly the same wrists, even if their mid-century aesthetics might share an Eames Chair.
Earlier this month, LVMH announced that Julien Tornare, who’s been Zenith’s CEO since 2017, would be leaving to take the same position at TAG Heuer. Products like this illustrate how he brought heritage into the modern catalog while pushing the brand forward. I hope he can do the same at TAG, a brand with an even more important history.