Wednesday, November 11, 2020

On The Wrist: Zenith Chronomaster 42mm Blue Dial

We all know that the tri-colour subdial Zenith Chronomaster with the silvery base dial is a modern classic, with only slight alterations to the case and dial over the past 50-odd years. The classic look, however, may not be for everyone. Just like not everyone wants the classic Speedy moonwatch (gasp horror). 

The blue dial version of the Chronomaster was launched in 2016, alongside the dark grey version as well as a “classic car” version, with vertical Geneva stripe finishing on the slate grey dial, mimicking the finishing on car engines. These were an attempt to offer some variations on the theme and to offer alternatives. Did you know, however, that there were actually multiple dial versions of this watch?

Now it never ceases to amaze me just how Rolex is able to garner headlines and in-depth articles out of mere changes in millimetres. I mean, surely there are more important things, even in the watch world, to talk about? Another thing that really gets the the discussion going are the subtle differences in dials/date fonts/text sizes/lines of text/colours of text etc, and each can be discussed in so much detail they almost warrant a thesis. Not to mention the sort of effect on the resale value. So what are the versions exactly?

Version 1: This has the red 36,000VPH line of text underneath Zenith and El Primero at the 12:00 position. Rumour has it that the red text only ever appeared on the prototypes, but there have been a handful spotted out in the wild, meaning there must have been pieces in this configuration that were sold through to retail stores. How rare is it? Who knows? There are no numbers provided and I doubt Zenith will ever provide the numbers.

Version 1: Red 36,000Vph text at 12:00. 6:00 sub dial over 9:00 and 3:00 counters

Version 2: This one goes without the red 36,000VPH text on the dial and has the “wrong” configuration of the 12-hour counter overlapping the running seconds and the minute counter at 9:00 and 3:00 positions respectively. Believed to be produced only for around a year (mid-2016 to mid-2017) before the next version came along.

Version 2: 12: sub dial over the 9:00 and 3:00 sub dials, no 36,000Vph text

Version 3: Final version with the “corrected” dial layout – 9:00 and 3:00 subdials overlapping the 6:00 subdial – thus makes it easier to read the markers for the minute counter (rather than having several minutes obscured). This version was produced from mid-2017 until mid-2019, when the “coloured” models of the Chronomaster range were phased out.

Version 3: 6:00 sub dial is under the 3:00 and 9:00 subdials (image from the Zenith Watch Forum FB Group)

There are still a few of these pieces hanging about at dealers, so have a good close look at the versions using this article as a guide. You never know when you might stumble upon the single red, which I reckon will have the potential to be as sought after as the Rolex double red.

But there’s more…

There is apparently another version with the word “automatic” printed in the 6:00 subdial. I was assured by experts that it exists even though a search through Google yielded nothing. I have seen all the other 3 versions, but this one may just be the unicorn in the Chronomaster range and perhaps, worth seeking out as it may prove to be a decent long-term investment perhaps?

Having said all that, what’s it like on the wrist? I’m sure the purists will scream that 38mm is the only way to go, that it’s the perfect size for the wrist, etc etc. But not everyone’s tastes are the same. And to be honest, although I personally think the 38mm wears bigger than the actual figure suggests, the 42mm also sits nicely, and gives a much more modern look and feel. The date window at 6:00 in the 42mm version is also much neater and better resolved compared to the 4:30 position on the 38mm. Other than that, the case shares the brushed and polished finishing, with the all-important see-through case back. The dial is fully legible, and it really comes down to whether you like the overlapping sub dials or not.

Pushers feel a little stiff for a column wheel chrono; it doesn’t have as much springiness to it, compared to a similarly aged Omega Speedmaster Cal 321, but it is still vastly better compared to a cam and lever chrono. I’m not a fan of the style of folding clasp used on the watch, but then again, I’ve always preferred a pin buckle as they tend to sit flatter, but you do run the risk of possibly dropping the watch when you’re putting it on/taking it off the wrist.  

Overall it’s a fantastic version of the classic tri-colour sub dial Chronomaster; to be something a little different and, given its short production run, you’re not likely to run into someone with the same watch.

Zenith Chronomaster El Primero 42mm
Reference: 03.2040.400/51.C700
Movement: Automatic Calibre 400 El Primero, 36,000vph, 50 hours power reserve
RRP: AU$11,400 on alligator strap/folding clasp; $12,000 on bracelet

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