Friday, January 22, 2021

Hands On: Zenith Chronomaster Sport - LVMH Watch Week 2021

 The current Zenith Chronomaster range, formerly known as the El Primero range, has been a best seller for almost a decade, and almost unchanged. The classic, original 38mm size as well as the larger modern (at the time) 42mm were a mainstay and a consistent performer. It’s an icon of Zenith, with a distinctive at-a-glance tri-colour oversized sub dials and of course, the high beat of 36,000 VPH of the movement. It’s a style that has been around since the very first El Primero equipped model named A386 back in  1969, and as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke...

So why kill off such an iconic, much-loved classic watch? Rolex does ok making the same thing decade on decade. Subtle changes here and there, but the overall look and feel is almost the same. Omega Speedmaster hasn’t changed all that much either since 1957. These are definite examples of enduring classics, with only very minute detail updates. There are of course view points that one shouldn’t tamper with a classic, and others, who feel that if something remains the same it can become quite stale.

Design Evolution of the Chronomaster: 1969 A386, the 42mm version, the Chronomaster 2 from 2019

What if there’s a way to keep the iconic look, but freshen it up at the same time? What if, by combining a few icons from the past catalogue and in turn, bring about something that is both a nod to the past, but set to become a future icon in its own 

right? What if it’s possible to take an iconic product and make it even  more iconic and distinctive? Well, ladies and gents, wonder no more. Presenting, the new Zenith Chronomaster... SPORT.

At first glimpse, it is still distinctively identifiable as a Zenith, with the 3 (slightly) overlapping colour sub dials. Yes, the date window is still at 4:30. Ok, fine... With a second look, you see the pump pushers and the case shape and the chamfer of the edges remain. On closer inspection, the bezel might be reminiscent of the De Luca II, updated to the oh-so-21st century material of ceramic, but... something’s different. It’s not a tachymetre like it used to be. The markers, the numbers, the scale... wait... these are completely foreign... There’s nothing like it at all... what does it do?? Once you start the chronograph by pressing the pusher at 2:00, feel the crispness that only comes with a column wheel set up, and everything  becomes clear.

Watch the central chronograph seconds tick and the first thing you notice is that it’s a lot faster than you’re used to. In fact it’s 6 times faster, by doing a full revolution in 10 seconds. Now the scale on the bezel makes sense. It’s a simple and clear indication of one tenth of a second, something that can only be done due to the high beat of 36,000 vibrations per hour (10 beats per second).


This 1/10th of a second indication is made possible by an updated/upgraded/evolution of the El Primero movement, with a longer power reserve of 60 hours, and hacking seconds. In doing so they’ve unfortunately removed a quirk, which is the “back to front” time setting position of the crown. It is now the normal way around with date at position 1 and time change at position 2.

What about the rest of the watch? The case diametre is an immensely wearable 40.5mm, and with shortened lugs, the approx lug-to-lug of 46-7mm, meaning it will fit a lot more wrists as well as offering a better fit. The Chronomaster used to only really sell on a leather strap, but now, the bracelet is perfectly suited to the watch, and you still of course have the option of fitting a leather strap to it if you so wish. Overall watch is very well balanced, sits comfortably and to be quite honest, this could very well be an “only” watch, such is its versatility.

There are two dial options at launch, a clean white base dial, and the black lacquered dial which, matches the ceramic bezel perfectly. The white offers a brilliant contrast, especially with the black lacquer-filled indices and quite possibly, the better option to match with various different colour straps. The sub dials are layered, giving a bit of depth, and features circular guilloche. There is some lume but nothing compared to Zenith’s own Pilot type 20.

Own strap fitted. The white dial will come with a blue cordura style strap

The bracelet is meant to be inspired by the Gay Frere's ladder bracelet, but it's really an updated 3-link Chronomaster bracelet, polished centre links, and now with chamfered edges as well to match the case. The clasp has been changed to a more common single folding clasp with a locking mechanism and micro adjustments.

So the all important question: How does it wear on the wrist? Quite simply, one of the most comfortable watches I have ever worn. The size and proportions are perfect for me. The weight is just right. It can easily go with jeans or with a suit. Dial is highly legible. It feels like your favourite pair of worn in jeans that you’d be happy to live with daily, but it feels that way fresh from the box. Regardless of what you think of “sizing” I would strongly recommend putting it on the wrist first.

Overall, I think Zenith is on to a winner. It’s classically designed, with enough iconic features to make it distinctive; acknowledging the past whilst moving with the times. It is a lot of watch for the money and stacks up very well against its closest competitors. Will it gain the icon status? Only time will tell, but I have a good feeling about this.

The King is Dead. Long Live the King!

Zenith Chronomaster Sport

Reference: 03.3100.3600/69.M3100 White dial on bracelet

Reference: 03.3100.3600/21.M3100 Black dial on bracelet

Diametre: 40.5mm stainless steel case

Lug to lug: 47mm

Case height: 13mm

Water resistant: 100m

Power Reserve: 60 hours

Movement: Cal 3600, 36,000VPH automatic chronograph movement showing 1/10th of a second

Australian RRP: $14,300 on bracelet, $13,600 on strap

Available now:

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