Turning the clock back to 1969 reveals the heart of modern watch making. It was in that year that not one, but three watch companies – Zenith, Seiko, and a consortium of Heuer/Breitling/Hamilton/Dépraz – introduced the world’s first automatic movements. Generating spring tension via the motion of a rotor spun by the wrist’s natural movement, automatics were as much a leap forward from hand-wound mechanical movements as watches were from clocks or – for that matter – clocks from sundials.
The El Primero movement from Zenith was arguably the most technically innovative of the bunch thanks to its column-wheel architecture and incredible 36,000 oscillations/hr operating frequency. Engineering mastery aside, the El Primero was also a touchstone of the times. Viewed now, few watches look as “sixties” as the El Primero and today’s reissue – the Zenith El Primero A385 – adheres to many of the design principles that made the original so iconic.
With its uncommon 37mm case size and tonneau shape, the Zenith A385 matches its recently reissued cousin, the A384. Whereas the A384’s panda dial bridges the gap between vintage and modern, the A385’s warm, gradient brown dial and white subdials combine for an unmistakably traditional appearance. Prominent pushers stick out to control the El Primero movement – nearly unchanged in 52 years. Why mess with perfection? Radial brushing on the case gives the A385 a brilliant look and blends effortlessly with the ladder steel bracelet with its hollowed links that provide a deceptively airy feel on the wrist. Also available on a brown leather strap, the A385 is an almost perfect reproduction of the 1969 model. This is horological history embodied.