With the benefit of hindsight, we often look to the past to inspire the future – to get a sense of how things were done. History motivates us to be better by reminding us of what worked, what did not, and what should never be repeated again. However, in the case of the watch industry, history most definitely seems to be a point of inception for ideas, in part, spurred along by the collector’s voracious appetite for vintage pieces and astronomical auction results.
The inner view of the stainless steel case-back with the reference number “6694” visible.
For brands with a long-spanning heritage, this can prove to be fruitful for many reasons, and for Zenith, there is an extensive back-catalogue of models from which inspiration can be drawn. For 2021, the brand synonymous with the words “Automatic Chronograph” brings back the year 1969 with the Chronomaster Revival A385.
The A385 was the reference that helped reinforce the superiority of mechanical watches in an era where quartz watches were beginning to gain traction for their accuracy. In 1970, the reference A385 was chosen for Zenith’s “Operation Sky”, where the watch would be strapped to the landing gear of an Air France Boeing 707 in order to test the rigors of flight, including wind force, fluctuating air temperatures and pressures, and no doubt, extreme vibrations. Having only been commercially released a year prior in 1969, the El Primero movement housed within the A385, as well as the watch itself survived the extreme conditions of the flight. Without a shadow of a doubt, this reassured the team behind the El Primero that their movement was viable, and that they also stood a chance against the oncoming tide of quartz watches that were unable to withstand the punishing environments.
Using original blueprints and production plans of the original model, the Zenith Chronomaster Revival A385 was a product of a “reverse engineering” process at the manufacture to recreate the reference A385 in the modern era. Externally, the A385’s distinctive tonneau case, and pump pushers are identical to the original. Even the sunburst brushing that radiates outward on the top surface of the case, as well as its sharp defined edges and chamfers are period accurate. The only major differences lie in the more modern domed sapphire crystal front and sapphire crystal caseback to exhibit the El Primero movement within (the original had a solid caseback).
As befitting a watch at the birth of the Disco Era, the dial features a “vignette” or “fume” style dial – lighter in the centre and getting darker towards the edges in warm brown tones, reminiscent of the colour of a caffe latte made by a Melbournian barista. This vintage vibe is further reinforced by the beige SuperLuminova on the hands and markers, the silvered chronograph subdials and the red chronograph hand. The dial also houses a date at 4:30, with a continuation of the chronograph scale on the periphery of the date, just like the original. In keeping with the retro aesthetic, its bracelet is a recreation of the Gay Freres “ladder” bracelet, so called because of the large spaces in between the bracelet. Also available is a light brown calf leather strap that complements the colour of the dial, featuring a rubber lining to protect the leather from moisture.
Housed within the Chronomaster Revival A385, and visible through its sapphire crystal caseback is the venerable El Primero – a chronograph movement that possesses a reputation that proceeds itself. Being the first integrated automatic chronograph movement created, it was ahead of its time, beating at the high beat rate of 36,000 vph, as well as being column wheel controlled. Small improvements have been made over the years to increase its service life, however, on the whole, it has remained virtually unchanged as a testament to the ingenuity of the engineers in the middle of the 20th Century.
Zenith have recently been on a roll, recreating pieces from their archives, and this is no exception. While to some, this may seem counterintuitive to creativity, to others, this is a perfect way to indulge in the retro vibe, without the risk of having an incorrect component, or failing water resistance gaskets. For those enamoured with the 60s and 70s, this watch will fit perfectly with that aesthetic. The unusual brown dial with the El Primero movement indubitably cements its place in this era, and there is no denying its old-world charm. The Zenith Chronomaster Revival A385 is most certainly a product of its era, but it has been re-released at a time when the desire for vintage is at an all-time high, and will be appreciated by enthusiasts who crave a touch of the past in their collections. While it may seem that newer is better, the Chronomaster Revival A385 not only proves that its 70s charm is timeless, but also that Old is most certainly Gold.