01.0040.418 Zenith El Primero Espada Sub Sea Moonphase
Everyone knows the 3019 El Primero story. But, after, not everyone paid attention to just how far Zenith pushed the boundaries of what an El Primero could be. If one needed convincing that the El Primero is not only one of the longest lived chronograph lines, but also one of the most diverse, interesting, and collectible lines of any manufacture, show them this. Sure, you’ve got the posterchild A386, (literal) covergirl A3818, and oddities like the French Air Force issued Rainbow. But even some of the most studied watch nerds you know wouldn’t be able to tell you where this strange beast came from. This is known as the El Primero Espada Sub Sea Moonphase or 01.0040.418. Possibly the least catchy name in all of horology.
It’s from just after the line launched, when Zenith exploded in creativity to a level that would even David Bowie would have to give a nod toward. Where the El Primero may have been the world’s first automatic chronograph, the Zenith Espada definitely was the world’s first automatic chronograph with a full calendar and moonphase. It came in two flavors, a reference known as the A7817 from 1970-’72 and this 01.0040.418 made ’73 until ’75. The former in fewer than 250 examples and this in fewer than 500. Both are remarkably uncommon, quite an acquired taste, and holy grail material for Zenith collectors as the first of their kind.
But the fun of this watch is in both its obscurity and design. Truthfully, it’s unarguably significant on the level of moving mechanical watchmaking forward. But it also did so in such a way that was unashamedly of its time. The 70s were proud to be the 70s: furniture was brown, bell bottoms were on every high street, and this was haute horology. There’s something kind of pure in its total abandonment of classical design elements, Zenith has always pushed the edge and this definitely did so in its form. So ahead of its era, in fact, that its bezel still looks like hasn’t finished rendering even today. I always think once you divide a circle into lines more than an octagon, things get weird. Or perhaps I should say funky, because this El Primero is definitely groovy. I mean just look at the way they made its indices, have you seen anything like it since? I have a hard time not loving watches which are unlike anything else, watches not afraid to take on the risk of abject failure for their boldness. This is definitely that, and it did so with the technical chops to back it up.
This example is great too. Starting in the dial, there’s no noticeable damage and damn is that tritium lovely in its warmth. The chronograph hand’s tritium has fallen through, should be noted. Its case is strong, with a proud bevel and brushing still present on the top surface. Its movement was recently serviced and it comes on a Gay Freres lobster, period appropriate, from a well-regarded retailer in Germany.