01-0150-415 Zenith El Primero Sub Sea

With one glance at the El Primero Sub Sea, you get the feeling this is the sort of watch Zenith couldn’t create today. Not because LVMH don’t have the technical ability, far from it. But because there are committees, cohesive brand strategy, and focus groups. I adore Zenith and belive they’re doing exceptional work. But the 01-0150-415 is a distinctly 70s creation, where you get the feeling they just wanted to do everything. It’s like they took ideas from eight different designers and went, ‘You know what, you’re all brilliant. Let’s just do everything altogether.’


And so the madness started: this is a watch that goes by both ‘pilot’ and ‘diver’. Pilot because it’s a legible(ish) tachymetre chronograph, but diver because there’s also a compression-style gasket construction for water resistance. Kind of like Heuer’s C-cases, except that this behemoth is 44m. But then there’s a rotating bezel, 4:30 date, unnecessary granularity to the seconds track, and it’s a high-beat with the technical masterclass 3019 PHC El Primero calibre. It’s difficult to imagine the use case Zenith were designing for. Perhaps the ideal watch for seaplane aviation? Who knows.


But what I admire in the El Primero Sub Sea was that Zenith tried something defiantly new. There was no precedent. Total failure was an option, and fail it did. The 01-0150-415 only sold from 1972 to 1975 before folding. It likely made Zenith very little to no profit. But it succeeded in making the watch world a more interesting place. I only highlight this philosophy as Zenith, in particular, seem so fond of a reissue. They do it well, there’s no arguing. But as Peter Thiel once spoke of the great innovators, ‘In many ways, if you’re copying them, you’re not really learning from them.’ The argument here is that great innovation happens only once, but the road to that singularity is paved with many failures. For one, I celebrate the eccentric and esoteric failures that were willing to think totally independently and take that risk.

This example is great. The case is quite full and its on its original ‘Lobster’ bracelet. The dial is well-preserved. Its handset tritium may have a tinge of mint, hard to say from the lighting. It comes from a well-regarded English retailer.

Find this El Primero Sub Sea here from The Vintage Watch Lad for 7000 GBP.