8136901 Ebel ‘El Primero’ Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
When I was growing up, Lululemon didn’t make socks. The 90s were tall white Nikes. Then for all of the 2000s and early 2010s, if a sock extended above your ankle you were a virgin. Now, the youth who say things like ‘rizz’ and ‘that slaps’ are wearing Nikes almost up to the knee again. Except now they’re black. To rely on lazy cliche and quote Mark Twain, ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.’ Similarly, I never thought I’d see the day, but Ebel are having a bit of moment of late. Although when I say Ebel, it’s really just one movement and all its variants. Meet arguably the rarest and most desirable, a perpetual calendar chronograph built on the El Primero. Alongside the IWC 3756 (also very interesting), it’s probably the most reasonably priced perpetual calendar chronograph you’ll ever find.
Ebel continued making mechanical watches through the quartz era and in the early 80s were one of very few manufactures to have maintained a reputation there. Zenith had taken the opposite approach as ceased mechanical watchmaking. in ’81 Ebel capitalized on that reputation, buying Zenith’s unassembled 3019PHC movements, and reintroduced a high-end chronograph with a design very much of the era, with a wave bracelet and wavy-hexagonal 40mm case. The watch blasted into pop culture after being worn by Don Johnson in Miami Vice. Zenith only revived the storied El Primero after Ebel’s commercial success in ’85. In the late 80s when Rolex started taking Zenith movements, Ebel developed their own. But these early years and El Primero movements are starting to be collected again for their whimsical design and credible watchmaking. To put it mildly, the aesthetic is polarizing; it’s the loose linen suit of horology.
But this, a ref. 8136901, is the rarely seen halo product from those early years, an El Primero movement with an in house perpetual calendar module integrated. It’s 40mm, sports busy month/leap year indication at 12 like VC of the time, and somehow still managed to squeeze in applied Romans. This lapis shark skin strap is what it would’ve come on at the time. This, and indeed the wave-bracelet chronographs, are the most recent example of someone’s (Ben at WBL, here) love for a watch turning into scholarship and then a fresh market. In the words of Miami Vice’s ‘Sonny’ Crockett, ‘The better you get at this job, the more dangerous it becomes.’
The example shown here has a bit of mild case oxidation on the yellow gold that makes sections appear a little pink. Some collectors love that, some don’t. Its dial is great, no visible damage and light patina. Also no lume to worry about falling off in these early productions, hands or dial. The case construction is interesting its strap is secured by two screws, so don’t expect a strap monster adaptability here. It comes from a well-regarded London retailer we can only say great things of.