A3817 Zenith El Primero
There is only one watch that has combined Zenith’s A386-style tricolor subs with an A3818 Cover Girl case. It fact, it’s really the only other watch Zenith made in period besides the A386 to sport the grey-dark grey-blue. It even brought the famous ‘sharks tooth’ chronograph seconds track from the Cover Girl. But it’s not terribly well-known. This is the 1970s successor to the A386’s 3019 PHC halo-product throne: the A3817. While the A386 was produced in 2500 examples, this A3817 was only ever produced in a (Zenith SA-confirmed) 1000 examples. It’s lesser known because it’s just lesser-seen.
You know how Dyson vacuums all look kind of like they’re actually made to go on the next launch to the ISS? It’s a vacuum, but it looks like a nano-gel turbo thruster. This case, with this dial, it must’ve made a similar impact in 1971. I mean, I see the reissues today and they look every bit as contemporary and edgy as just about everything except HYT . . .and these actually work. Moreover, I believe Zenith nailed their chronograph DNA right out of the gate in the El Primero. It’s every watch designer’s goal to have a beautiful design that doesn’t shout, but is still recognizable across a room. Three subtle subdial shades; it’s mission gracefully accomplished. The fact that only the A386 and this have shared this element, and yet almost no one knows what an A3817 is, that’s a shame. There’s even a tiny bit of inter-reference variation, some examples have a monochromatic grey left hand subdial, leading a few to call this A3817 configuration ‘exotic’. Perhaps ‘quadcolor’ would be more accurate. Either nomenclature is not yet well established.
Remember back when no one cared or knew what an exotic Tudor was? Or way back when Paul Newman Newman was just a salad dressing? Collector Zeniths are in that state now. The values are still massive, absolutely. But that doesn’t make them not a good value. I think of things like the Cover Girl, A3817, or Espada Sub Sea Moonphase (first automatic full calendar moonphase) as at the base of that curve. Scholarship creates interest which in turn creates a market. We’ve seen that flywheel a hundred times. So far, it’s just Manfred Rossler who did great work around Zenith. There’s more coming. Until, I suspect this is the time start enjoying an A3817. I mean, it doesn’t even have a nickname yet. Might I suggest the ‘El Secondo’?
This example is in good overall condition. The Spillman case is full but has probably seen a light polish. The dial is in great overall shape. It’s the dial tritium in some parts that isn’t quite perfect, but that’s not a huge deal. And the chrono hand is slightly lighter than the rest. If it really bothered you, it could be rematched easily, but I wouldn’t. It comes from a well-regarded London retailer, a rare catch and solid addition to any vintage chronograph box.