A3817 Zenith El Primero
Vintage Zenith chronographs pull off a trick that very few watches can. Amongst enthusiasts, they wear totally without class. I don’t mean that how it reads. I mean they seem to be effortlessly ‘right’ in just about any social strata, equally at home at some brewery in a t-shirt or at the French Laundry under a tailored suit’s cuff. This is a watch that works pulling up to cheap AirBNB in Austin in a hired Toyota or at the Savoy in a roller. If you, like me, make watch contact before eye contact, you’d never know if vintage Zenith is going to be on the wrist of your server or Keanu Reeves when you look up. They are just that cool. And this, the A3817, might just be the coolest of all vintage Zenith.
This, because it’s not really that famous. It isn’t a Covergirl, despite sharing the famous ‘sharks tooth’ chronograph seconds track. It wasn’t the first El Primero, despite the 3019. It’s the only other Zenith made in period besides the A386 to sport the light grey, dark grey, blue subdials. It was the 1970s successor to the A386’s 3019 PHC halo-product throne. And 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.
The ladder bracelet and harshly angular case are futurist design today, but in 1971? This would’ve made the kind of impression a DB28 makes today. As edgy as anything but HYT, only this functions properly. But today, the design feels just right everywhere. It’s half A384, half A386, but sexier than both put together. The only thing wrong with it is that Zenith can’t seem to do any better today. Which is why they just started making it again. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but also an admission that creativity’s well has run dry (you can do it Zenith, we all believe in you). Until then, this dish is best served in original flavor. Because, much like J Mayer once said of the Aquanaut Travel Time (albeit occupying a different sphere), it’s a cheat code or short list. Someone casually wearing a great vintage Zenith chronograph probably also has watch box with similarly nuanced selections lining it. Today, the A3817 is one of those watches for those who know what they’re doing, but who don’t need to shout about it. Someone who reads Manfred Rossler, who cares. A watch both worth attention, but also getting to know the person wearing it.
This example is in great overall condition. There are a few points of note here. First, the case, which is exceptional. If you’re a case person, the architecture is strong, still radially brushed on top. Worth saying, it may be refinished, hard to say; however as our friends Watchurbia had an eye for, there’s a little bit of a wave to the polished and brushed intersection at the case top and bottom. Very slight. The dial is just a total standout. No visible damage, or spotting, and original tritium that is beautifully warm in tone. This is exactly what you want to see. The one slight foible is that the chronograph hand was relumed in a tone that doesn’t quite match, likely in the 90s. As a steward of history, I believe the correct action to take here is to purchase this watch, have the chronograph hand re-re-lumed, and then enjoy total aesthetic perfection. In any case, it’s close as-is. It comes from a well-regarded NYC retailer.