A3817 Zenith El Primero
Perhaps not terribly well known, the storied A386 is not the sole Zenith chronograph to sport the famous ‘tricolore’ dial. One lesser known, latter analogue took the theme and moved the design forward substantially. Moreover, this latter four-digit reference brought in a sportier ‘cover girl’ A3818-styled tonneau case and the famous ‘sharks tooth’ seconds track, both of which are now lore amongst the Zenithisti (Zenithheads? What do the Zenith collector set self-identify as?). Despite this, not many know or talk about the first hi-beat automatic chronograph’s successor to the Zenith halo-product throne: the early 70s’ A3817.
I’ve jested previously that while three competitors were fiercely competing to develop the world’s first automatic chronograph, Zenith came in just behind first and then named it the ‘We did it first guys, promise.’ There’s a sliver of truth in that. If you want to make history, just write it instead. The first auto chronograph is more a case of convergent evolution, where many manufactures were locked-in on the problem. Whoever you believe to have reached the accomplishment first, there is no argument that Zenith’s approach was the most technically competent; a completely integrated 278 component, column wheel, 36000 vph, auto chronograph. That, make no mistake, was a technical masterclass.
But the design of the 3019PHC second-iteration A3817 was one which finally matched the eccentricity and ambition of its calibre. The faceted 37mm tonneau case was complex to manufacture, with contrasting brushed surfaces against even polished bevels. No question, the angular design amongst the best ever and uniquely 70s Zenith. Moreover, this dial is a step on from the A386 in its contrasting blues. The left-hand subidal contains a lighter shade of blue for the demarcations when compared to the right hand. Some examples have a monochromatic grey left hand subdial, leading a few to call this A3817 configuration ‘exotic’. Perhaps ‘quadcolore’ would be more accurate. Either nomenclature is not yet well established. While the A386 was produced in 2500 examples, this A3817 was only ever produced in a (Zenith SA-confirmed) 1000 examples. This makes it one of the least known and rare Zenith chronographs. In other words, an enthusiasts chronograph if ever there were one.
This example is in an honest, overall strong condition. The case still shows proud bevels and factory lines throughout, with even mid-level surface wear. Importantly the contrast brushed-to-polished transitions are still visible. The dial is perfectly aged, with the light LHS blue and dark RHS blue contrast easily still visible. Grey outer track has lightened slightly with age. All tritium applications have aged to a light cream and are matched across the dial and handset. All considered, this is an extremely uncommon reference in better-than-average shape. It comes as a naked watch from a well-regarded small German retailer.
Find this A3817 here from Vintage Watches Berlin for 25000 USD.