1969 was quite the year. Aside from Omega’s all-time greatest product placement, the Swiss were manufacturing some seriously attractive metal. There was the iconic Speedmaster, the 6263 Daytona, and the El Primero. Zenith’s chronograph did not receive attention in proportion to the impressiveness of its engineering in period. The El Primero has really only been recognized for the accomplishment it was posthumously. Nonetheless, it’s worth admiring even some fifty years later. Particularly when the dial has aged as dramatically and cohesively as this deep caramel example.
Just who deserves the title of first ever automatic chronograph manufacture remains disputed by horological historians to this day. It suffices to say that Zenith were certainly in contention for the top spot. The 3019 PHC powering this A384 was amongst the first ever released. It is also accurate to say that Zenith’s approach was more impressive. The El Primero utilized a caliber 3019 with a hi-beat escapement for better precision in chronograph timing. When you pair that caliber with a tonneau case and Gay Frères ladder bracelet, the resulting package of cutting-edge-vintage is irresistible. Moreover, that hi-beat calibre sounds like a helicopter at full chat. It was produced in just 2600 examples over 1969 and 1970 before replacement.
There is a lot to be said for patina. I don’t have to tell you how disparate ageing can be. However, it is an extremely rare thing for one to come across a dial which has aged so evenly as to almost look factory. One grows used to seeing dark spots, subtle corrosion, and print degradation. None of that here. This tropical tone is light than most and more even than nearly all. Time, visualized. And more beautiful for it.
Aside from that lovely dial, the rest is no slouch. The faceted case still holds correctly brushed areas and factory bevels. I suspect there may have been a light polish in its history on the flanks, as the angles are slightly rounded. But I could be wrong and the fact that I’m questioning myself means it shouldn’t be a decisive factor. Close to factory. It original ladder bracelet shows very little wear. The crown and pushers are correct and its tritium is golden. What more is to be said. The example is as desirable as they come. From a well-regarded UK retailer.
Find this tropical A384 here from Vision Vintage for 13500 GBP.