Published on June 4th, 2015 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez1
Zenith El Primero Chronomaster 1969 Tour Auto Edition
Since last year, Zenith has been handling the official timekeeping of five of the prestigious races organised by Peter Auto: the Vallelunga-Classic on the Autodromo Piero Taruffi in Italy (March 28-29), the Spa-Classic on the Belgian Spa-Francorchamps track (May 22-24), the Grand Prix de l’Age d’Or on the Dijon-Prenois track (June 5-8), the Monza Historic in Italy (July 10-12), and the Dix Mille Tours du Castellet on the Paul Ricard track, also in France (October 2-4). While competitors can experience the races at their own pace, each of them is an authentic sporting trial in which around 300 competing cars representing the history of motor racing vie with each other at the best European venues such as Spa-Francorchamps, considered by many drivers to be the world’s finest track.
On January 10, 1969, Zenith introduced its worldwide launch of an integrated automatic chronograph. Born of a simple idea that required seven years to develop, the El Primero movement was a double world first. It was the first to feature a chronograph that was not of the add-on modular type; and it was also the world’s most precise movement with a high frequency of 36,000 vibrations per hour ensuring tenth-of-a-second precision. The aptly named movement quickly became a legend in modern haute horlogerie, since alongside its exceptional intrinsic qualities, it displays exceptional resistance to extreme conditions.
An exceptional movement in every way, El Primero features two other technical characteristics that were particularly impressive at the time. Its design is based on a column wheel, the ultimate component of the extremely high-quality chronographs invented in the 19th century: it interprets the pressure exercised on the push-piece to handle the chronograph start, stop and reset functions.
Composed of a ratchet-wheel with several triangular-shaped teeth called columns, the column wheel is machined from a block of steel whose hardness makes it particularly resistant to repeated handling. The second major characteristic of the original movement is its lubrication. Given the high frequency of the balance-wheel oscillations, the escapement oils tend to be centrifuged to the point of disturbing the smooth running of the mechanism, which is why the movement is given a dry lubrication.
While it has always equipped Zenith timepieces, and not only those of the El Primero line, it has constantly evolved over the years to welcome complications and avant-garde mechanisms that have earned it a number of awards. To mark the brand’s 150 th anniversary, and as part of a constant quest for excellence, all the El Primero calibres intended for the Open or tourbillon models will notably be chronometer-certified by the COSC (Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute). The oscillating weight of these movements will be engraved with the inscription “Certified Chronometer”.
In 2003, Zenith launched an idea: why not make the beating heart of the watch – its regulating organ – clearly visible? This thought sparked the development of a new concept christened Open. The teams of watchmakers and movement developers had to entirely rethink the calibre’s construction. After several months of research, the balance-wheel and balance-spring were shifted to the periphery and revealed through what would become one of the signatures of the El Primero line: an 11 o’clock dial opening which, in the case of the Tour Auto Edition, is a nod to the impressive view of a racing car mechanism when its hood is up.
The automatic El Primero 4061 chronograph movement powering the El Primero Chronomaster 1969 Tour Auto Edition is equipped with a lever and escape-wheel made of an avant-garde material serving to eliminate any lubrication-related issues: silicon. Both harder and lighter than steel, it is also more resistant to wear and less energy-hungry due to its low friction coefficient, as well as being anti-magnetic.
A direct heir to the model that revolutionised watchmaking more than 40 years ago, the Chronomaster 1969 Tour Auto Edition naturally borrows its key characteristics while adding a sporty touch. Through its design that immediately brings to mind the spirit of competition and the world of classic cars, the Open dial features a specific treatment. The rhodium-plated surface is brushed in the 6 – 12 o’clock direction to ensure consistency with its lines. The subtly arranged colours also play an important role: the blue-white-red stripes are of course a nod to the colours of the French flag. The opaline silver-toned tachymetric scale makes a striking contrast with the inner blue ring and its white graduations, while the 300 divisions displaying units of measurement all the way down to the fifth-of-a-second chronograph times are indicated on red and blue transfers. The hollowed and snailed 30-minute and 12-hour counters at 3 and 6 o’clock are surrounded by a blue circular satin-brushed rim. Like all chronograph models in the line (apart from ladies’ watches), the central sweep-seconds hand is fitted with a star-shaped counterpoise. The one on this model, along with the counter hands, is red to enhance the legibility of the chronograph times. To ensure smooth overall aesthetic consistency, the small-seconds trident appearing through the “Open” window at 9 o’clock is composed of blue-white-red colours. Another signature feature of El Primero models, the slim bezel ensures a generous diameter for the dial and its slightly convex box-style sapphire crystal provides side lighting for the dial and thus ensures optimal readability.
One particular detail that connoisseurs are sure to note: the mushroom-type push-pieces for the chronograph functions each feature a coloured groove: blue for the chronograph start, red for the reset. The brushed lugs and case middle give the watch a suitable sporty look. Fitted with a triple folding clasp, the strap is a nod to the gloves formerly worn by the drivers of classic cars: perforated blue calfskin with a black protective rubber lining immediately creates the association with sports cars and speed, complete with blue-white-red stripes extending those on the dial.
The El Primero Chronomaster 1969 Auto Edition is issued in a 500-piece special limited edition. The back of the steel case bears two inscriptions in particular: the Tour Auto logo (on the sapphire crystal pane) and the serial number. The special presentation box is fitted with a cover bearing the Tour Auto logo, and a blue interior as a reminder of the dominant colour of the watch.
Model: El Primero Chronomaster 1969 Tour Auto Edition
Automatic Column-Wheel Chronograph – Tribute to Classic Cars in Partnership with Peter Auto
500-Piece Limited Edition
El Primero 4061, automatic
Calibre: 13 1/4 ‘’’ (diameter: 30 mm)
Thickness: 6.60 mm
Frequency: 36,000 vph (5 Hz)
Power reserve: min. 50 hours
Finishes: oscillating weight adorned with Côtes de Genève
Central hours and minutes
Small seconds at 9 o’clock
– Central sweep-seconds hand
– 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock
– 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock
Case, dial and hands
Material: brushed steel case
Diameter: 42 mm
Dial-opening diameter: 37.10 mm
Thickness: 14.05 mm
Glass: cambered sapphire crystal glare-proofed on both sides
Case-back: transparent sapphire crystal engraved with the Tour Auto logo
Water resistance: 10 ATM
Dial: brushed rhodium-plated
Hour-markers: rhodium-plated, facetted and filled with Superluminova SLN C1
Hands: rhodium-plated, facetted and filled with Superluminova SLN C1
Strap and buckle
Blue calfskin with protective black rubber lining and steel triple-blade folding clasp