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Review: Zenith Chronomaster Revival

Everybody’s heard of, if not eaten, a McDonalds Big Mac. They’re ubiquitous, they’re popular—they’re everywhere. But they’re far from the best. On an empty street off the busy tourist route you’ll find a quiet restaurant you’ve never heard of serving the best steak sandwich you’ll ever eat. That sandwich is called the Zenith Chronomaster Revival El Primero A385.


If you were to lay out the ingredients for the perfect watch, it might look a little something like this: take some rich heritage, freshly chopped, laid out on a bed of legendary watchmaking, and season with iconic good looks. A meal good enough to satisfy for a long time, but for some reason, not enough to whet the appetite. This isn’t the first time I’ve said this and it won’t be the last: how do you know you don’t like it until you’ve tried it?

So, the ingredients, by today’s standards at least, are unusual and exotic. We’ve developed a simpler palate, used to processed foods and instant sugars. Heck, even Zenith have successfully experimented making things that are more instantly recognisable. A dish that’s been crafted with mellow flavours that build over time might, by now, almost be repulsive.

That’s the problem with this Zenith Chronomaster Revival El Primero A385. What’s going on here requires too much thought, too much consideration for a modern audience. It doesn’t immediately smack you in the face with neon flavour, isn’t packed with artificial stimulants that make you feel like you’re having a great time until the next buzz comes along. Let’s take those ingredients in isolation to see what I mean.


They say never to go into business with a friend, let alone a spouse, but for Georges Favre-Bulle and Louise-Philippine Jacot-Descombes, that advice was promptly ignored. The couple, in their early twenties, decided that making watches for other people just would not do—and so they went into business making watches for themselves instead.

And so, in 1865, in the Jura mountains, Zenith was founded. Well, actually, it wasn’t, because the company was called Fabrique Georges Favre-Jacot, because no one had thought of cool words like Coca-Cola and Nike back then. Nevertheless, the dynamic duo had clocked how watchmaking was turning out in America, with big factories producing hundreds of highly accurate movements every day. The Swiss, by comparison, were recruiting bored farmers to badly put together a handful here and there.

So, Georges set about building a factory over four acres, bringing all the capabilities necessary to make a watch together under one roof. Gone was the need to travel from house to house to gather badly made parts that had to be modified to fit: this was streamlined, efficient, and wholly capable. The movement this factory produced was considered the pinnacle of achievement, unmatched in the industry. It was the Zenith. Georges quite liked how the name Zenith sounded and so he stuck it on the rest of the business as well.

From there, Zenith laid claim to the first ever vertically integrated watch manufacture in Switzerland. Well, them and a whole bunch of others making the same claim too, but I’m pretty certain Zenith got in there early doors at least, giving the industry a firm boot into a modern era, ready for what was to come next.

Main Course

One hundred years on and Zenith had become one of the industry’s largest, employing ten percent of the local town’s population to make watches that challenged the very best in Switzerland. It was a powerhouse of watchmaking, striving to dominate not just by sheer volume, but also in pioneering excellence.

Zenith had an idea. What if they took a movement that could wind itself and paired it with a chronograph? The two things had never been combined before. They were both pretty bulky and cumbersome by themselves, let alone merged into one—but if anyone could do it, Zenith could.

They weren’t the only ones thinking about summiting this particular peak. Heuer, Breitling, Hamilton, Buren and Dubois-Depraz all had similar ideas of grandeur—but no one single watchmaker was brave enough to take on either the challenge, or Zenith, alone. And so they formed an alliance to work on the Chronomatic automatic chronograph together.

Think about that. Such was the might of Zenith that it was able to accomplish what five other watch brands had to chip in together to make. And sure, the Chronomatic pipped Zenith’s efforts to the post, but they really phoned it in. Massively wide and as thick as a brick, the Chronomatic was simply a normal movement with a micro rotor slapped together with a chronograph module. Crude and uncomplicated, it was the best the Chronomatic could be to beat Zenith—and it still only won by a nose.

By comparison, Zenith’s calibre 400 “El Primero” was sleek, elegant and refined. It was far smaller thanks to a fully integrated architecture that wasted no room. It beat at a faster 36,000 vph for improved accuracy and stability. It even had a longer 50-hour power reserve, running for more time off the wrist when it wasn’t being automatically wound. All that from just one watchmaker.


But a great brain and a great body are nothing without a pretty face, and so for the cherry on the top of an analogy already stretched paper-thin, we come to the way this watch looks. We’ve seen the A386 before, the version of the El Primero most recognisable and most often repeated by Zenith, but as nice as that looks, it’s just a little plain. For some real spice, we’re better off going for the lesser-known A385.

That’s the model this watch apes, right to the last detail. It’s unfamiliar but interesting, classic without being bland. It’s exactly the kind of face that takes a little getting used to, but once you are, you can’t get it out of your mind. It’s the hint of chili that really shouldn’t work, but without exception makes everything just that little bit better.

The more rectangular case, complete with 50 metres of water-resistance, really is a child of its time, a premonition of the integrated shapes the next decade would become famous for. At just 37mm it wears as comfortably as the original, but the lazy curve into the ultra-wide lugs makes sure it doesn’t disappear entirely. On a strap or the unusual ladder bracelet, it’s a watch that needs two takes to tell the time: one to take it all in, the other to tell the time.

The smoky brown dial set with bright white sub-dials and a pop of red for the chronograph seconds sounds like a hideous combination, but again, with a moment’s reflection, they work with unexpected cohesion. It’s a warm and reassuring combo, even if it does sound on paper like a tea-stained cigarette packet. It’s an incredibly faithful recreation of the original, right down to the awkwardly placed date window crowbarred in between four and five. It’s not love at first bite, but you’ll definitely be coming back for more.

A Big Mac is hardly the flavour memories are made of, but it’s the quickest, easiest and most convenient thing you’ll eat. It’s the meal everyone talks about, the safest bet when you just need some energy on the go, familiar but forgettable. Is that enough? It shouldn’t be. You should want to make memories that leave a lasting impression, that feel earned, and those are the ones that usually take more effort to make. With the Zenith Chronomaster Revival El Primero A385, it will need more work on your part to understand why you’d want one, but believe me, it’s an effort worth making—because this is a flavour you’re going to remember forever.

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