Hands-On: the Zenith Chronomaster Sport Titanium

Somehow, to this point, I’ve avoided taking a stand in the ongoing conversation in our ranks about the merits of titanium. Zach Weiss, our cofounder, is an unabashed fan, and confidently declares at every opportunity that all watches might as well be made of the stuff. Our friend Taylor Welden at Carryology takes it a step further, and said he’d happily eat little titanium chips if given the chance. No one’s titanium journey on this team has been more closely watched than Kat Shoulders’ though, who was first a skeptic, then an adopter, and now, well, her stance continues to evolve. 

For my part, I guess I don’t have a strong opinion either way. I have nothing against titanium watches at all, and I’ve owned several, but it’s not, in general, a material I seek out. I think it’s because as a metal, it tends to not have the characteristics I like most. I like elaborate, complex case finishing, and a bit of weight. I tend to prefer steel’s glassy shine to titanium’s grays. There are exceptions, of course. Grand Seiko’s titanium finishing is notable in that it has many of the qualities of steel. And some watches just work better when they are feather light. 


Hands-On: the Zenith Chronomaster Sport Titanium

El Primero 3600
Titanium bracelet
Water Resistance
10 ATM
41 x 46.8mm
Lug Width
Screw down

The new Chronomaster Sport from Zenith leans hard into the titanium-ness of the metal itself, and is better for it. Even without picking it up, you can tell this Chronomaster is Ti through and through thanks to the whole thing being wrapped in a muted gray. The bracelet, case, dial, and bezel have a coherence here inspired by the hue of the material that feels like coded language to watch collectors. In doing so, I think Zenith has made their best Chronomaster Sport to date, and is the first one to fully escape the shadow of the watch it’s most often compared to. 

It’s hard not to talk about the Rolex Daytona when discussing the Chronomaster Sport. When the latter watch debuted, the comparisons were immediate. Not only because of the similarities in dial colors and layouts, but even the bracelet and clasp could remind you of the Daytona if those Rolex design codes happen to be rolling around in your head. But the links are deeper than aesthetic similarities. The Daytona, for years, ran on Zenith-made movements, and part of me has always felt like the Chronomaster Sport was a sort of low-key troll of Rolex. The current generation El Primero 3600 column-wheel chronograph movement, capable of timing events to the tenth of a second, certainly outperforms even the recent Rolex caliber 4131 strictly on the chrono precision metric, so dressing their more advanced and higher frequency movement in Daytona clothing felt to me like a subtle dig. And of course Rolex famously slowed down the El Primero calibers in their Daytonas, so the relationship between these brands, and these watches in particular, forms a rich text. 

Nevertheless, this new titanium Chronomaster Sport feels well and truly divorced from any Daytona connections, and sits very nicely in the library of contemporary watches Zenith has been building over these past several years. Titanium isn’t a material Zenith deploys frequently, and it seems to usually pop up in the Defy collection, so finding it here in their premier sport chronograph makes it immediately register as something kind of irresistibly weird. There’s a skunk-works aspect to Zenith’s titanium projects – they feel experimental, and frequently straddle the line that they’re so careful of observing between watches that pay homage to the brand’s long heritage, and watches that are relentlessly forward thinking. 

As with most titanium watches, the first thing that you notice when you pick up the new Chronomaster Sport is the almost disconcerting lightness. The case and bracelet have a barely-there feeling in the hand on the wrist that, if your taste veers toward watches with an airy quality, you’re going to be pretty happy with the Chronomaster Sport. My personal preference has always been for a watch with more heft. I can’t really explain why. There’s an old principle buried in the subconscious of most watch collectors that weight equals quality, and I suppose my reptilian brain might favor steel for this reason, even though intellectually I’m of course very well aware that this makes no logical sense. Titanium is by most accounts more challenging to finish than steel, at least if you’re trying to obtain a mix of polished and more matte surfaces, so a watch like the titanium Chronomaster Sport should register as even more impressive by those standards. 

And the finishing on this watch is pretty special – I’d even go so far as to say it’s the standout feature when you really take a step back and look at it. The most impressive bits, to me, are the razor thin polished chamfers running down the side of each link of the bracelet, which of course echo the wider polished bevels on the case sides. I also love the way the brushing pattern on the bezel is an extension of the sunray brushed dial. It’s aesthetically pleasing and gives the entire presentation a level of coherence that wouldn’t be there if the Zenith had elected to use a ceramic bezel (as it does on the steel models) rather than titanium. Like I said, they went all in on titanium here. 

The El Primero traditionally has a tri-color subdial arrangement, and Zenith achieves that here while still ensuring the totality of the watch is gray on gray on gray. A white register at 9:00, a silver one at 6:00, and a dark gray at 3:00 allow the wearer to easily differentiate between them while maintaining a look that’s predominantly monotone. Red tipped hands on the chronograph counters further enhance legibility. 

On the 4:30 date window, I’ll say this, and paraphrase Tony Soprano: arguing about it is the lowest form of conversation. The El Primero’s 4:30 date window is like the cyclops magnifier on a Datejust in that it’s just fully baked into the design of the watch at this point. You might as well complain that dogs bark, or that the ghost pepper is too spicy. While Zenith will very occasionally release a chronograph without a date window, 4:30 dates are more often than not the order of the day. I’m pretty agnostic on this always contentious issue, and while I’d probably prefer no date at all, I think on a dial with this particular subdial layout, a 4:30 date window is completely acceptable, natural, and exactly fine. I’ll save my strong opinions for other topics, like the absolute inanity of trying to “predict” what any brand will release at Watches & Wonders, and that Prometheus is quite possibly the second best movie in the Alien franchise.  

If the Chronomaster Sport in titanium has a flaw, it’s the thing that makes it what it is: the singular monotone nature of the entire piece. This, I think, is a love-it or hate-it design decision, and one that will divide watch collectors between the hardcore tool watch enthusiasts and those who tend to go for something a little more flashy. I am admittedly part of the second group, more often than not, but I think that in order to create something truly distinctive and outside the shadow of Daytona, this was really the only option. It’s a satisfying and well-made if incredibly light thing, to be sure. My only concern is that if I found it in my own watch box on a permanent basis it might not sing to me as often as some of my watches with more color. On the other hand, if you’re looking for the tooliest iteration of the Chronomaster Sport yet (and perhaps the tooliest watch Zenith makes at the moment), this is the one. Zenith

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.