Hands-On with the Zenith Chronomaster Open in Rose Gold

On my most recent trip to the Worn & Wound offices in Brooklyn, I received an email toward the end of my week in the city from the rep for Zenith, one of my favorite brands. Would I be interested in taking one of the new Zenith Chronomaster Opens on loan for a bit so I could write about it for the site? Yes, of course I would. I honestly didn’t even realize while I was quickly skimming the email that it was the rose gold version being offered up. Well, let me tell you: that’s not an opportunity I’m going to miss. People generally don’t just go around asking me if I want to borrow a brand new gold chronograph for a few days. Frankly, I can’t imagine why. 

And so it was that on my last day in the office, a package arrived with the watch inside, unceremoniously presented in its black Zenith travel case. I opened it up, removed the watch, set the time, and strapped it on. Over the course of a long Memorial Day weekend, the rose gold Chronomaster Open would barely leave my wrist, and never leave my sight. This is the nature of taking on an expensive loaned watch. If I had the ability to sleep with one eye open, believe me when I tell you I’d have it trained on the solid gold chronograph sitting on my bedside table. 


Here’s the thing: I’m incredibly careful with all of the watches that are lent to me for review purposes. Remember, I’m the guy who travels with the bare minimum of watches in tow, because my anxiety ridden brain is perennially worried I’m bound to lose one someday. And don’t try to tell me that the fact that I’ve never actually lost a watch, traveling or otherwise, is a sign that it’s a fate not likely to befall me. In my mind, it just means I’m due. This is just to say, in writing about my experience with a gold watch for a weekend, I can’t ignore the fact that my experience was inherently colored by the simple fact that this particular gold watch was most definitely not mine. Would I be able to relax and just enjoy the thing? This was an open question as I got ready to head back to New Hampshire on an early evening Acela train. 


Hands-On with the Zenith Chronomaster Open in Rose Gold

Rose gold
Caliber 3600
Water Resistance
100 meters
39.5 x 45.2mm
Lug Width

It turns out, I had plenty of time to ponder this while waiting in Moynihan Train Hall, certainly a more aesthetically pleasing venue to wear this particular watch than the subterranean and generally horrifying Penn Station, just across 8th Avenue. Late afternoon on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, it turns out, is a busy time to travel. My train was delayed. I found a (relatively) quiet place to sit down and aimlessly stare at my phone while I waited for the “Stand By” message to come over the intercom. I caught myself looking at the Chronomaster Open frequently. Not necessarily to check the time. More to confirm that it’s there, on my wrist, and that I haven’t imagined this whole scenario somehow. 

Anyway, here I was, not quite post-pandemic, in an absolute sea of humanity, throngs of people passing each other to who knows where, just to get away for what I’m sure they all hoped would be a relaxing weekend of cookouts, parades, and all the other trappings of a leisurely summer weekend. I’ve been wearing this gold watch for the better part of a full workday at this point, and I still catch myself feeling genuinely surprised when I look toward my wrist to check the time (or just admire the thing) and see the luster of gold and not the cool slab of steel I’m used to. In the office, it didn’t feel strange to wear it because it’s a little watch bubble where everyone is more or less thinking and talking about watches constantly. But now that I was out in the world (and you’re never more fully “in the world” than waiting for a train in midtown Manhattan) I wondered to myself if there could ever be a scenario where a watch like this would seem normal to me. 

One thing I can say for sure is that it didn’t seem to attract attention. You hear a lot about gold watches being ostentatious and flashy. I half expected total strangers to come up to me and ask me about it, to which I’d reply with the full reference number and an explanation of the 1/10th second chronograph, and my new friend would walk away enlightened and informed. That didn’t happen. I don’t think it was even close to happening. I think, as with most steel watches, people (normal people) just don’t notice them. Or they assume, if they see it at all, that it’s gold plated, or fake, or whatever. Because who really walks around wearing a solid gold watch in their normal everyday life? And does the wearing of said watch somehow make a life less normal and those daily tasks less mundane? 

Once back in the Granite State, I did a whole lot of mundane things with this watch. I sat outside of my favorite coffee shop and listened to a podcast while enjoying an iced latte. I went to the grocery store, a Memorial Day weekend cookout, and caught a movie. I had drinks with a friend at a bar after the movie, and ate a chicken Caesar wrap that immediately fell apart once I bit into it. At no time during any of this was I able to forget about the solid hunk of gold on my wrist. 

It was always top of mind, because it was a loaner and that’s just how I am. But I really enjoyed looking at it, and thinking about it. It’s objectively beautiful. Zach W. has written about the pull that gold has on him, and lately I find myself in a similar boat. Gold has an effect on all of us – could it be tied to our genetic memory, like our fear of sharks? For all of recorded history, gold has been linked to prosperity and success in a way that’s more universal and pure than a Lamborghini or something similar. Somehow it feels like it’s less of a flex because it’s part of the earth. It wasn’t manufactured or created to get likes on Instagram. Gold is as old as the universe and will be around long after we’re gone. Probably after the sharks are gone, too. 

There’s a weight, in every sense of that word, to wearing gold. It requires a certain amount of responsibility. It’s soft, (a friend describes gold as a peanut butter-like material, which is something that will never leave my head, and might never leave yours) and really won’t hold up to scratches and dings like steel. Gold not only promotes, but requires us to slow down, think carefully, and just enjoy the experience of the watch and whatever it is you happen to be doing. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say the watch made me feel more “present” or anything like that, but I strangely enjoyed the inverse of the old “it disappears on the wrist” situation I was experiencing. 

At 39.5mm wide and a hair over 13mm tall, the watch is compact on my 7.5 inch wrist, even as its presence is always felt. The case closely resembles that of the Chronomaster Sport, but without the bezel, which means it’s easy to wear but pleasantly chunky. That’s one of the idiosyncratic things about any gold sports watch, I think. A hunk of gold will always feel a lot more over the top than a thin sliver of the stuff, and it was perfectly clear to me by the end of the weekend with the Chronomaster Open that if there’s a gold watch in my future, it will be of the thin, dressy variety. Eventually a watch this size is going to meet a door jamb and you’ll understand in real terms why the peanut butter comparison makes scary sense. 


I should probably address one of the remaining elephants in the room, that being the open heart nature of this watch. Look, there’s no denying that an open heart is about as cool as Wonder Bread in watch circles. It’s not a feature that enthusiasts go for. But it’s been part of the world of the El Primero for two decades now, and with this new version incorporating the latest 3600 caliber, it’s clear that Zenith still believes in the design. I was skeptical about this new open heart going into our Zenith meeting at Watches & Wonders a few months ago, but they’ve gone about executing it in probably the best possible way. 

Instead of the traditional tri-color register setup most of us are used to on an El Primero, the seconds scale at 9:00 is now translucent thanks to the addition of a small piece of hesalite, which also partially covers other overlapping exposed elements beneath it. To the left of the running seconds register is the escape wheel, made of silicon and quite dynamic in shifting shades of purple, depending on the light. And then up top you get a view of the balance itself. The activity under the dial puts on quite a show thanks to the high speed movement – this is a very different sort of proposition than an open heart watch with a stock ETA or Sellita movement that only has its balance wheel exposed. A sense of motion is palpable and when you have the chronograph engaged there’s even more going on, since the centrally mounted seconds hand is making one rotation every 10 seconds. Things are moving so quickly it honestly makes you wonder how it’s not already broken, because surely anything moving so fast with such small parts should be breaking apart right before your eyes. 

It was the partially open dial, and not the gold case, that actually drew the one and only comment from a non-watch person in the time I had with the watch. Innocuous enough, it was just a friend asking “What’s going on there?” upon noticing the hole in the dial where you’d not normally expect one. After explaining what was, in fact, going on there, that the open design allows you to see the mechanics of the 5 hz movement in action, and that it’s pretty special that the chrono seconds hand is driven by the escape wheel itself and not through the gear train, the topic of the gold case came up, to which I received a well deserved roll of the eyes. Maybe that’s a sign I’m not a gold watch person. 

The point of the open heart is to act as a showcase for the high frequency movement. It’s always been something of a teaching tool for Zenith, and I get the sense that these watches are popular with people who are either new to the hobby or not even part of it at the enthusiast level, and just want a cool watch that puts on a show. Zenith’s open hearts have always done that, but the new version takes it up several notches thanks to the way that the interior hesalite crystal is implemented. It adds a compelling sense of depth to the dial that’s really noticeable in person but tough to convey in photos. Looking at it closely from an angle, it has all the hallmarks of hesalite that Moonwatch enthusiasts have always championed, namely a pleasant organic warmth.


The silvery-white base dial is gorgeous and has a lustrous quality to it of its own. And the hour markers are polished and faceted, making the watch simple to read, and everything pops in the way I think you’d want in a gold sports watch. It’s not discreet or under the radar, and the window into the movement only amplifies the watch’s impact. There’s lume on the dial and on the hands, but it’s not incredibly strong, and the watch is tough to read in low light situations, but if you’re wearing a gold watch, I’d argue that tool watch qualifications have flown out the window. Why you’d ever want to wear this watch where you couldn’t absolutely bathe it in light is a question I don’t have an answer for. The case is finished with a mix of brushing and high polish that is accentuated the more light hits it, and that’s really how you want to experience the case. I’m glad I was able to sample this watch over a summer holiday weekend and not, for example, Thanksgiving, when it’s getting dark at around 5:00 in the afternoon in my part of the world. What a waste that would be.

There is one significant advantage to this new Open collection that makes it worth considering, even if you typically find yourself averse to this type of dial. This is the rare Chronomaster with no date. Let me be more precise: this is the rare Chronomaster with no date, leaving that all important 4:30 spot on the dial untouched. I’ve never been too terribly against the 4:30 date window, particularly on these Zeniths, but if that’s offensive to you, a new option presents itself. It’s too bad, I guess, that this makes for what might amount to an impossible decision for a collector: go for the no date but suffer the open heart? If you’ve been circling an El Primero but have been reluctant because of the date placement, I wouldn’t dismiss the Open out of hand without seeing it in person and trying it on. It might surprise you like it did me. And remember, they make it in steel, too. 

The other thing I’ll say about the Chronomaster Open is that the 1/10th second chronograph is actually quite a bit more intuitive than I’d have imagined. It’s one of those things that you kind of have to experience to really get a sense of, and this was my first time with a caliber 3600 equipped watch for any prolonged period. The action is crisp and feels great, and the 1/10th second format is really ideal for timing anything that you expect to be a short interval. Events that are really quick, like less than 10 seconds, are actually perfect for this watch, because you just have the centrally mounted chrono seconds hand to read in that case, and it’s the one that will present the fewest problems for aging eyes. 

Eventually, my little adventure with the gold Chronomaster Open came to an end, as all adventures do. I was happy to release it back to its rightful place. Putting on a steel watch for the first time after boxing up the Zenith, I felt an immediate return to the status quo that I was perfectly fine with. But even with the modest agita that came with guarding this gold piece for a weekend, it’s easy to see the appeal. Just the other day I wrote about another gold (also, platinum) watch that I haven’t seen in person, and tried to convey that the draw of a watch like this really comes down to an appreciation for beautiful objects. Usually, for me, this is a fairly abstract concept when it comes to high value precious metal watches, but having the Chronomaster Open in my care for a few days made it more real. This watch, the Zenith, costs a little more than $20,000, which is far more than I’d be comfortable spending on anything that I’d wear on my body while navigating the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through. But I thoroughly enjoyed living out a gold watch fantasy for a long weekend, and came away thinking that even if a gold watch doesn’t immediately make your life more glamorous, interesting, or luxurious, it presents ample opportunity to admire something that is just simply gorgeous. And that’s always something that’s worth doing, whether you’re in a busy train hall, a bar, or just dozing off on your couch as the air conditioning blasts during a hot summer weekend. 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.