Hodinkee and Zenith have teamed up for the second time to create a limited edition version of one of our favorite recent releases, the Chronomaster Original. Zenith of course has a veritable army of chronographs in their catalog, but the Chronomaster Original can be seen as something of a skeleton key to the rest of them. It has a classic case shape reminiscent of the A386, the original Original from 1969, and lends itself to a variety of interesting color configurations. Importantly, it also houses Zenith’s next generation El Primero Automatic Caliber 3600, an impressive modern chronograph movement capable of timing events to the tenth of a second thanks to a central hand that makes a full rotation around the dial in just ten seconds. The movement gives the Chronomaster Original the feel of something more than a heritage piece, but the classic styling separates it nicely from the more adventurous and avant-garde watches in Zenith’s Defy line, and elsewhere in the catalog. In other words, it straddles a line of sorts, so it’s interesting to see the result when a collaborator like Hodinkee gets involved in the design.
The dominant tone here is salmon, and Hodinkee really went for it, giving us a dial intentionally veering more toward orange than red. The finish is matte, a vintage inspired choice that seems on brand for Hodinkee, who usually lean toward classic, timeless elements in their high profile limited editions. El Primero sub-registers are historically and famously rendered in a tri-color format, and Hodinkee’s spin on this tradition is to make each subdial a different shade of gray, a color that pops up over and over again in Hodinkee LEs. The orange hue of the dial is honestly something of a shock at first, but digging in, you realize that each component part is essentially a deconstruction of what you’d normally expect from both brands.
The case is 38mm wide and 12.6mm thick, which is a fantastic, neutral size that is true to the watch’s heritage and also feels contemporary. Zenith nailed the design of this case back in the late 60s, and there really isn’t much need at all to make dramatic changes. It’s simple, easy to wear, and handsome in the way that you’d want a classic sports watch to be, which is to say it looks great without calling too much attention to itself. The relatively sober nature of the case also allows the dial to take center stage for this release, which is clearly the intent.
The movement, though, should not be ignored, as it’s genuinely impressive and something that every chronograph lover should experience at some point. It beats at 36,00 VpH and has a 60 hour power reserve, and thanks to the innovation of tying the central chronograph hand directly to the escapement rather than the gear train, it puts on quite a show when you start timing something. There might be a time when a high frequency 1/10th of a second chronograph like this is the norm, but until then, there will always be something fun and fascinating about watching that hand race around the dial in a way that still feels unexpected.
The Zenith Chronomaster Original Limited Edition for Hodinkee is available today through the Hodinkee Shop and Zenith’s online boutique. This edition is limited to 300 examples, and the retail price is $9,500. Zenith x Hodinkee