Zenith Chronomaster El Primero Open Gold Watch Hands-On
Rose gold ain’t for everyone, but it could be argued that rose gold deserves a second chance when it comes to the Zenith Chronomaster collection – particularly the Zenith Chronomaster El Primero Open, which feels as though it’s been tailor-made for every carat of its bronze-hued 18k gold case.
The new Defy El Primero 21 will see many upgrades and changes, among which is the use of this new graphene-enhanced composite as Zenith’s proprietary design that is highly resistant to magnetism and temperature variations like many of the best silicium examples currently in use. Like silicium parts, Zenith’s carbon hairsprings are made with a photolithography process, but one that grows the parts on a silicium wafer, rather than etching them from one. A complex series of chemical and gaseous baths and reactions grow the composite at a molecular level and give it outstanding flex characteristics.
Now, it might feel like a fool’s errand to go around messing with the winning formula of the Chronomaster tricolor dial – a classic combination that’s rightfully earned its place in watchmaking history for nearly 50 years of service. But as we’ve come to know, Zenith isn’t exactly a stickler for traditions, even when it comes to their beloved El Primero. With the Chronomaster Open, the silver running seconds register at 9:00 and a bit of the surrounding area have been knocked out, and replaced with a cutaway that reveals the fast-moving escapement in a rose gold surround.
With most automatic movements, an open heart is a fun distraction, but the novelty isn’t usually long-lasting, as a traditional ETA 2824 or Valjoux 7750 starts to feel a little too familiar. That’s where the El Primero 4061 ‘Open’ caliber has an edge – this high-beat movement is actually quite a treat to watch front and back, as the 5Hz oscillation rate (10 beats per second) delivers an ultra-smooth sweep seconds hand, and an escapement that jumps back and forth at a truly frenetic pace. And while the 4061 functionally behaves exactly like the famed El Primero 400 caliber which made its debut in 1969, it was developed specifically to put as much of the high-beat ballet as possible in full view.
The 100th of a second chronograph is housed in a 44mm rose gold case reminiscent of the original El Primero, with an open-worked dial. Powered by a Time Lab-Chronometer certified in-house movement driving a hundredth of a second display by means of a central hand that performs a full rotation. Its double-chain structure is based on two regulators, made of Carbon-Matrix Carbon Nanotube composite, a patented material that is insensitive to magnetic fields and temperature gradients to a degree well above existing norms.
Then there’s the case itself. The tricky thing about rose gold and men’s watches is that the end result isn’t always the most flattering or masculine – particularly because the high-polished palette swap of the case doesn’t always pay any favors to the colors or textures on the dial, especially with the cheerful, pinkish hues of rose gold used on most cases. Conversely, Zenith’s brushed rose gold exhibits some warmer, smokier tones akin to some virgin bronze cases that we’ve handled. It’s a slightly more somber hue that works extremely well with the silver and blue accents on the dial, like the blued screws and the 30 minute totalizer at 3:00.
For 2017, Zenith has been in the process of updating the Chronomaster collection, getting it as close to the original source material as possible, while listening to collectors – addressing subtle details like dial text, date window placement, and the size of the sub-dial overlap – perhaps the collection’s most divisive charm. And while the Zenith Chronomaster El Primero Open seems to have been spared from these updates, to be completely fair, this edition isn’t aimed at the purists, but the types of watch fans who subscribe to the ‘seeing is believing’ camp when it comes to mechanical watches.
Sub-dial overlap aside, one of the more notable signatures within the original Chronomaster El Primero series has always been the symmetry – and the Open casts all that aside, with the escapement window occupying a fair amount of real estate, so much so, it nudges the Zenith wordmark to 1:00 – all of which takes a bit of getting used to. Thankfully, the 42mm case wears comfortably within its proportions, and neither the open dial nor the brushed rose gold case threaten to overpower the wrist – unlike many similar complications or comparable gold cases – and that’s a good thing. The end result is plenty of fun to behold on the wrist, while maintaining just enough restraint to keep from compromising the classicism of the El Primero Chronomaster itself.
A little while back, aBlogtoWatch looked at some of our zenith-watches.com