The release of the Chronomaster Sport chronograph at the beginning of this year is excellent news for Zenith. Firstly because it's a beautiful watch and secondly because it creates buzz. It has been in fact the best launch of the brand for many years from both commercial and media exposure points of view. Zenith needed such an event. The manufacture is appreciated by enthusiasts, but for several decades it has suffered from the same problem: the lack of a truly emblematic model that would make the entire collection stand out. The star at Zenith is the El Primero chronograph movement. But the overwhelming majority of customers do not buy a movement in the first place. They buy an iconic, well-known and recognizable watch. Facing the famous Submariner, Speedmaster, Navitimer and others, Zenith offered the "El Primero" chronograph. But which model? Not easy to answer this question.
A few years ago, the Manufacture embarked on a very technical path to present innovative products such as the Defy Lab and its special oscillator or the Defy El Primero 21 with its ability to display times with a 1/100th of a second accuracy. But in the end, in a context where customers need to be reassured, the market's aspirations were different. The ability to innovate was certainly in the DNA of the manufacture and it was also very tempting and relevant to draw on the creative and financial potential of the LVMH group. Under the impetus of Julien Tornare, the brand recently refocused to rely more clearly on its real asset, the El Primero movement. However, this always returned to the problem of the lack of a clearly identifiable watch. However, the brand was able to work to overcome this weakness by reorganizing its catalog, which is now much more understandable and structured around 4 collections: Defy (which concentrates the most daring watches), Elite (for a more dressy and refined proposal), Pilot (bringing together vintage inspired watches with a design with a strong personality) and Chronomaster, which is the real keystone of this catalog.
In fact, the Chronomaster collection combines 3 lines that are of fundamental importance: the Open line with an open dial, the Revival line which proposes reeditions of models from the past and the brand new Chronomaster Sport line. What do all these lines have in common? The El Primero caliber of course. And here we see all the interest of this restructuring: Zenith relies on its flagship movement but communicates a real watch name (Chronomaster). The confusion that used to exist between the name of the watch and the name of the movement is no more.
We can see here all the efforts that are being made in the context of this strategy. The different reissues (the "Revival" models) work towards the same goal. They want to forge a legend around models and not only around the movement.
The El Primero 3600 movement:
I sincerely believe that all these actions are beginning to show results. And the best example of the success of this strategy is the presentation of the Chronomaster Sport. This watch actually ticks all the boxes that Zenith wanted. It remains faithful to the brand's style and to previous models thanks to the lay-out and presentation of its dial. It has elements that forge its own personality in the Zenith catalog, such as the black ceramic bezel (I'll come back to this point). And it doesn't forget the innovative dimension thanks to the performance of the El Primero 3600 caliber. It even offers a bonus that I would describe as almost unexpected for Zenith: the buzz.
This buzz can be explained by the Chronomaster Sport's own qualities. But let's not beat around the bush: the watch has caused a lot of reaction and has received many positive or negative comments because of its supposed resemblance to the Rolex Daytona 116500. The black ceramic bezel, the shape of the hands, the design of the bracelet, the clasp... everything has been dissected, analyzed by many observers to criticize Zenith's approach. In the end, this story is a boon for the manufacture. There is nothing worse than a watch that comes out in indifference. The buzz generated a rare media exposure for Zenith which, most importantly, turned into a commercial success during these first weeks of availability.
You will note that Zenith intelligently worked on the presentation of the movement to allow it to occupy more space than a traditional El Primero caliber:
To be compared to the Daytona is ultimately a great honor. There are worse criticisms. The Daytona is the chronograph of reference and more than that: an object of fantasy. It has no equivalent or competitor in its status as a watchmaking myth. So, even for reasons that may seem negative, to find oneself at a moment in time on a line of comparison can be perceived as a privilege.
But then, what about this supposed resemblance and, above all, does the Chronomaster Sport stand out by virtue of its own characteristics?
It is obvious to notice the resemblance with the Daytona. After all, is it that surprising? We're talking about two classic chronographs whose every execution respects some major principles of the genre, such as the 3-6-9 division of the sub-dials in order to obtain good readability of the information and a balanced dial. It is of course the black ceramic bezel that reinforces this resemblance. But I see it as an aesthetic trend that regularly manifests itself in today's watch production in the same way that past trends have produced similar watches. Not forgetting that Zenith has produced many watches with black bezels in its more or less recent history (the De Luca for example).
I think it's better to look at the specifics of the Chronomaster Sport in order to understand that the similarities are not that obvious. Let's take the bezel again. It plays a fundamental role for the Chronomaster Sport: it highlights the particularity of the movement. Its graduation is not a tachymeter scale. It represents the graduation to 1/10th of a second of 10 seconds, i.e. a hundred or so intervals. Its role is to allow easy and precise reading of the chronograph's measurements thanks to the particular behaviour of the central seconds hand. The central seconds hand completes a complete revolution of the dial in ten seconds. The consequence is that one of the sub-dials must be dedicated to the display of the seconds over 60 seconds. This is the reason why the Chronomaster Sport does not display the chronograph hours despite the three subdials. When the chronograph is started, the two horizontally aligned sub-counters have a similar behaviour with each one having a hand making a complete revolution in sixty seconds: the permanent second hand on the left and the chronograph second hand on the right. The minute counter is located at 6 o'clock. And then there is this central chronograph seconds hand. It offers a unique show. We are neither in the context of the traditional chronograph (one complete lap in sixty seconds) nor in that of the Defy El Primero 21 (one complete lap in one second). We are in an original in-between and finally very visually pleasing. The speed can be felt without getting dizzy like with the Defy El Primero 21. So we understand that the Chronomaster Sport is unlike any other chronograph on the market today in terms of displays and the behavior of the central hand on the dial. However, Zenith released a chronograph with similar characteristics more than ten years ago with the El Primero Striking Tenth and its 4052B movement, which was later declined in different versions.
The dial is faithful to the Zenith style with 3 sub-dials in different colors. They are carefully chosen and combine harmoniously. I personally find that these colors are very well proportioned. They are rather soft, even pastel depending on the angle of the light and the bezel is in the same trend being perceived more often as grey than black. The applied indexes give volume and the date window is located between two of these indexes, at 4:30 am. As usual, I would have preferred that there was none but this date display is an integral part of the "El Primero chronograph" style. And imagine what some people would have said if Zenith had removed the date: "You see, they want to clone the Daytona..."! In any case, the quality of the dial's execution is impeccable. I have a preference from an aesthetic point of view for the white dial version because the sub-dials stand out better. The black dial version is more original, more dynamic and the perceived size is smaller.
The sub-dials overlap slightly (this has always been the sin of El Primero chronographs because of the rather small distances between the subdial hand axis). In the case of the Chronomaster Sport, there's nothing to be ashamed of since no graduation is cut and the dial offers a nice overall balance. The watch "does not squint" and the thickness of the bezel limits the opening of the dial.
The steel case of the Chronomaster Master is also well made even if the rendering is a bit thick. The diameter is 41mm and the thickness is 13,6mm. Nothing shocking, especially with a chronograph. I really like the execution of the ceramic bezel with precise inscriptions. It plays well its role of graduation of the central hand. The pushers are easy to operate because of their shape and they are not screwed. Triggering the chronograph is rather hard but stopping and resetting it is pleasant. Clearly, this is not a Datograph and I have experienced better at this level but the sensations are satisfactory. On the other hand, I found the manual winding of the crown to be more complicated and a bit painful. Fortunately, the need to manually wind the movement is rather rare (the winding efficiency of the El Primero movement is well proven) but I like to turn the crown from time to time.
The steel bracelet has three links, the central link being polished. I have been wearing this watch with a bracelet in my size for several days now and I find it very comfortable. The watch is well maintained and fits well on the wrist. On the other hand, the clasp is not pleasant to open (I found a technique by holding it with two fingers on the sides and pulling it) because it hurts when using the nail to lift it at the end. The other tricky point is the lack of a quick fine adjustment system. Several positions are available to fix the bracelet on the clasp but the adjustment requires an intervention. Finally, I am not a fan of the aesthetic rendering of the gap between the end piece and the first link. Fortunately, these defects do not affect the comfort which is real. In any case, the Chronomaster Sport is also available with a textured rubber strap for those allergic to the steel bracelet.
The master asset of the Chronomaster Sport is of course the El Primero 3600 movement. This movement is visible thanks to the see-though caseback. It would have been a shame to deprive myself of it because I find it visually very attractive. Its presentation is more airy and it offers beautiful depth effects. Without being finished in a spectacular way, it is extremely pleasant to observe. It has some distinctive details such as blued screws and column wheel. The hollowed out oscillating mass allows you to enjoy this architecture. Moreover, Zenith has been clever. Without making the movement's own diameter larger than that of a traditional El Primero caliber, Zenith has opened up the peripheral zone and used a wrap-around winding mass. The El Primero 3600 movement therefore appears larger and better suited to the watch's diameter.
I have posted a video of the chronograph in operation on Instagram at this address: www.instagram.com
The performance of the movement is excellent with a power reserve of 60 hours for a frequency of 5hz. That's what's fascinating about the El Primero caliber in general. Despite its age, it remains a very contemporary movement. Its architecture is more seductive and charming than those of more recent chronograph movements (which I find more "cold") while offering the ability to measure to 1/10th of a second with a very correct power reserve. Note an important detail with the El Primero 3600 movement: the sequence of the setting becomes natural, the date being set on the first notch of the crown and the time on the second. The Chronomaster Sport is not in any case the first watch to use it. Remember, Zenith presented this movement in 2019 in the context of the set which was celebrating the 50th anniversary El Primero. The watch with this movement already had a black ceramic bezel... but the date was at 6 o'clock and the case had a diameter of 42mm.
The clasp of the Chronomaster Sport:
The Chronomaster Sport offers great sensations when worn. Its perceived size remains reasonable because the dial opening is limited. As I mentioned earlier, this feeling is accentuated with the black dial version. The watch is comfortable because the end piece forces the strap to efficiently fit the wrist. Triggering the chronograph is a bit hard but the show offered by the central hand is pleasing. The date is discreet and the watch softens according to the light conditions. When in use, the Chronomaster Sport benefits from the efficient winding of the movement, its reliability and precision. Reading the chronograph seconds requires a small period of familiarization to simultaneously watch the two displays, but the use of the bezel's graduation quickly becomes indispensable. Finally, the watch proves to be versatile thanks to its classic style and 100-meter water resistance.
Zenith is unquestionably making its mark at the beginning of the year with the Chronomaster Sport. This watch is a real success thanks to its convincing reinterpretation of the chronograph display, which takes advantage of the El Primero movement's ability to measure 1/10th of a second. If I compare it with the first timepiece equipped with the same El Primero 3600 movement, I find it more balanced, better proportioned and more qualitative. It was not enough to put a ceramic bezel on it to create a desirable watch. The Chronomaster Sport is the result of a well thought-out approach that is in line with Zenith's strategic direction. The real question now is whether this model will become the true emblem of the brand, the identifiable watch that will boost sales. Initial sales results suggest that the answer will be yes. Even if the Chronomaster Sport is not a perfect watch, it certainly has all the assets to fulfill this role in the future. Zenith has perhaps just achieved, at an unusual time, its most important launch in many years.
The Chronomaster Sport is available in four versions, in steel only, black dial or white dial, with a steel bracelet or a textured rubber strap. The retail price with the steel bracelet is 9,700 euros in France. This price is fixed at 9.200 euros with the rubber strap.
+ the performance and presentation of the El Primero 3600 movement.
+ the practical size of the bezel
+ the comfort on the wrist
+ the aesthetic versatility confirmed by the daily use
- the clasp does not have a quick fine adjustment and its opening is not very pleasant.
- the triggering of the chronograph is rather stiff