Timeless Chronomaster Heritage Review
Timeless is very proud to present our first collaboration with Zenith, the Timeless Chronomaster Heritage! The Timeless Chronomaster (for short) is the result of many months of careful design. Our goal was simple: we wanted to make a classic chronograph that kept the El Primero’s three register dial. For inspiration, we looked to one of our favorite vintage Zeniths that we felt hadn’t received enough attention through the years, the A273.
We wanted to create the most classical tri-register layout possible while maintaining that historic connection to the A273, so the result is a combination of old and new. For the dial, we used a very subtle sunburst in champagne. That gives it a nice dynamic character which lets the the dial adapt to different lighting and environments. We avoided extraneous writing on the dial wherever possible, so unlike many El Primero watches, you won’t find a reference to the movement, or its frequency, on the dial. For the same reason we have avoided using a date complication to make the watch as clean as it possibly could be.
If you’ve observed our earlier limited editions, you’ll know that when given the chance to use blued hands, we’ll take it. Thus, every hand other than the hour and minute hands is now in a gorgeous heat-blued hue. We find that it contrasts quite nicely with the subtle champagne color of the dial. The blued hands, while something we love in general, are also a nod to the A273, which used precisely this combination of blued and polished hands.
Another, somewhat more adventurous, homage to the A273 are the lines found on the minute subdial. These lines, oddly enough, were used to time long distance phone calls, or more precisely the increments at which the rate increased. Or so I’m told, anyway, I’m afraid I wasn’t alive in the 1960s to attest to these facts, but they do provide a pleasant conversation piece and a degree of continuity between this watch and its inspiration.
The Timeless Chronomaster is not a reissue of the A273, of course, merely inspired by it. We did make some changes to the shape of the hands, opting for the dressier feuille shape, which we felt better suited the understated character of the watch than the more sporty batons of the A273. The subdial hands are also updated slightly, thanks to the addition of short counterbalances.
We utilized the Heritage 146 case, a bit of a throwback in its own right, and at 38mm, the perfect size for the new model. 38mm is slightly larger than the original model, but we have long observed that 38mm is a great all-around size for a dressier design. The case primarily differs from the original in its more angular lugs, compared to the very straight lugs of the A273 and the fact that has a display back. We were also able to keep the watch reasonably thin, for an automatic chronograph anyway, at 13.75mm. There are plenty of mainstream 3 handers that are as thick as that these days.
We made a change to the Heritage 146 case as well. The crown was a bit too bold for such an understated watch, so we swapped it with a thinner crown. It’s even slightly more demure than the A273. The pushers, which feel as good to use as you’re imagining, are also a little different from the A273 with a small groove around them.
There is another, more profound change: it has an El Primero automatic chronograph movement inside. The A273 was powered by a hand wound chronograph movement, beautiful in its own right, but it’s no match for the legendary 36,000 VpH El Primero. Before we discuss the technical details of the movement, lets take a moment to appreciate two things, namely its beautiful complexity and the fact that we can still buy new El Primero-powered watches in 2017. Rarely do we see such attention paid to the heritage of a movement that dates back nearly 50 years. The complex beauty, as I termed it, is the result of a sophisticated chronograph mechanism not being hidden behind a massive top plate. Because of its integrated design we can actually see the chronograph complication in action when you use the pushers. It’s quite remarkable.
The El Primero, as you undoubtedly already know, is likely the most influential chronograph movement in the world. It’s known for many things, like being the first automatic chronograph, as well as its extremely high 10 beat per second frequency (or 25% more than the average watch in 2017). It’s also one of relatively few integrated chronographs, where chronograph mechanisms share the same space as timekeeping mechanisms. Aside from the venerable 7750 and its siblings, many chronographs today use modules, essentially a separate layer of mechanisms placed on top of the movement. These do the job well enough, but they will almost always be thicker than an integrated chronograph due to their stacked layout.
For timekeeping, Zenith employs the ever popular smooth balance wheel/regulator combination. The El Primero uses a regulator index for precise control of its rate, which makes it simple for watchmakers to modify its timekeeping. Its reputation for accuracy, both in terms of the time and the precision of the chronograph, are owed to the old-school approach of high-frequency design that a small number of brands, including Zenith, pioneered decades ago, and that’s what allows the chronograph to be reliably read in 0.1 second increments, rare among even modern chronographs. The notion of “battle-proven” movements gets tossed around quite a bit, but relatively few have the provenance of the El Primero, released in 1969, and still impressing people in 2017.
It’s always a great joy to see these designs come to life, from the earliest stages of dozens of different in-house renders all the way to a watch we can actually wear. For every final watch you see we’ve gone through hundreds of different designs that didn’t make the cut. Some varied wildly, some varied subtly, but the one you end up was the consequence of a great deal of consideration. As lifelong fans of Zenith, getting to participate in creating a new model, even a humble limited edition like this, was quite an experience, hopefully one we’ll get to have again in the future.
The Timeless Chronomaster Heritage is a limited edition of just 25 watches, priced at $7,500, so if you find yourself considering one, make sure to e-mail or call us (214-494-4241) to reserve yours before they’re all gone.