Zenith chronograph (A271 ?) ca. 1969
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  1. #1
    Member sempervivens's Avatar
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    Zenith chronograph (A271 ?) ca. 1969

    After I had experienced the fine chronometer quality of the A277 chronograph (with cal. 146 HP), it didn't take much time for me to fall for another 'early' Zenith chronograph, now with cal. 146 DP.

    The difference between cal. 146 H and cal. 146 D : the first is a 'triple register chronograph' which has 30 minute and 12 hour counter, whereas the second is a 'double register' chronograph which has a 45 minute counter
    (except the Cairelli CP 2 where the cal. 146 DP is executed with a 30 minute counter).

    These are some snapshots in poor light but it will give an idea I hope

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    (this is a movement pic by the seller)
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    The crystal is in a used condition, with a small crack at 6 o'clock. I polished it a little and maybe will wait to change it until the watch needs a complete service. What do you guys think?

    The last pic shows (on the left) a NOS Zenith 19 mm strap which I bought for it as an extra. (In the meantime I had already put it on another plain vintage 19 mm black leather strap, which probably also resembles the original).

    The size of the watch is +- 38 mm without crown. It has 19 mm lugsize.

    The movement and white dial and case in good condition, the lovely red second hand, the serial number close in range to the SN of my A386, these aspects and details easily sold it to me.

    In the meantime I noticed some more finesses such as the different positioning of the numbers in the subdials.

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    Just like its bigger brother, A277 cal. 146 HP, it winds very smoothly and works very well and keeps excellent time, with a power reserve of ca. 41 hours.

    It seems to me there isn't much known about these 'early' Zenith chronographs: not about the movement, nor about the different models.

    Ranfft even hasn't got the caliber 146 in his list.

    A few different models can be found on the internet, but I couldn't find an exact same one. One which resembles it best is its black & white dial sister watch on a French forum : zenith 146 DP (scroll down to see the pics of the watch I mean) : the same style of hour markers, same style of second hand (in a different colour) and a serial number that is very close.

    Roessler also has a few entries and some information. He mentions in his caliber list that the 'P' version of cal. 146 introduced some small changes ("flat coil, shockproofing") and was executed in 1969.

    More information could be found on the net about the Zenith Cairelli C.P.2, which has the same movement (except that it uses a 30-minute counter).
    On a Swiss German forum ( • Thema anzeigen - Wohl eine der schönsten Zenith´s ) I found it confirmed that the 146 P movements for the Cairelli were made in 1969 (the dials for the Cairelli were apparently made later, in 1970). I quote :
    "146H = Stundenzähler
    146D = 45-Minuten-Zähler
    146P bzw. 146DP = (Plat) Flachspirale ohne Spiralklötzchen, Glucydurunruh, Kif-Stoßsicherung,19800 a/h, 17 Steine,

    Die Zifferblätter des Chronos kamen vom Fournisseur Lindner, bei dem Zenith am 11. März 1970 2500 Zifferblätter bestellte. Zenith selbst bestätigt, dass es von der Uhr max. 2500 Exemplare gegeben hat.
    Das Gehäuse aus Edelstahl mit Schraubboden, Hesalithglas, Aluminium-Drehlünette,wassergeschützt,Weicheisen-Innengehäuse
    Die Werke wurden wohl 1969 und die Gehäuse 1970 produziert. "

    According to this post, the movements (cal 146 DP for the Cairelli's) were made in 1969, the dials for the Cairelli's were ordered by Zenith on 11 March 1970 from their supplier Lindner.

    This concerns the Cairelli CP 2, but it indirectly seems to confirm what Roessler's mentions in his caliber list, that the change of cal 146... to cal 146 ...P dates to 1969 (and involved changes in the shockproofing and a flatter coil).

    About the catalog reference... There aren't so many vintage catalogs available...
    Based on my little research I would conclude that the catalog reference for this watch probably was A271. I found an earlier version (in the catalog ca. 1965) which had the ref. A2.71.
    Some details such as the hour markers and the style of second hand and the lugsize, even the case size, may have changed over the years, but IMHO it could be that the main reference remained unchanged for the next five or seven years. Only the '.' was usually left out later, so A2.71 became A271.

    As was the system in those days : A (for a steel case), 2 (for a waterresistant case), 7 (for a chronograph movement). The last number further defines the model (dial style, two or three subregisters etc).

    To conclude, I would estimate this version dates to 1969. If it is correct that the movement cal. 146 DP was only made in 1969 (I think this is an interesting piece of information which is probably correct) that definitely would date it to 1969. Based on the serial number 384D358, I would also date it to 1969.

    Naturally if anybody has any more information or catalog pics to share this would be very welcome.

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    Last edited by sempervivens; March 5th, 2012 at 21:38.
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  2. #2
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    Re: Zenith chronograph (A271 ?) ca. 1969

    Very nice watch and good write up. Thank you for that. I am not sure whether the red second hand is original - I have never seen one like that. It is more characteristic of 1950s chronographs in general. The model looks like one from the early to mid sixties otherwise (for technical reasons, no access to my Rössler, at present, I'm afraid so I can't dig up the reference number).....

    Hartmut Richter

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    Member DragonDan's Avatar
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    Re: Zenith chronograph (A271 ?) ca. 1969

    Nice! The movement looks great too. I recently found this out, don't know if it's common knowledge: the minute subdial has divisions lines at 3 minutes each, for timing long distance phone calls. When this watch was made, it was common for phone companies to charge in blocks of 3 minutes each.
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    Member John Chris's Avatar
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    Re: Zenith chronograph (A271 ?) ca. 1969

    Quote Originally Posted by DragonDan View Post
    Nice! The movement looks great too. I recently found this out, don't know if it's common knowledge: the minute subdial has divisions lines at 3 minutes each, for timing long distance phone calls. When this watch was made, it was common for phone companies to charge in blocks of 3 minutes each.
    Dan is right about the long-distance charge timing feature - and the 45-minute standard for the minute sub-dial was, of course, to permit a referee to time the half in a football (soccer) game. One presumes that Signore A. Cairelli was not a fan!

  6. #5
    Member D N Ravenna's Avatar
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    Re: Zenith chronograph (A271 ?) ca. 1969

    Thanks for such an informative post!

    Dan

  7. #6
    Member sempervivens's Avatar
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    Re: Zenith chronograph (A271 ?) ca. 1969

    Quote Originally Posted by D N Ravenna View Post
    Thanks for such an informative post!

    Dan
    Thanks Dan. Since I did some research and had to piece some bits of information together from various sources, I thought it useful to share the results straight away.

    Originally Posted by DragonDan
    Nice! The movement looks great too. I recently found this out, don't know if it's common knowledge: the minute subdial has divisions lines at 3 minutes each, for timing long distance phone calls. When this watch was made, it was common for phone companies to charge in blocks of 3 minutes each.

    Dan is right about the long-distance charge timing feature - and the 45-minute standard for the minute sub-dial was, of course, to permit a referee to time the half in a football (soccer) game. One presumes that Signore A. Cairelli was not a fan!
    Thanks DragonDan and John Chris. Yes I'd say it is fairly common knowledge among watch lovers that the division lines of 3 minutes were useful in the past when making phone calls. I find those division lines anyway a nice detail, that adds to the legibility of the minute counter. (Quite different from the modern design : compare the much discussed minute counter in the modern El Primero line, where instead of enhancing the legibility, they have obliterated some of the minute divisions).

    It is a 45 minutes counter instead of the more common 30 minute counter : yes, could be useful for soccer; but it makes sense anyway that if you don't have an hour counter, you can at least have a longer minute counter. It allows to time periods that are 50 % longer than with the ordinary 30 minute counter.

    Very nice watch and good write up. Thank you for that. I am not sure whether the red second hand is original - I have never seen one like that. It is more characteristic of 1950s chronographs in general. The model looks like one from the early to mid sixties otherwise (for technical reasons, no access to my Rössler, at present, I'm afraid so I can't dig up the reference number).....

    Hartmut Richter
    Thank you Hartmut.
    Yes the red second hand is rare, but original. You can see the same style of second hand in its sister watch with black and white dial, on the French forum. I will show a pic extract here : look at the lower part of the second hand and you will see it is the same style :

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    Apparently Zenith regularly changed the second hands they used for the same chronograph model. Even the small hands in the subdials can be different sometimes : gold, blued, black.... You can observe for instance the A277 with different chronograph second hands and different hands in the subdials. Whereas the same models were produced for several years, each production batch during the years may have received their own style chronograph hands.

    It is true that a red second hand would not have been unusual for the 1950's either. But Zenith also used red chronograph hands around 1970, e.g. the early El Primero's have red second hands. You can also see for instance Heuer Camaro's from around 1968-69 with several different colours such as orange chronograph second hands, or Heuer Carrera's in the early '70's with red or orange second hands. The sporty red chronograph hand was popular in those days; it still is even today.

    It is also true that this model looks like 60's. The exact same style existed already around 1965 : same dial and case. But apparently it still had a smaller diameter in 1965 : 35 mm. And there are slight differences in the dial : the hour markers are different, and the chronograph hand. See catalog pic below.

    People often tend to date these early handwound chronographs to the 1950's, forgetting that Zenith probably made more of these during the 1960's and continued making them until ca. 1970.

    By the end of the '60s, Zenith still produced the same style of classical handwound chronograph and also added several colourful variants : you can find the same model with a completely black dial, or a black dial with white subdials; and in the gold and goldplated versions there is a gold dial with black subdials and a black dial with gold subdials. It was common in the late '60s to have a greater variety of different dials for the same watch. (And besides the dials, they could also swap the chronograph second hand, to bring about a small but significant change.)

    The style of hour markers as seen in my watch was apparently used around 1969-70. You can see the same style of hour markers in the watch with black and white dial, shown above; and also in the two watches in Roessler on p. 228-229, where he shows a similar couple : one with white dial and one with black and white dial. The white dial is exactly the same as my watch, except for a higher SN and a different chronograph second hand. I would date that one to the end of 1969 or early 1970. Roessler dates both 'about 1960' : if you interpret that as '1960's' it is correct, but to be more accurate they were made in 1969-70. Their serial numbers 384D... and 812D... place them in the 1969-1970 period. Remember that the first El Primero's from 1969 had serial numbers starting with 4..D... and 5..D. At the most I'd say a Zenith with serial number starting 384D... could have been produced in late 1968, but not before 1968. And here 1969 is more likely than 1968, since Roessler mentions in his Early Chronographs Caliber list (on p.210) that caliber 146 P dates to 1969.

    Roessler doesn't show reference numbers for the early chronographs. He doesn't give an overview of models, he shows a (more or less chronological) mix of samples.
    Oddly, for the one sample with white dial on p. 228, he does mention a reference : "1305 HU", which however IMO was not a normal Zenith reference code. That may have been a reference used by a Zenith subsidiary in some other country ? (compare with references which can be seen in old Italian advertisements for early Zenith Defy's and which are completely different from the references used by Zenith Switzerland). The normal Zenith reference would have been A271 (or at least another number in the 27x line). Here is an example from ca. 1965 :
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    Last edited by sempervivens; March 6th, 2012 at 20:27.
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  8. #7
    Member LouS's Avatar
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    Re: Zenith chronograph (A271 ?) ca. 1969

    Nice presentation, and a pretty watch, as all are the 146s. I have yet to understand how many variations of this watch really exist - I've counted twelve major dial-case variations, taking into account all case materials (18K, plated, stainless), both two and three subdials and both square and mushroom pushers, but not minor variations in hour markers and the like. Obviously, a whole field for collecting here. I agree with you that A 271 is the correct reference number for this model, and about their being minor variations in hour markers among these two register silver dial steel versions. In my observation, however, handsets fall pretty cleanly into two groups. One has simple stick hands without luminescence, and these are matched with blue steel chronograph second hand and subdial hands. The second has the more elaborate hands of yours, with painted strip down the middle. These have a chronograph second hand with a lancette tip.

    Examples:
    Stick hands (pic from around the web)


    Fancy hands (pic from around the web)



    Numerous examples of the "fancy hands" in Roessler, including a white on black two register a mere 350 case numbers away from yours (p229). I must say, you are far closer on the dating that Roessler.

    I have not seen a red hand on any 146 other than yours, and I have not seen a hand with an "olive" at the short end on any watch other than yours and the grey dial one you show. I'm with Hartmut in that I have my doubts about whether they are original. I'm always prepared to be educated otherwise.

    I leave you with a few more catalog shots
    from a 1966 catalog - Zenith must have revised its reference system about twice a month in the 1960s

    From the 1970 catalog, a three register version

  9. #8
    Member 31 Jewels's Avatar
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    Re: Zenith chronograph (A271 ?) ca. 1969

    I was taught in watch school that only 1 in 10 watches that are tested for "chronometer statis" pass. I have tried it on two occaisons with an egg incubater and a US Navy clock. This test takes 2 weeks and my best Rolex service and precision timeing of the watch(took an hour) they both failed. It is not easy and the school is right on that one. It wasnt my actual work it was the watches. Did you know that after you send a Rolex back to the mother ship for a service it is not a chronometer anymore? Rolex does not retest your watch for that. I almost fell of my watchmaker stool when i found this out from my instructor who had worked for Rolex for 17 years. 31
    Last edited by 31 Jewels; March 7th, 2012 at 03:00.

  10. #9
    Member sempervivens's Avatar
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    Re: Zenith chronograph (A271 ?) ca. 1969

    Thanks 31 Jewels.

    Thanks Lou. Yes there must have been at least twelve variations, especially near the end in 1969-70 there seems to have been quite a range of handwound Zenith chronographs.

    Those what you call fancy hands IMO are typical only for the gold and goldplatedwatches with yellow dials. I think those were only made around 1969-70, therefore with a cal. 146 P.





    I didn't remember you had this perfect sample, did you show that before ? If I'm correct it has a cal. 146 DP and a 1969-70 S/N?

    Limiting the handsets used by Zenith chronographs to two groups only, one with straight hands and one with fancy hands, is not correct IMO. The fancy hand seen above is more of a rarity, used for the gold(plated) chronographs of 1970. Interestingly, Zenith used a similar 'fancy' hand again for the 1990 Zenith El Primero Defy, which also had gold colour in the dials. Fancy hand goes well with the gold.

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    Straight hands are common for the mid 60's; but olive hands were also used in the beginning of 1969, as has already been demonstrated by two examples.

    And besides there were more types of hands, for instance this with a white paddle, used for the A277 with cal. 146 HP:

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    There are also a few examples where you can see that they tried the fancy second hand for the steel cased chronographs. I find that with the black and white dial the fancy hand goes quite well, but with the white dial I don't find it a good marriage. The classic white dial needs a classic hand, not a fancy hand! I don't think you will find many white dials with that fancy hand. The one in Roessler is the only one I've seen so far.

    I will admit that the red second hand on mine must be rare. But what I don't understand so well is that you still have doubts even after seeing a second example of a chronograph of the same batch (384Dxxx) with the same style of second hand !

    Are you just teasing and provoking me ? Do you only have doubts about the second hand on my watch or also about the one on the French forum ?


    I don't know about you guys, but I doubt that I would have bought the watch if it had a fancy hand !

    Anyway thanks for the challenge, so I looked into it a little further still.

    Hands with straight ends were used often in the 1950's and 1960's and can be seen among several examples in Roessler.

    But even more numerous in the history of Zenith chronographs are those with an 'olive' at the short end : they can be found in many of Roessler's samples of early Zenith chronographs over the decades, even going back as far as the 1920's!

    The "olive" at the short end of the chronograph hand appears to be a Zenith classic in their chronographs !

    Will you at least accept that the many Zenith chronographs with the olive at the short end of the chronograph second hand, as shown by Roessler, are all original ?


    Something else : am I correct if I conclude that one and the same Martel Chronograph caliber was responsible for all the famous Universal Geneve and Zenith chronographs from the 1930's until the 1970's. As far as I understand they remained basically identical since the 1930's. Caliber 126, 136, 146, 156, 166 for Zenith : only small differences (in the size).

    And since it was Martel who made the chronographs for Universal Geneve, it must have been Martel who invented the chronograph with two pushers , which was launched by Universal Geneve in 1932?

    And as we already know it was again Martel who invented the first automatic chronograph, launched by Zenith in 1969. Only this time, Martel was fully owned by Zenith.
    Last edited by sempervivens; March 7th, 2012 at 17:53.
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  11. #10
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    Re: Zenith chronograph (A271 ?) ca. 1969

    Thanks for the extra info. I am convinced that the red seconds hand is original to the watch, but I am stlll not quite convinced that it was red when it left the factory.....

    Hartmut Richter

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