1969 Zenith El Primero A384 'Panda' - FULL SET - Ref. A384
The most iconic chronograph with its original papers and box.
WHY IS THIS WATCH SPECIAL
There’s so much to say about this watch, so why not start by saying this: this particular model, the ‘El Primero’ A384, was the world first automatic chronograph. With its distinct and instantly recognizable design, the A384 brought a new sense of style and substance to the world of chronographs, becoming a collectible icon.
This model is so legendary that Zenith decided 50 years later, in 2019, to recreate this model but with some noticeable differences, especially: Crystal instead of an acrylic glass, transparent display back replacing the solid steel case back, El Primero 400 chronograph movement instead the cal. 3019 PHC and dial without the 'T' inscription.
When the El Primero automatic chronograph calibre was first announced in 1969, it took the world of watchmaking by storm. It was the first automatic chronograph movement and brought forth a set of distinctive features, which have allowed it to stand the test of time and remain an exceptional movement half a century on: a high frequency of 36’000 vph, a column-wheel chronograph mechanism, and an automatic winding system that delivers 50 hours of power reserve.
Coinciding with the announcement of the movement in 1969, the first watch to house it was also announced: the Zenith El Primero A384. As groundbreaking as its movement was, the A384 also stood out with its original design.
Furthermore, the A384 made headlines back in 1970, when it took part in Zenith’s “Operation Sky”. This extreme test consisted of strapping the watch to an Air France Boeing 707’s landing gear on a flight from Paris to New York to test its resistance to external aggressions such as drastic temperature fluctuations, wind force and changing air pressure. Upon landing, the watch was still functioning perfectly. This daring feat was a testament to the confidence those who had tirelessly worked on the El Primero calibre held, as well as tangible proof that a mechanical movement was superior to the nascent quartz movements of the time, which couldn’t have stood the temperature differences endured by the watch during the flight.
This featured example is really a premium chronometer in an extremely well preserved original condition. It comes as a 'Full Set' (Original guarantee & box), which is extremely rare and collectible !
Though Zenith is most well known for its impressive in-house El Primero chronograph calibers, the brand’s positioning as a master of accuracy predated the mighty El by a fair margin. In 1948, the brand’s Calibre 135 became a new industry benchmark of sorts, achieving chronometer specification and winning a string of over 200 awards.
Most notably, the hand-wound 19-jewel caliber was awarded 5 consecutive Neuchâtel Observatory chronometry prizes from 1950 to 1954—a winning streak previously unheard of in such a contested competition. Evolving over three iterations, the caliber remained in Zenith’s production line consistently through until 1962.
The high-beat El Primero chronograph caliber is a bit of a legend in the industry, and the one that strongly contest the title of first automatic chronograph in existence. That part aside, the first El Primero faced a fascinating bit of torture testing in 1970, as Zenith strapped a watch fitted with this new caliber to the landing gear of a Boeing 707 for Air France flight AF015 before it crossed the Atlantic Ocean between Paris and New York.
Facing temperatures of -62 Celsius at an altitude of 10,000 feet, thewatch survived shockingly unscathed, and other than the time change that obviously couldn’t be accounted for, the chronograph maintained its accuracy within a second by the time it finished its journey.
Zenith lays claim to having opened the first watchmaking “manufacture”, all the way back in 1865. Georges Favre-Jacot decided that rather than sticking to the traditional method of watchmaking of the period—where movement makers would have their own atelier somewhere, dial makers, somewhere else, case makers somewhere else, and so on—he decided the most logical approach would be to house all of these specialized workers in a single facility.
Every watch brand loves to hang their hat on some sort of celebrity connection, however the fact that Mahatma Gandhi carried a Zenith pocket watch is all kinds of cool. Gandhi carried and used the pocket watch (fitted with an alarm complication) for years, and though it was stolen from him in the late ‘40s, it returned to him not much later when the thief was surprisingly overcome with guilt.
Before passing away, Gandhi gifted the pocket watch to his granddaughter, and in 2009 the watch was sold via a well known auction house for a paltry sum of 1.8M USD.
- Maker: Zenith
- Model: El Primero A384
- Reference: A384
- Case N°: 708D1xx
- Year: 1969
- Material: Stainless Steel
- Dimentions (WxHxT): 37x48x13mm
- Caliber: In House Zenith 3019 PHC
- Bracelet/Strap: Black leather with original Zenith buckle
- Lug width: 18mm
- Box/Papers: Original Zenith box and guarantee dated 1970
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
This watch is in top condition. The unpolished case is extremely well preserved with its angles still sharp and original brushing. The dial is in mint condition with the lume present.
All parts are original, among others the particular 'Nato emblem' crown and the red cylindrical case, both specific to this model.
This is a very collectible and sought after chronometer and according to the Zenith specialist Manfred Rössler, this model was manufactured only in 1969 and 1970, housing 3 different dial colors, with a total production of only 2600 pieces !
This scarce chronograph comes with its original guarantee.
It has a sporty and virile presence on the wrist, perfect for everyday wear.