#FieldNotes – Why I Love the Zenith El Primero

“…watch collecting is a journey, you want to be in it for the long run.”


Woody (@watchaddictwt)

So what made you buy the last watch in your collection? Was it it’s aesthetics? Was it about how it wears on your wrist? Perhaps the features? Brand reputation? Maybe you have concerns about how you’d be perceived by your peers? Or heaven forbid, was it about value retention?

By some slim chance, could it be its historical significance, heritage or its design?

I, for one, am a believer of learning and understanding a watch’s provenance. And today, I will give you a real-life example of this based on a watch I own. The watch does not scream attention but is one that tends to catch viewers by surprise when they opt to take a closer look, regardless of whether they are watch enthusiasts or not: the Zenith El Primero.



I remember having this conversation with a friend and fellow watch enthusiast. Just by happenstance, he was (still is) a hardcore Rolex fan. He argued that Rolex reached where it is today by building strong stories around its watches, and so Zenith had nothing on the Daytona. The challenge thrown to me: to name ONE story behind the Zenith that makes it better than a Daytona. Little did he know that he had just stepped into the hornet’s nest.

I did not give him one story, I gave him THREE. They are, in chronological order as follows:

1) The El Primero was the first fully integrated automatic chronograph that is still in production today; 50 years later after its initial introduction in 1969, its two other competing rivals in 1969 have since ceased production just a few years after their respective launches.

2) In the mid-70s, Zenith’s then short-sighted owners asked for its mechanical watch division to be dissolved in the face of the Quartz crisis. One engineer named Charles Vermot defied the instruction and proceeded to catalogue and store the El Primero’s parts and machinery with the belief that the brand’s owners would one day be proven wrong. His prediction came true, and it was this particular act of defiance by Mr Vermot that enabled the El Primero to be built again once the Quartz crisis subsided.

3) The El Primero was recognized for its legendary Caliber 4030. It was subsequently chosen by Rolex to be used as the base for its first automatic Daytona. For several years, the Daytona ran on a Zenith El Primero movement whilst Rolex figured out how to build its own similar movement.



I silenced the Rolex fan that day. Thankfully, we remain friends. One thing we have in common is that our love for horology extends beyond any brand’s marketing spiel. This one conversation has since enabled us to jointly discover other watches and gain a further appreciation of each other’s unique tastes and love for timepieces with lineage.

To me, a watch’s provenance is just one part of the appeal of mechanical watchmaking. Some watches have immensely interesting histories. Others have very evident design philosophies in their inception. At times, you can almost feel the passion some independent designers have for the timepieces they have created. The Internet is a rich resource pool for these things and I highly encourage you to search them up.

But what if the watch you fell in love with has no known or marketed history? Does that make it inferior? My answer: Absolutely not. You get to create your own story; to take the time to understand why it tugs at your heartstrings. There is virtue in patience and this journey of discovery. Like what Marshall said, watch collecting is a journey, you want to be in it for the long run.



Once you have that somewhat figured out, I’d then recommend you take another step: Find a meaningful occasion to procure it. It might be a momentous point in your life. Perhaps a promotion. Perhaps it was the watch your better half chose with you. It is this moment in time that will create a bond between you and the timepiece – a connection that no one other than you will value. That will be what makes that watch truly YOURS.

As for me, my reason to acquire the Zenith was simple. I had achieved a career landmark at that point in time and was accorded one of the firm’s top performers. The Zenith was a celebration of that occasion and serves as a poignant reminder to me until this very day. As per the name El Primero, it signified ‘the first’, and the hope of many more to come.

On some days when I have some lingering self-doubt on attaining a pivotal decision from a key stakeholder, I consciously wear it as a good luck charm to remind myself that I’m capable of more than what I think I can do. Silly I know, but hey, it’s my story.

So… what’s your story?

Written by Woody (@watchaddictwt),

For Team Matick.


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