Something that us watch geeks like to discuss at some length is our ‘grail watches’. Now this can mean different things to many of us, to some a grail is as it’s described, the holy grail and in that sense, is seen to be completely unobtainable. To others, it is merely a watch they covet and seek to own one day. I think I fall into the latter camp, my grail watch is (as the title suggests) one I have been lucky enough to be able to purchase quite early on in my horological journey.
My grail watch needs little introduction as it’s an absolute classic, and one of the first mechanical chronographs produced; it is, of course, the stunning Zenith El Primero. Like many slim wristed watch aficionados, it can be so disheartening to fall in love with a watch but know in your heart it won’t work as its too big or thick (I’m looking at you Tag Monaco). Therefore, when I found out that the El Primero Chronomaster was being made in a smaller case I was smitten.
The story of purchasing this watch was an interesting one in itself. I was away for work and spent my evening perusing the array of watch shops in a shopping centre in North London. I went into a Rolex dealer intending to look at the new 36mm Datejust with jubilee bracelet and fluted bezel (Reference 126234) but the gentleman refused to wait on me, clearly, I didn’t look wealthy enough! I then walked across the way and purchased the aforementioned El Primero which was available at a deep discount. I desperately wanted to return to the Rolex dealer and have my Julie Roberts in Pretty Woman moment of ‘You made a big mistake, HUGE!’ but fortunately for all involved, I resisted, happy enough with my purchase to overlook the sub-par service I’d received earlier.
So how does the Chronomaster measure up? a conservative 38mm case houses the infamous high beat calibre 400 movement that has changed very little since its inception in 1969. The case thickness does swell to 12.45mm as a result, further exacerbated by the retro style sapphire crystal which isn’t domed but is stepped akin to a plexiglass crystal. The lug to lug is 48mm which is very much the sweet spot for many as it means a multitude of people and wrist sizes can enjoy it. Now, unfortunately, it’s not all rosy, there is just one gripe I have with this watch and it’s a big one, the clasp. There is so much to love about this watch but the clasp design is nothing short of idiotic. The butterfly design is well thought out but if your wrists aren’t the correct size then the clasp doesn’t sit correctly on the underside of the wrist. This means you have to make a choice between wearing the watch too tight or too loose, and on a watch, at this price point, I would expect much higher levels of adjustability and comfort.
Now you may think owning your grail watch is a non-stop joyous experience and in many respects, it really is. There is however a point I would like to level with the community, and that is, is the journey better than the destination? Part of me feels that the search to identify your perfect watch, the chase to find one and make it yours from years of saving is arguably the most exciting part. Conversely, every time I look down at that deep blue dial or use the silky-smooth chronograph pushers to time myself between the traffic lights there is a wry smile on my face. So where do I go next? I have achieved my grail watch so I can stop buying watches right? Of course not. As we all know the world of horology is a cruel mistress and she sucks you in, not letting you escape without first suitably draining your bank account.
Thank you to Felix and Calum for allowing me to contribute this piece, I am too just another Young Horologist who enjoys talking about watches so it’s nice to have a forum to do so. Until next time... Cheers.