In the pantheon of watchmaking’s most iconic watches, many have received nicknames that eternally link them to famous individuals, a material or even a shape. Take, for example, names such as Paul Newman, Jo Siffert, Padellone, Bronzo, Batman… Just think of all the timepieces associated with these designations.

Among emblematic sports chronographs that have seen the light of day since the birth of the watch industry, there is only one timepiece bestowed with a sobriquet that inflames the desire of men to such an extreme — that is, of course, Zenith’s legendary El Primero Ref. A3818, otherwise known as the “Cover Girl”, thanks to its appearance on the front of Manfred Rössler’s book Zenith: Swiss Watch Manufacture Since 1865.

Manfred Rössler's book titled Zenith: Swiss Watch Manufacture Since 1865 (Image © Revolution)
Manfred Rössler's book titled Zenith: Swiss Watch Manufacture Since 1865 (Image © Revolution)
Zenith El Primero ref. A3818 circa 1971 (Image: © Phillips Watches)
Zenith El Primero ref. A3818 circa 1971 (Image: © Phillips Watches)

Why did the watch end up on the cover of a book dissecting the history of this eminent watchmaking maison? If you thought the reason was deeply linked to the narrative story that makes up the Zenith brand, the final explanation is much simpler than that. As Rössler, the author, puts it: “The beautiful blue colour led to this decision. I like blue dials.” We can’t blame him.

For those of you who have had the chance to set eyes on the “Cover Girl”, the watch can only be described as jaw-droppingly stunning. It uses the same angular, tonneau-shaped case as the Zenith Ref. A384, but features one of the most unique dials in modern watchmaking, with striations that catch the light quite magnificently.

Zenith x Revolution Chronomaster Revival Ref. A3818 “Cover Girl” (Image © Revolution)

Its defining feature is a stepped or uneven racing track demarcated with thin radial lines that look like a shark’s tooth. These tiny lines, designed almost like a soundwave, lead the eye towards the integrated pulsation and tachymeter scale above the minute track.

It is important to note that there are precisely 300 of these ultra-thin markers on the dial. Counting the space in between the markers themselves, it then allows you to read the chronograph seconds to an accuracy of 1/10th of a second, which the legendary high-frequency 5Hz (36,000vph) El Primero movement is capable of. — WK

A Little History

Chronograph scale markings on the A3818take on a "shark tooth" form, totalling 300 white lines; along with the space between each marking, there are 600 divisions on the chronograph scale, which is line with the El Primero chronograph's ability to measure time to 1/10th of a second; the scale itself makes up for an unusual combination of a pulsation and tachymeter scale (Image © Revolution)
Chronograph scale markings on the A3818take on a "shark tooth" form, totalling 300 white lines; along with the space between each marking, there are 600 divisions on the chronograph scale, which is line with the El Primero chronograph's ability to measure time to 1/10th of a second; the scale itself makes up for an unusual combination of a pulsation and tachymeter scale (Image © Revolution)

The El Primero movement is an icon in itself and has been in production for more than 50 years. Launched in 1969, it is the result of seven years of hard work from the Zenith watchmakers who set out to create the first fully integrated automatic chronograph movement. The more convenient option would have been to simply add a module to a base movement, but Zenith’s plan was far more ambitious and contained additional requirements, making the project even more challenging. The main requirement, of course, being the high-beating frequency of the calibre, allowing the chronograph function to measure time accurate to 1/10th of a second.

It is always good to remember that the El Primero movement almost disappeared at the end of the 1970s when management at Zenith Radio Corporation, the American parent company of the brand at the time, lost faith in mechanical watches and decided to limit its production to quartz timepieces only. This led to the order to destroy or sell the presses and tools associated with building mechanical movements.

One watchmaker, Charles Vermot, a specialist in chronograph movement construction who had followed the construction of the El Primero calibre since its first sketches, rebelled against his management’s orders and took it upon himself to secretly stash the tools, machinery, blueprints and components inside the manufacture’s attic where they sat hidden away until the Zenith watch company changed ownership and decided to embark on a journey to relaunch the production of the famous El Primero movement.

2019 wasn’t only about celebrating the golden jubilee of Zenith’s almighty calibre, but it was also a period of ascension for Zenith to become one of the most exciting, relevant and energised watch brands in the industry.

Beginning with the reintroduction of the hallowed Ref. A384, the watch that started it all back in 1969, this was followed by a salvo of contemporary watchmaking’s most enthralling special editions, including a timepiece dubbed “The Edge of Space” made in collaboration with George Bamford and Mr. Porter, a limited series of Ref. A386 watches in precious metals, as well as an amazing pièce unique Ref. A386 in platinum with a lapis lazuli dial created in collaboration with Bacs & Russo, which raised CHF200,000 for charity.

When Zenith announced the El Primero in 1969, it was the world's first fully integrated self-winding chronograph movement
When Zenith announced the El Primero in 1969, it was the world's first fully integrated self-winding chronograph movement
Zenith El Primero A384 Revival
Zenith El Primero A384 Revival
Zenith x Bamford x MR PORTER El Primero Revival A384 “Edge of Space”
Zenith x Bamford x MR PORTER El Primero Revival A384 “Edge of Space”
Zenith A384 Revival "Lupin The Third" Edition
Zenith A384 Revival "Lupin The Third" Edition

The Zenith x Revolution Chronomaster Revival Ref. A3818 “Cover Girl”

Zenith x Revolution Chronomaster Revival Ref. A3818 “Cover Girl” (Image © Revolution)
Zenith x Revolution Chronomaster Revival Ref. A3818 “Cover Girl” (Image © Revolution)

In vintage collecting culture, the “Cover Girl” is a rare bird and possibly one of the single most sought-after and rarest Zenith chronographs on the market. With just 1,000 pieces believed to have been made, finding one in pristine condition isn’t an easy task.

Many examples have polished cases which erase the sharp angular profile of the case. Others will have the metallic blue paint on the dial peeling off. It can be an attractive look, but usually you can bet that it isn’t.

Finding one with an original Gay Frères ladder bracelet is also rare in itself, since this was an expensive add-on back in the day. The interest in Zenith Ref. A3818s is currently at an all-time high with prices often hanging around the USD20,000 mark, either at auctions or when changing hands between collectors, making the watch a truly prized and elusive treasure.

Zenith x Revolution Chronomaster Revival Ref. A3818 “Cover Girl” (Image © Revolution)
Zenith x Revolution Chronomaster Revival Ref. A3818 “Cover Girl” on the classic ladder bracelet (Image © Revolution)
Zenith x Revolution Chronomaster Revival Ref. A3818 “Cover Girl” on a beige calf strap (Image © Revolution)
Zenith x Revolution Chronomaster Revival Ref. A3818 “Cover Girl” on a navy suede strap (Image © Revolution)
The present generation of the El Primero visible through the caseback of the Zenith x Revolution Chronomaster Revival Ref. A3818 “Cover Girl”, which enables the watch to measure 1/10th of a second (Image © Revolution)

We at Revolution have been waiting patiently to unveil our own collaboration with Zenith and we wanted to satisfy the thirst from collectors for this beautiful timepiece. Please help us welcome the revival of the legendary 1970s Zenith Ref. A3818 “Cover Girl” — but with one huge difference compared to the original model: this time, the entire dial has been treated with luminous paint, even down to the 300 markers on the integrated pulsation and tachymeter scale, which, in combination with the full luminous hand set — including those found in the subdials — means you can even record elapsed time, down to 1/10th of a second at that, in the dark. We couldn’t revive this watch without the ladder bracelet, so the timepiece is obviously paired with one, and we are sure that Zenith enthusiasts will love this thoughtful touch. Best of all, we’re pricing it at a phenomenal CHF 7,900, in a time when vintage A3818s are commanding within the 20,000 ballpark. And we’re even providing two additional straps — a beige calf strap and a blue suede strap — so you can dress up the watch to your heart’s content.

We would like to thank the brand’s dynamic CEO Julien Tornare and its incredible product head Romain Marietta for this incredibly meaningful partnership. We would also like to thank Zenith for intentionally keeping the price of this timepiece accessible, even with the addition of the famous ladder bracelet, as a thank you to our readers for their loyalty and passion. — KC

Lume on the Zenith x Revolution Chronomaster Revival Ref. A3818 “Cover Girl” (Image © Revolution)
Lume on the Zenith x Revolution Chronomaster Revival Ref. A3818 “Cover Girl” (Image © Revolution)
Lume on the Zenith x Revolution Chronomaster Revival Ref. A3818 “Cover Girl” (Image © Revolution)

Technical Specifications

Movement

Self-winding El Primero calibre 400; hours, minutes and small seconds; central chronograph seconds; totalisers; date; tachymeter; 50-hour power reserve

Case

37mm; stainless steel case; sapphire crystal caseback; galvanic blue dial with SuperLuminova-coated indices, hands and dial details; water resistant to 50m

Strap

Stainless-steel “Ladder” bracelet; additional beige calf leather strap and blue calf leather racing strap provided

Limited edition of 100 pieces, priced at USD 8,100