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Ornatus Mundi


Novelty 2021, snapshot, watches, Zenith

Zenith: Hands-On with the new Zenith Chronomaster Revival A385

For its first novelty in 2021, the Chronomaster Revival A385, Manufacture Zenith looks once more back into its history

Zenith A385 Revival 2021 El Primero Chronograph manufacture column wheel

Zenith is one of the first watch manufacturer to kick of 2021 with a presentation of novelties, although with a sharp look back, and on top a dial variant, essentially – welcome to the Zenith Chronomaster Revival A385.

With this new addition Zenith continues the successful line of watches that look like directly taken from one of their 50-year-old catalogues, with a great deal of care applied to the details:

Zenith A385 Revival 2021 El Primero Chronograph manufacture column wheel

The watch is carefully modelled after the original Ref. A385 B, (a twin to the A384, they differ only in respect to the colour scheme: A384 ‘panda’ (dark subdials on lighter colour) vs. A385 ‘inverse panda’ (light subdials on darker colour)) with its brown fumée dial and white subdials as well as a tachymeter scale. According to expert Manfred Rössler the A385 series was produced between 1969-72 in 3650 pieces:

Zenith A385 original El Primero Chronograph 1970 advertisement

((left & centre) photo of an original Ref. A385 B, image © Hodinkee Shop; (right) Zenith advertisement for the A384/385 with the original bracelet, image © FHH)

Side note: the Ref. A385 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.

Zenith A385 original El Primero Chronograph 1970 advertisement Operation Sky landing gear Boeing 707 Air France (Operation Sky: a Zenith A385 was fixed to the landing gear of an Air France Boeing 707 airliner. Image © Zenith)

Upon landing, the watch was still functioning perfectly, testifying to the superiority of a mechanical movement compared to nascent quartz ones of the time, which couldn’t have stood the temperature differences endured by the watch during the flight.

The new Chronomaster Revival A385 teaches us one thing: the magic sauce with re-editions is to get the impression holistically right, even on a meta-level: it is not sufficient to just time-machine an old design into present time, as this can cause an odd melange of vintage design that clearly shouts, ‘modern production technology’.

Zenith A385 Revival 2021 El Primero Chronograph manufacture column wheel

Zenith avoided this entirely through careful specification of the design elements on the one, and reliance of what they have anyhow on the other side.

Precisely, Zenith used the exact same case dimensions of the original, same dial layout, same hands, same crystal shape (although this is sapphire, now), but also tried their best to emulate production standards of times gone by: if you look at the eggshell texture and dial printings or the chronograph hands, for example, you clearly notice a degree of exactitude and/or finesse which resembles such times, but would not exactly be acceptable on a modern watch:

Zenith A385 Revival 2021 El Primero Chronograph manufacture column wheel

Zenith also re-created, with considerable effort, the original Gay Frères bracelet, a move that is controversial, to say the least, as the design is attractive and original, but also comes with the flimsiness of old times. Clearly, from a comfort and practicality point of view, this could (and should) have been brought up to modern standards.

Zenith A385 Revival 2021 El Primero Chronograph manufacture column wheel

What sets most re-editions strikingly apart from their ancestors is most often the movements, in worst cases requiring a different subdial layout, for example. Zenith is in the convenient position that the vintage movement, the El Primero automatic chronograph Cal. 400, is still very much alive, so nothing needed be changed. With this movement, the A385 is one of the most credible and convincing re-editions available, at all:

Zenith A385 Revival 2021 El Primero Chronograph manufacture column wheel

Overall, Zenith is quite successful to present a true-to-the-original modern-day version of one of its classics. The watch wears nicely on the wrist (with the caveats on the bracelet, that is), has a lot of what collectors call ‘vintage vibe’ to it and comes at an attractive price of CHF 8400 (on bracelet, CHF 7900 on leather strap).

In essence, it appears like the A385 has successfully passed the flux capacitor back from 5 decades ago.

Here at the eclecticum we have been repeatedly critical with brands that more often than not resuscitate their vintage pieces. As close as they might try to get to the original (such as Zenith did here), it still relies heavily on past laurels. There is nothing against this, as long as brands do not turn a blind eye towards the future (rest assured, with the Defy Oscillator Zenith avoided exactly that!).

Zenith A384 Revival 2020 Lupin The Third Shadow El Primero Chronograph manufacture column wheel (Zenith A384 Revival editions of 2020: ‘Shadow’ (left) and ‘Lupin The Third – 2nd Edition’ (right))

But this remains a look back to a ‘golden era’ of watchmaking, when brands largely were… looking forward!

Of course, my side note should not be seen as criticism towards this watch. But it is a reminder that your past should not be your future.

Zenith A385 Revival 2021 El Primero Chronograph manufacture column wheel wristshot

That aside, the Zenith Chronomaster Revival A385 is for sure one of the most attractive of the brand’s recent revivals, and even beyond that!

Ornatus Mundi


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