AUTOMATIC COLUMN WHEEL CHRONOGRAPH
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|The recorded debate on the introduction of the Chrono-matic wrist watches that hit the market in the 1960’s has been if the Seiko actually beat the Zenith El Primero to market. Yes, the Japanese Seiko 6139 [single register] & 6138 [double register came out later] did in fact beat the El Primero… though unintentionally.
“Chrono-matic” wrist watches were called as such due to the fact they were the only automatic chronographs ever manufactured. Brands included Zenith, Hamilton-Buren, Breitling, Heuer, Dubois-Dupraz and, of cource, the Column Wheel Seiko single and double registers. _
Though the Seiko would rule the mid cost field from 1969 through the 1980’s, the Zenith El Primero movement was built over a seven year journey began in 1962 and was, hands down, the most sophisticated, beautiful and best automatic chronograph, though it was costly..
The facts are, while the auto-chrono movements of Seiko and the Swiss Chrono-matic group, offered beginning 1969, sold strong, production began to disappear fast. The 6139 seiko stopped production in 1980 [though the 6138 continued] and the Swiss Chrono-matic Caliber 11 had problems from its first introduction. Most required upgrading that first year.
And, it is not well known, the El Primero went out of production in 1975 due to the fact Zenith Radio Corporation had kept Zenith out of the US market until it gained control of the watch co. In 1975 it ceased production of mechanical in favor of quartz and the El Primero was shelved.
Many of the Luxury brands, including Movado and Omega, offered watches that cased the El Primero Movement.
From 1975 to 1983, the best auto chronographs remained Seiko,,,
I n 1983, with Ebel and Rolex making moves, Zenith fulfilled movement orders with existing old stock until, with sales high, the El Primero was back in production. It had taken near a decade for the El Primero to begin production but it truly came from other brands including those “Powered By The El Primero”.
The El Primero is a high-beat movement, making 10 ticks per second, or 36,000 vph. which creates a smoother sweep and allows the chronograph function to maintain accuracy down to 1/10 of a second. High-beat movements are as rare today as they were in 1969. With such a hi beat movement, each seconds movement means the balances is moving back and forth ten times! This increases wear and tear on the escapement. Thus Zenith had to develop special lubricants that would keep the El Primero running. Synthetics oils and lubes are expensive. The highest costing are those that stay where the play and do not shift or moves.
Another problem is that main springs powering such extreme train lose power faster than a normal beat. Zenith had to super size with a main capable of a 50-hour power reserve. El Primero remains an awesome “column wheel” chronograph. The revolutionary use of the “column wheel” replaced what was and, in many cases today, the cam-actuated chronograph. Like many products utilizing different parts to do the same thing. There are benefits and drawbacks for both types of chronographs. Not only that, column wheel production is more complex and labor-intensive.
But for efficiency and solid operation, the column wheel chronograph is simply the best. Today, there are 23 variations of Zenith , from time-only watches to minute repeaters.. but they all can jump in the lake. Only the El Primero from its beginnings can lay claim to not only fame, but for investment
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by GoldSmithWatchWorks Thursday, 09 April 2009
Last Updated on Thursday, 09 August 2014