Living With: Zenith Chronomaster Revival “Shadow”

A perfect blend of vintage and modern.

When Zenith first took the covers off the Chronomaster Revival “Shadow” in the middle of last year, my immediate reaction was “That’s a super cool-looking watch.”

Unlike its fellow remakes like the A384 and A386, or the more recent A385, the Shadow isn’t a replica of an actual vintage watch Zenith produced in its heyday before the Quartz Crisis. While the Shadow was inspired by a 1970 prototype with a black-coated case that never made it into production, the Shadow is very much a modern design. It imagines what a vintage A384 might have been, had it been released in all-black livery in the 1970s.

Compared to Zenith’s recent vintage-inspired watches, most of which are faithful remakes, the Shadow is a breath of fresh air. So when Zenith offered the chance for me to spend a couple of days with the watch, I seized it.

The El Primero A384 Revival that’s a faithful remake of the vintage original

Initial thoughts

I had a visceral reaction when I first strapped on the Shadow: my heart sang, and a smile crept onto my face. I was struck by how different it looked on the wrist; distinct not only from the other El Primero chronographs, but against other offerings at the same price point. In fact, it looked to me more like a Bamford collaboration rather than a standard model.

On the wrist, the Shadow stands out in a subtle but striking manner, especially to a watch enthusiast. Anyone who knows Zenith will understand that’s an A384, but different.

Reductive design

I absolutely love the clean look stemming from the streamlined design. Zenith did away with the seconds track and date window found on the standard A384, giving the dial a stark, utilitarian style. It does detract slightly from functionality since the central seconds hand can no longer record elapsed time, though it can still measure rate of travel with the tachymeter.

The micro-blasted titanium case is also noteworthy. First found on the Defy 21 Land Rover, the finish is essentially a form of frosting accomplished by shooting tiny ceramic spheres at the case surface, giving it a fine, grained finish. The result is a sleek, monochromatic look that reminds me of the futuristic Zenith Defy, rather than the vintage remakes.

But the watch also incorporates plenty of vintage-inspired touches. One is the domed sapphire crystal that evokes the PlexiGlas crystal found on the vintage originals. Another is the familiar tonneau-shaped case of the A384 and A385 that’s emblematic of the 1970s, where designers often experimented with unusual, geometric forms, a trend typified by watches like the Royal Oak and Heuer Monaco.

Though different in material and finish, the case of the Shadow is identical to that of the A384 and A385, with a diameter of 37 mm, giving it the size of a vintage watch.

However, the all-black prototype that inspired the Shadow sported a large, ovoid 41 mm case. I wish the Shadow had retained the larger dimensions, which would have given it a much more uniquely 1970s feel. And it would have further differentiated the Shadow from the A384 and A385 remakes. A larger size would also be more coherent given the Shadow’s contemporary styling. That said, constructing an all new case for the Shadow, instead of relying on the A384 case, would have upped the price substantially, probably well past the US$10,000 mark.

Details, details

I examined the Shadow with a macro lens, and I was happy with what I observed. All elements are finished neatly, including the white print for the markings on the sub-dials and tachymeter, and a clean, even finish for the polished hands.

Everything is white, grey, or black – a consistency in the colour palette here that indicates an attention to detail in conception. And although the design is modern, it does have a faint retro feel, in part thanks to the cursive “El Primero” logo, which was standard on vintage El Primero models.

The registers are stamped with a concentric pattern known as azurage

Though lacking colour, the dial doesn’t lack depth, thanks to the slightly-recessed registers as well as applied indices and Zenith star logo

The iconic movement

While the focal point of the Shadow’s is its design, its greatest intrinsic feature is the El Primero, which can be easy to forget since the calibre is found across Zenith’s catalogue. It’s a historically important chronograph movement, not something that can be said of many calibres.

Although the debate over who exactly came first is never-ending, many will allow that Zenith was the first brand to publicly present an automatic chronograph movement, when it showed prototypes to the press in January 1969. And the El Primero was arguably technically superior to its competitors in having the highest frequency balance wheel, surpassing the Seiko cal. 6139. And it is an integrated construction, which the rival Chronomatic cal. 11, jointly developed by Heuer, Breitling, Buren and Hamilton in partnership with movement specialist Dubois-Depraz, was not.

All of that aside, the El Primero has triumphed by sheer longevity – admittedly by luck rather than intention – remaining the only one still in production, and still beloved 50 years later.

The El Primero of today is largely identical to the movement of 1969, having been modestly upgraded but structurally identical. An example is the El Primero 4061 in the Shadow, which features a pallet lever and escape wheel of silicon, which helps improve the movement’s efficiency.

Though no doubt finished by machine, the El Primero is attractively finished for its price point – it is as good as the competition. The wheels are circular grained, while the bridges are finished with perlage and contained a few heat-blued screws.

Concluding thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Chronomaster Revival “Shadow”. It’s a sleek design with a monochromatic look that is especially appealing, especially to someone who wants a vintage-inspired watch but not an exact replica. And for those who abhor date windows, the Shadow is the only no-date model in Zenith’s Revival collection.

Compared to other similarly-priced chronographs with in-house movements, including the Breitling Premier B01 and TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 02, the Shadow has a less advanced movement, but one that is iconic. And it is arguably better looking with its compact size and minimalist style. Overall, the Shadow is a well-priced, sharply-executed watch with a truly storied movement.

Key facts and price

Zenith Chronomaster Revival ‘Shadow’
Ref. 97.T384.4061/21.C822

Diameter: 37 mm
Height: 12.6 mm
Material: Titanium
Water resistance: 50 m

Movement: El Primero 4061
Functions: Time and chronograph
Frequency: 36,000 beats per hour (5 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 50 hours

Strap: Leather with pin buckle

Limited edition: No, regular collection
Availability: At boutiques and retailers
Price: US$8,200; or 12,000 Singapore dollars

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