Dior Revives the Chiffre Rouge Chronograph

Upgraded with the Zenith El Primero.

In the midst of a resurgence that makes it both one of the biggest and fastest growing luxury brands, Dior nonetheless has a barely-there presence in the watch segment – particularly in mechanical watches – despite having offered watches since 1975. This contrasts with its peers like Chanel, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton, all of which have invested significant resources into making serious watches, particularly compilations and métiers d’art offerings.

Now Dior is embarking on an overhaul of its mechanical watch offerings by returning to the Chiffre Rouge, a model first unveiled in 2004 that was distinguished by an asymmetrical case accentuated by a red crown or pusher at four. More streamlined and almost monochromatic, the Chiffre Rouge Black Ultra-Matte Chronograph has a black-coated, 41 mm case containing the Zenith El Primero movement.

Initial thoughts

The Chiffre Rouge stood out as a memorable design model from the 2000s, although its mechanics were rarely serious. The earlier chronograph models, for instance, relied on either ETA or quartz movements. Dior also never made a real effort to upgrade the model, so it was mostly perceived as a “fashion” watch.

The redesign gives the Chiffre Rouge more appeal, as it retains the original, distinctive styling but with a definitely superior movement. That said, I would have done away with the date window at four for a clean geometric-patterned dial.

The key feature of the new chronograph is the Zenith El Primero, which was also one of the first steps taken by Dior’s sister brand Louis Vuitton when it started on serious watches. The use of the El Primero arguably demonstrates the brand’s desire to expand its appeal beyond fashion and into the realm of watch enthusiasts. It will be a long journey to get there, but this is a promising start.

The Chiffre Rouge Chronograph is priced at US$13,500, about 50% more than the Zenith El Primero A384 on a strap and with the same movement. While the Chiffre Rouge case is more unusual and the Dior brand more valuable, the price is too high for what it is. If the watch had been made more interesting in terms of case material, for instance, the price would be more digestible.

An example of the Chiffre Rouge Chronograph from 2004. Image – Sotheby’s

Upgraded and revamped

The latest iteration of the Chiffre Rouge Chronograph is clearly descended from the original, which featured a knurled crown and bracelet. That model was powered by the ETA 2894 movement and stayed in the catalogue for several years, but never became a signature model and was eventually phased out without fanfare.

The new Chiffre Rouge Chronograph is an entirely new watch in both styling and construction. The dial in particularly has been entirely redesigned. The matte black surface is finished with the brand’s signature cannage pattern that is found on many of its handbags and accessories. The rest of the dial is relatively clean, with minimal text under 12 o’clock. 

The chronograph registers are unusual: the constant seconds at nine and minutes at three are oversized and sunken, while the hour counter at six is a “ghost” register that is reduced in size to be minimal. All the chronograph hands are colour-coded in red, as is the border of the date window at four. The numerals on the date disc are white, save for “8” in red, a nod to Christian Dior’s favourite number.

The case has undergone a makeover but remains heavily reminiscent of the original, particularly with the red pusher at four. Measuring 41 mm wide, it’s sandblasted steel that’s been coated with black diamond-like carbon. The case is asymmetric – the right flank is vertical – as is the bezel, which has a knurled edged only between nine and 12 o’clock. 

Powering the watch is the CD.001, essentially a Zenith El Primero 400 given a slight makeover for Dior. Almost identical to the El Primero movement launched in 1969, the calibre has a high-frequency balance running at 36,000 beats per hour and a 48-hour power reserve. The finishing appears minimal and functional, which is surprising given that Zenith dresses up its own movements with modest cosmetic extras.

Key facts and price

Dior Chiffre Rouge Black Ultramatte Chronograph
Ref. CD08461X1346

Diameter: 41 mm
Height: Unavailable
Material: Stainless steel with black DLC coating
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 100 m

Movement: CD.001 (Zenith El Primero)
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date and chronograph
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 36,000 beats per hour (5 Hz)
Power reserve: 48 hours

Strap: Rubber strap with folding buckle

Limited edition: No
Availability: At Dior boutiques, retailers and Dior.com
Price: US$15,300

For more information, visit Dior.com.


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