Zenith has a long history, part of which involves the race for the first automatic chronograph movement. This began in the early 60’s and was meant to be achieved in time for Zenith’s centennial in 1965. As noted by Jeff Stein in “Project 99:” In 1960, Zenith acquired Martel Watch Company, a producer of movements for chronographs and other complicated watches (such as calendar and moon phase watches). Martel was well-known as the supplier of chronograph movements for Universal Genève and other respected brands. By acquiring Martel, Zenith broadened its offering of chronographs, and enhanced its capabilities in the design and production of chronograph movements. Thus, Zenith was not initially expected to succeed or even compete in this particular category until this development. Soon after its acquisition of Martel, Zenith adapted the Martel chronograph movement that had been used in the Universal Genève caliber 285 to become the Zenith 146 series of movements.
Unfortunately, it was not until 1969 that Zenith was able to release their automatic chronograph movement, making them third to Seiko and Heuer. This is an ongoing debate for watch aficionados, well documented by Jeff Stein’s “Project 99.” The A385 model was one of the original releases in 1969 accompanied by the A384 and A386. It is rumored that this model is becoming a rarer breed as people are beginning to cannibalize the cases and use them to recreate the currently higher selling A3818 “cover girl” model along with the A384 and A3817 models.
The El Primero caliber was almost discontinued due to the Quartz Crisis in 1975, but after Zenith was purchased by Ebel in 1978 the company began to regenerate their automatic chronograph movements. However, it was not until 1984 that Zenith began remaking the El Primero again in full production.
Back in 1969 the A385 was only manufactured in a production of 2400 and was known for its attractive khaki or “cappuccino” dial. There were two marginally different dials used for this model with slightly different shades of khaki featuring silver or white sub dials. Now we see different shades in the color simply due to ageing of the dial. The A385 is part of the original Zenith chronograph trifecta and what we consider a highly collectible piece due to Zenith’s rich history. It is currently listed as coming soon and has not been refinished to preserve the case.
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