Watches are phenomenal storytellers. Through the lens of watches, I’ve learned more about history than I ever did in school. I’ve discovered more about athletes, entertainers, and politicians than I ever did at the newsstand. I’ve made more unexpected connections with strangers than ever before. To me, watches are a universal language.
Last month, my husband and I embarked on a two-week, cross-country road trip. We drove from Los Angeles back to our home in New York City. And, we were lucky enough to take special companion along for the ride: a Zenith El Primero. This year marks the El Primero’s 50th anniversary, and we wanted to celebrate it in style. What better way to do so than a road test on an expedition across the country.
Los Angeles, CA
Our trip started with a Friday morning flight from NYC to LA. Of course, getting through the airport can be a journey in itself. The El Primero was the last thing I wanted to worry about. So, I followed best practices for traveling with your watch. Before leaving our apartment, I carefully secured the El Primero in my compact Crown & Caliber watch roll. Then, I placed it in my carry-on bag. It stayed there through security, so I didn’t have to fret about removing it prior to TSA scanning. Once we settled into our seats on the plane, I took the watch out and strapped it on my wrist.
I continued to live in Eastern Time for a portion of the flight. But midway through, I felt I needed to start getting in a Cali-state-of-mind. So, I set the watch to Pacific Time. This simple act really signified the official start of the trip.
Our first night in LA included a brief stroll down a portion of the Hollywood Walk of Fame followed by dinner and drinks. At this point, I’d been wearing the El Primero for roughly twelve hours. Already, it felt like it’d become part of me. I’m a relatively petite gal, and the 38mm sport chronograph fit like a glove. It wasn’t too bulky and laid organically and comfortably on my wrist. I was falling hard and fast for this watch.
We spent day two at Santa Monica beach. Sadly, the El Primero spent the day back in its case. You just can’t risk bringing most luxury watches to the beach. There’s an inevitable threat of saltwater and sand making its way into the watch’s intricate parts. Luckily, with the 50-hour power reserve, I didn’t have to worry about it stopping or losing time.
Joshua Tree National Park
On day three, it was finally time to hit the road. Our next stop was two days of camping a couple hours east of LA in Joshua Tree National Park. Talk about views! The El Primero really popped against the breathtaking backdrop of rugged rock formations and stark desert landscapes. Of course, the watch is far more than ornamental, and in Joshua Tree, it really came in handy. There’s no cell service in the park, so we stowed our phones and relied on the watch. Even at night, the El Primero’s highly legible dial and luminescent hands and indices allowed us to keep time with ease.
The Grand Canyon
Day five put us on the road again. We left Joshua Tree decently early that morning and headed straight to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim Trail. We arrived in the afternoon and lingered til sunset. Pictures of the Grand Canyon just don’t do it justice. It’s one of those things you have to experience, and it truly left us awestruck. Despite its beauty, the Grand Canyon is equally terrifying if you have the slightest fear of heights. It was particularly windy the day we were there, and attempting to take wrist shots was tough. I was scared the El Primero was going fly off my wrist and plummet to its death! However, I tried to reassure myself. I knew the watch was sized properly and fit securely.
After getting some shuteye at a nearby hotel, we were back in the car for day six. We intended to spend another night or two camping in Moab, Utah, but Mother Nature threw us for a loop. Though we had just left 100-degree temperatures in Joshua Tree, a snow system was moving east through Utah and Colorado. Camping in Moab was a no-go, but we still couldn’t miss the drive. The terrain between Arizona and Colorado by way of Utah is spectacular, even with somewhat limited visibility in the snow. We drove as close as we could to our next destination before we hit road closures. The El Primero didn’t get much action that day. However, Arizona had brought us from Pacific to Mountain Time. That meant another reset to the local time.
Boulder and Denver, CO
On day seven, snow was still sprinkling down, but the roads were clear enough for our short drive to Boulder. We stopped for a quick bite downtown before heading out on a hike. In the span of just a few days, we had gone from a sweltering desert to snowcapped mountains. And, I can confidently say the El Primero performs well in any environment. After Boulder, we headed to Denver for the night and the rest of our Colorado stay. On day eight, we enjoyed downtown Denver. The afternoon included lunch at Union Station and flights at a local distillery. Before heading to Santa Fe, we couldn’t leave without breakfast at the famous VooDoo Donuts.
Santa Fe, NM
Our first night in Santa Fe, we dined on traditional Southwestern fare. Then, we enjoyed most of the evening cozying up by the fire in our room at the inn. Day ten was packed. We visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, strolled through street art-filled on the plaza, and went on a hike. We capped off the night with dinner and drinks, where we happened to spot Santa Fe-native George R.R. Martin. It was definitely a memorable milestone notched on the watch’s journey and ours.
The last four days of the trip were a bit of a whirlwind making our way back through the eastern half of the country. From Santa Fe, we drove across Texas to visit friends in Dallas, which brought us into Central Time. Once again, it was time to reset the El Primero, a process I now had down pat. I’d hoped to capture the watch with my friend’s new Tudor Heritage Black Bay. However, he regretted to inform me he damaged it in an unfortunate scooter accident and sent it away for repairs. A word to the wise: use caution when operating heavy machinery while wearing your timepiece!
On day thirteen, we embarked on our longest drive yet. It was a twelve and a half hour trek from Dallas to Knoxville, Tennessee. Here, I got to authentically road test the El Primero. Though it may not be a true racing chronograph like a Carrera or Monaco, it still looks quite smart behind the wheel. In Knoxville, we finally made it back to Eastern Time. So, I reset the El Primero for the last time on our journey. After a quick night’s rest, we hit the road once more for the final leg of our trip.
Atlantic City, NJ
Before we made the trek home to NYC, we stopped in Atlantic City. It felt like the perfect spot to end our journey. We arrived at the Borgata in time for dinner, drinks, and a few rounds of blackjack. The El Primero definitely helped me feel polished and playful for a night at the casino. By this point, I’d become completely smitten with the watch. It handled admirably in city life and nights on the town as well as camping without cell service in the middle of the desert. It performed through 100-degree heat and unexpected snow flurries. And, it was seamless to operate through four time zones without missing a beat. The El Primero was just as crucial to my cross-country road trip experience as the copious amounts of cola and coffee that fueled us on the drive. It truly served as a loyal comrade on the journey.
New York, NY
Finally, we were home again. As cliché as it sounds, this road trip was life-changing for me and my husband. It’s an experience we’ll carry with us forever. Throughout our excursion, I’d periodically skim through the pictures we’d taken, the majority of which were wrist shots. Somewhere in Utah, amidst the breathtaking landscapes, I realized this watch was telling our story – the story of this transformative adventure. It wasn’t just a story we’d have forever. It was a story this watch would have forever. I knew I couldn’t let this watch go, and when I got home, I needed to make it mine. Turns out, I thought I was writing the story of road testing the El Primero on a cross-country quest. But, I was really writing the story of my first watch.