The 2016 Zenith Elite Chronograph Classic Cal. 4069 is equipped with the new Caliber 4069 automatic movement and is offered both in relatively inexpensive steel and a much more impressively priced gold version. At this time, this is one of the most interesting choices when it comes to “dressy” chronographs with “character” currently offered by the brand.
First presented almost a year ago during the Baselworld 2015, the 2016 Chronograph Classic Automatic has finally gone on sale. Deliberately simple, yet extremely elegant in that magic 1960s way, the new family is now offered both in unassuming stainless steel (Ref. 03.2270.4069/01.C493) and in more striking 18-karat rose gold (Ref. 18.2270.4069/01.C498.)
There was a fairly short period when Zenith tried to shock the audience with outrageous shapes and startling design language. Apparently, the strategy didn’t work and the Swiss brand decided to return to its roots with a whole new collection of more classic-styled timekeepers that were dressy and elegant, but still different. After all, they had (and still have) the gorgeous El Primero family of high-speed movements that not only allowed their chronographs to measure time with 1.25 times better precision but also provided their watches with that familiar ‘buzzing’ sound that is a characteristic part of a caliber that beats at a speed of 36,000 vph.
With its clean lines and laconic decor, this new Elite Chronograph Classic is a nice take on the traditional design. Its easily readable dial and organically sculpted, compact case remind me of their late 1950s, and early 1960s chronographs, although it stands a couple of steps higher on the evolutionary ladder with an even more impressive dial and a gorgeously decorated self-winding movement. Of course, it may not hold its resale value as strongly as a chronograph by Patek Philippe, but, if presented with a choice of two, I think I would have preferred the Zenith, just for the sake of being different, if not anything else.
Case & Strap
The case features that same easily recognizable “pebble” shape as other members of their Elite series.
Despite its relatively large size (well, at least on paper,) the case doesn’t look massive on an average wrist. Whether we just finally got so used to “oversized” timekeepers that models that measure whole 42 millimeters in diameter (and, in this particular instance, almost 12 millimeters thick) look “compact” or is it thanks to the clever design of their ergonomically curved lugs that make them sit so comfortably on a wrist, is probably anybody’s guess. The fact is that it doesn’t look out of place when you wear it with formal attire.
From the point of view of pure ergonomics, some may not like its relatively short winding/setting crown, but the rectangular chronograph push-pieces look almost impeccable.
It may be purely subjective, but, besides the simpler versions of Patek Philippe’s Calatrava models, I consider the fresh batch of Elite series watches the most appropriate for a person who earns enough to afford a “real” mechanical timekeeper of this pedigree, but doesn’t happen to have a job of a lieutenant in a drug cartel. They are discreet; they are elegant; they don’t pretend to be more than they are; they don’t make you look like, well, an attention-seeking person. Or, putting it simpler, they show that you have good taste (and it doesn’t make a difference whether it is inherent or acquired) when it comes to expensive things.
One of the main attractions here is the hour markers. If you take a closer look, you will see that they are engraved on (or maybe even cut into) the solid silver-toned face and then either rose-gold plated or rhodium-plated (?) for even better contrast.
The lack of Superluminova makes this watch unreadable at night, but if you plan to wear this timekeeper in situations where there is always an abundance of light, you will probably have no problems with the way the dial is executed. After all, this is a dress watch: it is not designed for night sorties over enemy territories. Of course, the version in rose gold is more legible as the silver of the dial serves as a good background for the polished gold hands. The blued steel of the 30-minute chronograph totalizer at 3 o’clock and a small seconds sub-dial at 9 hours makes both indicators very contrasting in both versions.
By the way, you have probably already noticed that the chapter ring features an unusual minutes/seconds track with an extra four smaller “dashes” engraved between each “main” seconds marker. These, of course, come courtesy of the brand’s signature El Primero movement that beats at an unusually high frequency of 36,000 semi-oscillations per hour and thus allows you to measure time intervals with an accuracy of 1/10th of a second. Although hardly practical, this is still a very nice touch that makes the Classic Automatic stand out from the pack of the rest of the similarly priced (and similarly styled) chronographs.
The only thing I miss here is the lack of a date indicator. While I understand the reason behind the decision to make the dial look as “simplistic” as it is possible to achieve without harming the timekeeper’s readability, I must admit that the lack of even a simple calendar would probably be a bummer for me if I was currently on the market for an analog chronograph watch. The move could be justifiable in a case with a simple two- or even three-hander. But a chronograph is often regarded as a (glorified?) tool watch and there can’t be too many indicators on a tool as long as they don’t get too cramped.
Well, again, it is the only thing that seems to be amiss here, otherwise, the dial is perfect.
This new Elite Chronograph Classic is powered by one of the brand’s signature El Primero chronograph movement. As I have already mentioned in the section above, the mechanism is a sort of a stripped-down version of their ‘base’ movement that features the same high-speed balance wheel and the usual column-wheel design but comes sans the usual 12-hour chronograph totalizer and date.
Putting things into perspective, the mechanism that now comprises the same 31 jewels but only 254 components (versus 326 parts of, say, El Primero 400 B movement) will probably be more reliable than more complex versions.
As usual for the Swiss brand, the El Primero 4069 features decor that, while bearing a reserved and even a bit dry appearance, doesn’t look cheap. The open-worked oscillating weight with its usual Zenith Star in the center, as well as a set of nicely polished (some of them even blued) screw-heads and gears that feature a sort of sunburst pattern on them, make the mechanism look very solid and expensive. The effect is further enhanced by the case back cover that combines mirror polishing with sandblasting giving this nicely sculpted timepiece an even more pronounced sense of depth.
Well, the quarter panel with its circular-graining finish spoils the impression a tiny bit, but I think I can live with that, after all, it would not be particularly wise to demand elaborate hand-finishing from a mass-produced timekeeper in this price range (see below).
Pricing & Availability
If nothing has changed since the last time when MSRP was announced, the version in stainless steel (Ref. 03.2270.4069/01.C493) sells at a recommended street price of $8,900, while the dressier reference 18.2270.4069/01.C498 in 18-karat rose gold retails for a lot more impressive -yet predictable- price of $21,600.
Build quality: 5/5
Value for money: 4/5
Zenith Elite Chronograph Classic Automatic Cal. 4069 specification
Price (MSRP): $8900 in steel (Ref. 03.2270.4069/01.C493) / $21,600 in rose gold (Ref. 18.2270.4069/01.C498)
Movement: Automatic, El Primero caliber 4069, column-wheel chronograph, in-house, 254 parts, Swiss Made
Number of jewels: 31
Movement frequency: 36,000 vph
Power reserve: 50 hours
Movement decoration: Geneva stripes, polished screw heads, open-worked oscillating weight with Zenith star
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, chronograph
Case: 18-karat rose gold / Stainless steel
Size: 42.00 mm
Case height: 11.80 mm
Dial: Silver-toned, domed
Hour markers: Engraved
Water resistance: 50 meters
Strap: Black or brown rubber-lined Alligator leather strap with a triple folding clasp
Crystal: Sapphire, cambered, antireflective on both sides