Zenith - The Geneva Watch Auction: XIII Geneva Saturday, May 8, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Manufacturer: Zenith
    Year: Circa 1969
    Reference No: GH 381
    Case No: 485D942
    Model Name: El Primero
    Material: 18K yellow gold
    Calibre: Automatic, cal. 3019, 31 jewels
    Bracelet/Strap: Leather
    Clasp/Buckle: Generic metal buckle
    Dimensions: 37.5mm Diameter
    Signed: Case, dial and movement signed

  • Catalogue Essay

    The Zenith El Primero made horological history on January 10, 1969, the day the first prototypes were presented to the press. It was the world’s first automatic, high-frequency chronograph, with a balance wheel running at 36,000 beats per hour.

    The El Primero was launched with two models: the A386 in stainless steel and the G381 in 18k yellow gold. Both shared similar aesthetics, most notably with a 37.5 mm case that featured wide, faceted lugs, as well as pump pushers. But the inaugural El Primero models each had a distinct dial. Whilst the steel example was given overlapping tricolour registers, the yellow gold G381 had a more classical “panda”
    dial of black registers on a white face.

    Both models were in production for a mere three years – from 1969 to 1971 – and made in small numbers. According to the reference tome Zenith - Swiss Watch Manufacture Since 1865 by Manfred Rössler, only about 2,500 of the steel A386 were produced. And the precious-metal G381, unsurprisingly, is even rarer, with less than 700 made.

    When Zenith marked the 50th anniversary of the El Primero last year, one of the vintage models it reproduced was the G381, as a 50-piece limited edition, underlining its historical significance.

    The present watch is certainly one of the best examples of G381, making it a fantastic opportunity to acquire an important wristwatch equipped with one of the most acclaimed movements of all time.

    The lustrous 18k yellow gold case is beautifully preserved and possibly unpolished, retaining its sharp edges and crisp satin brushing, a rare quality given the nature of yellow gold. Furthermore, the dial has been rendered unique by time, with its minute track having aged to a beautiful brown, creating an unusual contrast with the jet-black registers. This “tropical” minute track amplifies the vintage appeal, and certainly distinguishes this example from its uniformly-coloured counterparts.

    Noteworthy from a historical perspective is its production date, making it one of the first El Primero watches ever. Crucially, that means the watch was delivered the very month of the Basel fair in 1969, where the El Primero was formally launched after the press reveal in January that year. This historical quirk and its sterling condition can only leave one to ponder the history of this watch.

  • Artist Biography


    Swiss • 1865

    Since Zenith's beginnings, founder George Favre-Jacot sought to manufacture precision timepieces, realizing quality control was best maintained when production was housed under one roof. Zenith remains one of the few Swiss manufacturers to produce their own in-house movements to this day.

    Today, the brand is best known for the "El Primero," the firm's most successful automatic chronograph movement. In an interesting twist of fate, the company that owned Zenith during the 1970s decided to move on to quartz movements and therefore sought to destroy the parts and tools necessary to make mechanical movements. One watchmaker realized this folly and hid the tools and parts before they were destroyed. In 1984, he returned them to Zenith so they could once again make the El Primero movement.

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Ref. GH 381
A very fine and attractive yellow gold chronograph wristwatch with date and “tropical” outer minute track

Circa 1969
37.5mm Diameter
Case, dial and movement signed

CHF8,000 - 12,000 

Sold for CHF18,900

Contact Specialist

Alexandre Ghotbi
Head of Watches, Continental Europe and the Middle East

41 79 637 1724



The Geneva Watch Auction: XIII

Geneva Auction 8 - 9 May 2021