Zenith A386 El Primero Movement

The Movement
The A386 uses the El Primero 3019 PHC high-beat movement, with 36,000 vibrations per hour (5 hz) permitting measurements to the tenth of a second, which at time of release (1969) compared to the competing Caliber 11 at 19,800 and Seiko 6139 at 21,600, and the standard 18,000 vph (2.5 hz, measuring to a fifth of a second).

Higher frequency brings greater precision, with fewer variations in rate due to external factors. Zenith compensated for the watch losing power more rapidly due to its high beat by incorporating a mainspring with 50-hour power reserve.

Zenith A386 El Primero Movement

Within the A386 family we see a variety of different engravings on the chronograph bridge as well as the plate.

On the chronograph bridge we generally see four different sets of text, only two of which I believe are intended for the Zenith A386:

  • ‘ZENITH’, with ‘THIRTY-ONE 31 JEWELS’, and then ‘3019’ above ‘PHC’
    • Seen across all three executions, including all 3 of the Mk 3 production batches. Correct.
  • ‘ZENITH’, with ‘THIRTY-ONE 31 JEWELS’ and ‘UNADJUSTED’ text below, and then ‘3019’ above ‘PHC’. ‘PHC’ sits within a rectangle
    • I see these bridges in a few of the 538Dxxx series (Mk 1), but enough to believe they are correct.
  • Only ‘SWISS’ with ‘3019’ and ‘PHC’
    • These we find on the questionable xxxD460 pieces, as well as other pieces that have had a significant number of parts replaced. I am not sure if this is a Zenith component, but at the least I do not believe it was originally used for the A386.
  • ‘3019’ and ‘PHC’ only
    • As with the above, we find these on the questionable xxxD460 pieces, and others with numerous replacement parts. I do not believe these are original A386 components.
  • Lastly, there are pieces that show either ‘400’ or ‘400Z’, with no text
    • Chronograph bridges stamped ‘400’ were used in later caliber 400 pieces introduced in 1987, and ‘400Z’ for pieces introduced in 1998. Neither original to the A386.
Zenith A386 Chronograph Bridge

The movement may contains additional letters stamped on the plate of some pieces, which were related to production logistics of the time, and were likely a method to keep track of different batches[1]. To date, I haven’t been able to discern a pattern. Letters may appear both above ‘SWISS MADE’ on the plate (A, B or C), and then also just to the left as (A, B, C or M; exact location varies); the letters do not need to match, though they may. If a letter appears above ‘SWISS MADE’, it does not mean that a letter will necessarily appear to its left. Likewise if there is a letter to the left, it does not mean there will be a letter above ‘SWISS MADE’, though it is quite rare that one would not (far more rare than a letter appearing above ‘SWISS MADE’, yet not to its left).

Zenith A386 Movement Lettering

The Rotor
There are two different rotors that were used across the different production batches.
In both Mk 1 (538Dxxx-539Dxxx) and Mk 2 (706Dxxx-708Dxxx) we see the most common rotor, with two lines of text, reading ‘ZENITH’ on the top line, and then ’31 JEWELS’ and ‘SWISS MADE’ on the second line.

Once we reach Mk 3 (861Dxxx-862Dxxx, 922Dxxx-923Dxxx, 230Exxx-233Exxx) we start to see increasing use of different rotor stamping with each of the batches. The late rotor stamping is seen rarely on the first batch of the Mk 3 (very late pieces only), but on a reasonable percentage (around 1/4) of the second batch, and then more of (around 1/2) of the last batch.

Zenith A386 Rotors
The two rotor designs found on the Zenith A386. The first in Mk 1, Mk 2 and Mk3, and the second in Mk 3 only.

[1] Zenith Heritage department, email May 11, 2020