Zenith A386

Zenith A386

Zenith A386 Introduction

The Zenith A386, announced in January 1969, introduced the El Primero movement, the first automatic chronograph in production with an incorporated automatic chronograph movement. For details on the race to build the first automatic chronograph, read about Project 99 at OnTheDash.

Per Manfred Rossler in the catalog El Primero – The Chronograph (available in German only) from 2015, there were approximately 4,500 Zenith A386 produced. Production is estimated to have been between 1969 and 1972, with dates based on serial numbers plus information from the Extracts from the Zenith Registers, and combined with information from original owners. This update of 4,500 pieces is based upon additional Zenith review of the archives, and is the last official value from Zenith, provided to Rossler in 2014. Zenith not be publishing any updated values. [1]

This updates earlier estimates of:
– 2,500 in Rossler’s Zenith: Swiss Watch Manufacture Since 1865, published in 2009. This figure was determined by Zenith in 2007. [2], and
No more than 2,000 Zenith A386s per Hodinkee (2012) [unknown source – this is unusual since it comes later than Zenith’s estimate in 2007 per Rossler, above].

Zenith supported (and continues to support) the A386 by providing service dials and hands as needed. As a result, we see a large number of pieces with both (including main hands, chronograph second hand, and register hands). It is up to the individual to decide whether this appeals to them, but a watch with these components replaced will have lower market value than an all-original piece in reasonable condition. What I do find disappointing is that it is quite common to see the A386 shown in publications with replacement parts, though never mentioned as such. This is an issue to education – if a new collector stumbles upon these images, they would not likely know that they are looking at a non-original piece. I don’t have an issue with those images being used, but if so, it would do everyone a service if it was noted all the parts that are not original to the watch. Example below…

[1] Manfred Rossler, email March 20, 2018
[2] Manfred Rossler, email March 20, 2018

Zenith A386 Case Number Project

Here is my attempt to aggregate all of the Zenith A386s I have seen.
If you see any errors, or know of other Zenith A386s to add, please drop me a note with links or information.

For watches where the case number is not known (A386s do not have serial numbers on the movement), I have identified it by any portion of the case number known, plus a post date. Each line is not unique, rather a single A386 may appear on multiple lines as images are added over time. I have done this to both track pricing over time, if applicable, and track if the watch changes, such as whether hands or a crown is replaced, the case is polished, etc.

Caveats:

Description of case, hands, dial, tachy, and crown are based on images found on the internet, and often are guesses for images where the part is not clearly shown. In some cases, there is no image but posts have referenced an A386, and I use the information provided by posters.
The price is most often the asking price (converted to USD as of the date posted/seen), and the only “true” prices in this table are for auctions where the purchase price as known.

As with the rest of this Website, the following table, and data contained therein, is subject to Alpha Hands LLC Terms and Conditions

The above table, and data contained therein, is subject to Alpha Hands LLC Terms and Conditions

Zenith A386 Case and Mark

When referring to case numbers, note that the number is only engraved on the caseback. Numbers are not engraved on the case, such as between the lugs, or on the movement.

There are three different production batches (generally know as “Marks”) that are referenced when discussing Zenith A386s, based upon grouping of case numbers (see Zenith A386 Casebacks and Interiors section). Each A386, if correct, has a specific combination of case, sub-register hands, caseback and crown. You may see cases paired with incorrect casebacks, so if you try to identify solely based on case(back) number, that may lead to believe it is a believe the watch is from a different production.

The Mk 1 case is generally recognized as being the most rare, with estimates at <500 pieces in total, though not confirmed by Zenith. The final production batch, known as Mk 3, may be sub-divided into three other groups, for a total of five production batches. References are generally made to Mk 1-3, instead of Mk 1-5, as the watches produced in the final three production batches were all the same in combination of design of case and caseback. All cases are 38mm with 19mm lugs. The Mark 1 and Mark 2 are 9mm, plus 2mm for the plexi (11mm in total), and the Mark 3 is 10mm (1mm thicker due to different caseback with star), plus 2mm for plexi (12mm in total). The Mark 1 stands out versus the later product batches in that there is no groove in the case where the lugs merge into the body, it is a seamless transition to the flat top (see image below). Both the Mark 2 and Mark 3 feature this groove. The difference between the Mk 2 and Mk 3 batches are the caseback, with the Mk 3 featuring the “NATO” star, such as with the others from this period, the A384 and A385, and the A3817 and A3818. Other Zenith wathces with the flat caseback include the A787 and A788. ‘sempervivens’ posted a nice overview of the stainless steel Zenith El Primeros from 1969-1975.

There are bezels only at the top outside edges of the lugs. Bevels on the top inside of the lugs are due to polishing, and are not original to the watch.

The watch has tritium in the handset, chronograph seconds hand, and index hour marks.

Zenith A386 Case Design
The three production cases for the Zenith A386
Zenith A386 Casebacks
The four casebacks found on the Zenith A386

There is a Zenith A386-like watch that you may see that make you look twice. [Alert, alert! Correction ahead! Thanks OmegaForum crew!] Claimed as movement 3019 PHC, reference number WH 40801 from 1969, this can be seen in Roseller’s book, and made in 10 pieces. While I had first assumed it to be made-up like his “Unicorn”, images of similar watches appear in Zenith catalogs. Roseller’s book does not have an image, rather a reference number (other images can be found for the watch in gold, as well as in white gold with diamond bezel).

10 of them?!
Zeni