George Favre-Jacot not only lived in a Le Corbusier designed Swiss villa, preferred a bowler cap, and wore a flawless moustache, but he also founded Zenith in 1865. Favre-Jacot’s brand evolved over his life and many lifetimes beyond, once purchased by the radio company so many Americans confuse it with, and is still around today producing some outstanding watches. While extremely well known for the El Primero movement and subsequent chronograph models produced after 1969, vintage Zenith lacks punch in the collector community and market. Their offerings particularly throughout the 1950s, ‘60s, and into the early ‘70s are as good as any Swiss competition of the period. Any hype is kept at bay by very few examples in the market, a shame, but this has created a real “if you know you know” feeling around some non-El Primero vintage Zeniths.
Beyond the sartorially inclined Favre-Jacot, there is one other Zenith name we must touch on. When the quartz crisis hit, Zenith was owned by Zenith Radio Company. Governing from afar in the USA, ZRC knew very little of the Swiss watch world. In 1972, two years after the introduction of the El Primero, the radio company ordered their watch subsidiary to sell off everything used to create the now “outdated” mechanical watches and make way for the “future”—quartz. Machines, presses, and tools, everything that took years of research and development, were to be sold. Charles Vermot, then head of the chronograph workshop, had other plans. He hid machinery, dies, and plans in the attic of Zenith’s manufacturing facility, believing the shift was an awful decision. By 1978, Zenith was in shambles. ZRC sold to a French company with more wit. In 1982, Vermot dusted off his stash and started kicking out El Primeros again. Four years later, in 1988, Rolex introduced the first automatic Daytona, inside was Zenith’s El Primero, this collaboration financially saved Zenith. During a 1991 interview, he was brought to tears recounting the story; when asked how he was repaid for his heroics, Vermot tapped his wrist, sporting the newest El Primero, “it’s a very nice watch, I like it very much,” he said.
Zenith’s A277 model was introduced as a waterproof chronograph in the late 1960s, only a few years prior to the introduction of the El Primero. The movement inside is Zenith’s renowned manually wound caliber 146HP, nothing to scoff at. Produced for only three to five years, the reference is as rare as it is beautiful. Collectors make a delineation between two series of the A277. The first series examples have a straight steel sweep chronograph hand, black sub-dial hands, Zenith star logo crowns, and shorter hashes on the external bezel. The second series watches have a white lumed sweep chronograph hand, gold color sub-dial hands, Zenith box logo crowns, and longer bezel hashes. One last difference is that very early first series examples have 146H movements, an iteration that came slightly before the 146HP found in all the rest.
The A277 for auction is tough to nail down to these definitions and is likely a mix of parts from first and second series parts as well as other Zenith references possibly. The bezel and sub-dial hands belong to a first series and the crown belongs to a second series. The chronograph sweep hand is not correct for A277s and the Gay Freres made, Zenith signed bracelet is period correct but likely offered on models like the A3635 and A3637 divers rather than this chronograph model. Our opinion is that this watch was born as a first series and the other parts added over the years.
The Case and Bracelet
Case condition of this Zenith chronograph is average, showing signs of a previous polish. The Zenith signed crown is correct for the reference with correct shape but likely not born on this example as it is stamped with a later logo.
The caseback is in matching condition to the rest of the case with light wear and a possible polish but little to no scratching. On the bezel, slight fading in the vibrance of the black is seen, very common for the reference. The crystal shows no flaws.
A Zenith signed Gay Freres bracelet accompanies the watch along with correct, original, well fitting, and frankly, expensive ZF stamped endlinks. The bracelet’s date code is 2/69, dating it to the second quarter of 1969. Although it is not believed to be original, the condition is commensurate with the watch.
The Dial and Hands
The dial on this A277 is the strongest aspect of the watch. Condition is great with pleasing patina to the sub-dials and a deep black color still present elsewhere. The tritium luminous material at each hour marker is complete and appears to be original. A few flaws to note: there is a finish issue around the Zenith star logo, a sweep mark is present on the right half of the 9 o’clock sub-dial, a faint sweep mark is present in the upper left quarter of the 6 o’clock sub-dial.
The hour and minute hands appear to be correct for the reference and original but the luminous material has degraded faster than that of the dial. The sub-dial handset is correct to the watch and the sweep chronograph seconds hand is not. Condition outside of the lume is good to great with small imperfections.
The Zenith 146HP is currently running, the chronograph starts, counts down, stops, resets. The service history is unknown.
|Movement||Manual, Zenith cal. 146HP|
|Dial||Black, matte finish|
|Case Material||Stainless Steel|
|Band Material||Zenith Signed Gay Freres|