With the popularity of vintage, or simply vintage-style, watches showing no sign of abating anytime soon, it’s no surprise that we have seen an increasing number of timepieces bearing smoked (or fumé) dials. Featuring gradient finishes that go from light to dark, such retro-looking dials have appeared in watches at just about every price tier. Indeed, for high-end independent brand H. Moser, the smoked dial has become a design signature.

Zenith’s latest release, however, is a reminder of who was there first. A tonneau-shaped watch with a brown gradient dial, the Chronomaster Revival A385 apparently marked the debut of the industry’s first smoked dial. It is also a reissue of a one of a trio of steel watches unveiled by the brand in 1969.

Zenith Chronomaster Revival A385

Along with the references A384 and A386, the A385 was one of the first three timepieces to house Zenith’s famous El Primero movement, the world’s first automatic high-frequency chronograph. To mark the 50th anniversary of the El Primero in 2019, Zenith reissued the A386 as limited editions and brought back the A384 as part of the brand’s regular offerings. Now, it’s time for the rebirth of the A385.

A Zenith brochure showing the three El Primero movement-powered steel watches that were launched in 1969.

Another claim to fame for this timepiece: In 1970, it was part of Operation Sky, an endeavour that saw the watch being strapped to the landing gear of an Air France Boeing 707, during a flight from Paris to New York. Holding up to temperature and air pressure changes and wind force, the watch continued functioning normally after the flight.

As with its other vintage reissues, the Le Locle manufacture has gone for a approach that largely stays faithful to the original by adopting a reverse-engineering approach. The Chronomaster Revival A385’s 37mm case and pump-style pushers are based on the model’s original blueprints. The new version, however, features a domed sapphire glass instead of acrylic glass, and an exhibition caseback instead of a closed one. All the better with which to admire the El Primero 400 chronograph movement beating within. At its usual high frequency of 36,000 vibrations per hour, of course.