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Today we have the interesting opportunity to compare the recent Timeless Chronomaster LE with its inspiration, the classic Zenith A273. Interestingly, at the time we designed the Timeless Chronomaster, I had never even seen an A273 in person. That said, we never intended to do a re-release of the A273, just a watch that incorporated elements from one of our favorite vintage Zeniths. Still, seeing these two side by side, it’s somewhat remarkable how close we got. As a side note, these photos, as usual, are not to scale, but the size in real life (we’ll discuss this more later in the article) is surprisingly close.
Starting, naturally, with the dials, there’s a great deal in common here, but more different than you might first expect. For one thing, while we attempted to retain as much of the original writing as we could, including the controversial lines on the minute register, the hands are different. The new Timeless version has a more elegant, dressy appearance, compared to a much more straightforwardly functional look in the original. It was certainly a design objective of ours to make the new watch understated and dressy, so the feuille hands were used to promote that look. Interestingly, we basically nailed the coloration of this aged A273. The original has a more dynamic and shiny sunburst effect to it, while ours is more reserved, however.
Both watches feature blued subdial hands and a chronograph seconds hand, which contrasts very beautifully, in my opinion, with the dial. Likely owing to the age of the A273, the hands appear almost black, but get the light just right and you can still appreciate the blue. The blued hands on the new model, of course, are quite visible. It’s also worth noting that the subdial hands on the new model are slightly different, with counterbalances where the original has none.
Turning at an angle, we can start to appreciate the rather beautiful curvature of the A273’s domed dial compared to the more conventional flat dial in the Timeless version. The Timeless Chronomaster’s subdials are also composed of two distinct layers, creating an inner ring, while the A273’s subdials are more seamless.
One of the two biggest differences between these watches is their case. There are plenty of similarities, but the lugs are entirely different and give the Timeless Chronomaster a more robust and sporty look. The case is, nonetheless, vaguely period correct, as it too is inspired by the classic A386, which, like the new Chronomaster, is an El Primero. We attempted to stick as closely to the original pushers as we could, however. Nonetheless, our pushers have a ring around them, giving them an almost piston-like appearance. The crown is also a bit demurer, balancing out the sportier case. In terms of size, we kept the new model very close to the original, at 38mm versus 37mm.
There is one “small” advantage to the original A273, namely that its hand wound movement allows it to be thinner. While the new model is pretty good for an automatic chronograph, at 13.75mm, the original is just under 12mm, an appreciable improvement. This view also allows us to examine the difference between the crystals. We used what some call a “box crystal” on our new one, to help promote a vintage look, but the original has a perfectly domed piece.
In addition to the stainless back on the A273 compared to the display on the new model, we see another major difference: the Timeless Chronomaster has a contemporary El Primero automatic chronograph, complete with COSC certification, while the A273 uses a much older hand wound chronograph movement. Other differences between these two watches are matters of taste, but the El Primero was the more sophisticated movement even when the A273 was new, and is far more so after decades of refinement. It’s not a fair comparison to begin with, of course, to put a vintage watch movement against a new one, much less a legendary movement like the El Primero, so that was basically an inevitability.
Clearly, a lot of design elements were borrowed from the original, yet, by the addition of a new case, hands and movement, it is nonetheless something new and unique. It’s good to see the classic A273 get more attention, having been somewhat overlooked for decades due to its more prolific sibling. Which do I prefer? Well, the new one, of course, because, after all, I had a part in designing it, but seeing these two side by side, it’s nonetheless impressive how well the A273’s design has held up.
The original is a better design in almost every way. The modern one is high quality, but the dial, case, and pushers are so inelegant compared to the original. It's amazing that the EP dial looks crowded even on a 38mm case. At least it's not cross-eyed like some of the large case versions.
I like them both although I am not crazy about the Timeless bracelet with the PCLs...
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I have to completely agree with this. I think that Timeless did an admirable job but the original is better in pretty much every way.
Officially, the watch comes on a leather strap, but both of these were personal watches that were handed to me on bracelet, and I figured I'd keep it on since it gave a different look and it was a better match for the A273 on bracelet too.
That said, I actually really quite like it on the bracelet, PCLs and all.
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