Many horophiles dedicate their lives to finding their “grail watch”, the ultimate missing piece in their collection. Whether its desirability is derived from its unique look, its exceptional place in watchmaking history or its rarity, most would be lucky to happen upon it in a lifetime. And in some exceptional circumstances, it is so out of reach that the brand may have not even brought it into existence yet.
This is the unusual circumstance around Zenith’s partnership with Lupin the Third, the popular Japanese manga and anime series. Inspired by the release of the watchmaker’s iconic El Primero in 1969, shortly after the timepiece was spotted in animated form on the wrist of the Daisuke Jigen, right-hand-man of the title character Lupin III. It featured a unique black, grey and gilt design not available in real life. And in the final episode of the first series, he was seen sporting a similarly mythical version with a monochromatic “panda” dial.
Decades on, in 2019, the first design was turned into a reality, followed by the second the following year. For the third and final limited edition, Zenith has now combined the two distinctive watches into a new timepiece with a bold aesthetic as unique as its origins.
This melding of influences has been expressed by splitting the dial into two; to one side a semi-glossy black background with a deep-grey counter, to the other the stark contrast of creamy-white with black. Retro in styling but with a modern edge thanks to idiosyncratic configuration, the dial also requires a complex process to achieve its clean lines. First the right half is finished in white, before the chronograph counters are milled while the dial is protected with a layer of transparent lacquer. Then a similar protection is applied on top while the opposite side is painted black, followed by the grey counters, with great attention paid to ensure that the colours do not bleed into each other.
Continuing its vintage appeal, the barrel shape of the 37mm titanium case takes inspiration from the A384, the very first El Primero, paired with a ladder bracelet originally created by renowned bracelet manufacturer Gay Frères. And, of course, beating inside the watch is Zenith’s high-frequency El Primero movement, viewable through the sapphire-crystal caseback featuring an engraving of Daisuke Jigen.