Saturday, 23 February 2013

The worlds first automatic chronograph movement

It is often discussed, which company produced the worlds first automatic chronographic movement:

I made some research using many different sources - and direct correspondence with vintage people in the three companies.

Zenith on the 10th January 1969 presented, as the first company, an automate chronograph (ElPrimero) at a separate press-conference in a hotel in Geneva prior to the Basel exhibition same year. It shall be said, that at the presentation, Zenith only had 2 or 3 working proto-types to present - but they did have prototypes and the presentation, small as it may have been, was the first presenation.

Heuer/Breitling/Buren/Hamilton/D&D or the Chronomatic group - would therefor wait for the Basel exhibition with their presenation, but had a conference - at the same date as the opening of the exhibition, in New-York and Geneva, on the 3rd March 1969. It is likely that the group had more than 100 prototypes at that point, where Zenith may still have had fewer.

Seikos files are not complete from the time, and they have difficulties in giving exact information, but they did deliver the first calibre 6139, single sub-dial automatic chronograph to shops (in Japan most likely only) - and the fist know calibre 6139 watch, was sold from a shop to a consumer in May 1969. The first two sub-dial auto chrono from Seiko 6138, was prepared before 6139, but not released until 1970


As an extra information, it can be added, that an astronaut (I only have name as W.R.P.) carried the Seiko in open space as the first automatic chrono in open space - with Skylab 4 as part of his personal equipment.

Conclusions about the first automatic chronograph:
  • First presentation: Zenith Jan 1969 - Fully integrated automatic rotor chronograph - high beat - two or three fully working prototypes presented at a press-conference 10th jan 1969. The only movement of the three contestors, still produced on largely the same platform.
  • First sold on the market: Seiko May/June 1969 - second to follow was the Chronomatic group, and latest out for sale on the market, the Zenith - though all were released in 1969
  • First planning of production of an automatic chrono: With all likeliness, the Heuer group of companies "Chronomatic group" - Modular based automatic chronograph - a pre-serie was introduced internally in sept 1968 but nothing published or of course not for sale by then. Application for patent were given in on the 22 sept. 1967 so at that point drawings existed (patent granted in august 1972 just). Out on the market to consumers after Seiko but before Zenith.
The last point is the most difficult to establish - but this is as close as I get it, and maybe it is wise just to stick to the two first points?

The Zenith ElPrimero is still in production on basically the same platform, and is without doubt the first fully integrated automatic rotor chronograph – and with column wheel. It also had running seconds, a feature missing on the early Chronomatic type - Heuer 11. The Zenith is also by far the longest living of the three contesters.

br John H

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