Last year, the Range Rover Special Edition from Zenith Replica really stood out, since it was the very first to use a black ceramicised aluminum case. Its modern look and construction presented an interesting take on the famous El Primero, and only three months later the two El Primero 36,000 vph with panda dials were added to Zenith’s main line-up, again using those black aluminum cases. Those new chronographs offered the opportunity to look back on the Range Rover Special Edition with a bit more context, and to examine once again the result of this cross-industry partnership.
Associating a car and a watch is far from a revolutionary marketing concept. It has been tried many times, over many years, with varying degrees of success. One might remember the very practical Jaeger-LeCoultre Amvox (that is if you also own the Aston Martin whose doors you can lock and unlock by simply pressing on the watch’s crystal) or the Christopher Ward Limited Edition C9 DB4 1 VEV, which has much more contested roots than its naming would suggest. Then there are the countless brands that have featured the Ferrari logo on their dials. Zenith Replica watches and Range Rover clearly know that customers might be skeptical of another auto-horological partnership, so they’ve anchored this one in the year 1969, when Zenith first launched the El Primero and Range Rover designed its first prototype.
Looking at the watch, you can find multiple cues of the co-branding, some more subtle than others. To start with, the case material was reportedly chosen because Range Rover had been using aluminum for its chassis since 2013. Very obviously, there is the Range Rover signature on the dial which Arthur didn’t love, especially since the name appears again twice on the other side of the watch, both on the rotor and caseback itself.
Yet, it is when you place this watch side-by-side with the new panda-dial El Primero that the core features of the Range Rover Limited Edition jump out, and in a nice way. First, the tip of the chronograph seconds hand is unique to this reference since its shape is a nod to the front of the Range Rover, and the two top sub-registers overlap the hour counter, while the opposite is usually true on 42mm El Primeros. While the first feature is fairly small, the second avoids the “Mickey Mouse” effect that some people don’t like about the other configuration.
Like all aluminum pieces, you really get a new appreciation for this watch when you strap it on the wrist: its lightness is confounding. I also really liked the brushed black finish, which makes the 42mm case wears smaller than expected. I’m sure some wish this was the 38mm diameter of the original El Primero, but its larger dimensions did not bother me during the time I spent with the watch. The ceramic coating is said to offer a good resistance to scratches. It’s less impressive than solid ceramic, but without the shattering potential too. And the vertical brushing of the grey dial nicely completes the stealth look of this chronograph, which is much more modern than most other El Primeros today.
This chronograph comes with a choice of two straps, each echoing a leather option for the Range Rover’s interior. The calfskin coating of the central rubber part proved comfortable, which is what really matters. The deployant buckle is in black PVD titanium since aluminum proved too fragile for such a part, which undergoes the stress of repeated folding and unfolding. Last, but not least, the high-beat chronograph caliber 400B works great, although the sapphire caseback shows its restrained dimensions, which you can also infer from the central positioning of the three sub-registers on the dial. The date window at six o’clock balances this out though, and the black date disc is a nice final touch here.