I’ve always viewed myself as an archivist. Most of what I present on video is a compilation of the best-established facts concerning models, brands, and classes of watch. While I have conducted true primary-source research for publication in watch journals, most of my YouTube and Instagram narratives are composites of information in the public domain. So, what happens if a watch has no public profile, press kit, or record of existence?

That’s exactly what occurred with a recent Zenith El Primero chronograph that crossed my desk.

Zenith reference 18.2044.400/17.C494 sure is an attractive watch – and a confusing one. At first glance, it’s obvious that this 42mm rose gold El Primero Chronomaster is unusual. The combination of a rose gold case and a spearmint green metallic dial is unique, and I’ve never encountered another like it. Moreover, the caseback reveals that this is a limited edition of 50 pieces; that’s scarce even by the standards of a watchmaker amenable to making micro-editions for dealers, watch clubs, websites, and cross-branding business partners.

That last category is the one that catches my eye. First, this Chronomaster features a prominent “1966” engraved on the nine o’clock flank. Back in 2017, Zenith launched a watch called the “Zenith El Primero Legend of Cohiba” in a co-branding effort with Corporación Habanos, S.A. – the owners of the Cohiba cigar trademark. Like my mystery machine, the Cohiba Zenith used a 42mm rose gold Chronomaster case and an El Primero caliber 400 movement. But the real link between the WatchBox Zenith and the Cohiba is the prominent year “1966” engraved on the left flank of the case; it was the first year of the Cohiba brand name.

But the other features of the “Legend of Cohiba” are missing on my model. For one, this striking green dial looks like a far more recent effort than the 2017 original’s awkward combination of tobacco brown, cigar logos, and Cohiba-brand colors. This kind of bleached green sunburst looks like a Le Locle interpretation of the “pistachio” green employed by the 2021 Breitling Premier B09. But green dials were VERY 2020, and the warranty card for the rose-green Zenith is signed January 2020. This virtually guarantees that the model was developed prior to the watch industry’s current green dial fixation.

The original Zenith Legend of Cohiba wasn’t a limited edition, but my recent green dial Chronomaster is part of a 50-piece limited series. Zenith DID build a 42mm rose gold Cohiba-branded 2016 model called the El Primero Chronomaster 1969 Cohiba, an edition that included a dial-side visible escapement and branding graphics similar to the 2017 watch. At first, I suspected that the green dial watch might be a composite of unused parts for the 2016-2017 models, but the root reference on the caseback of the green watch isn’t the same as the 50-piece 2016 model.

Could it be that Zenith really DID combine an unused 2016 limited edition Cohiba caseback with an unused 2017 “1966” case and a smart new dial to create my watch? It’s certainly possible. In theory, if the limited edition caseback were already engraved but the reference number hadn’t been applied, then a new reference could have been created to make my green dial Chronomaster. It does appear that this reference is an oddball since a Google search of the caseback-engraved root, “18.2044.400,” only turns up sales listings for the single example I have in my possession.

That begs the question, “where are the other 49 examples?” I’ve been able to establish multiple distinct units of watches built in far smaller runs than 50 pieces, but there’s no evidence that my green dial Chronomaster has ANY brothers or sisters floating around the web. Paperwork with the watch indicates only the name of the original dealer, a date of sale, and the full reference number.

It gets stranger; Watchfinder appears to have had this exact serial number at some point and identified it as a 2017 edition. I wonder if anyone there had more information about the model.

In any case, this is a mystery machine. Its single known quantity is the aging but lovable Zenith El Primero caliber 400. As with most El Primeros since the 3019PHC of 1969, this one is an automatic winder with a 50-hour power reserve, a column wheel chronograph with lateral clutch, and the distinctive 5Hz beat rate. While this isn’t among the sportiest of Chronomasters, the 100-meter water resistance is laudable and expands the practical range of the watch. Lume is strong for a dress watch; there’s a lovely box sapphire and a dial-printed tach to give a vintage look.

Zenith, if you read this and have more details about this model, please drop me a line at tmosso@thewatchbox.com. I’d love to update this post with news of a mystery solved.