Last year Swiss made fake Zenith watches launched an unprecedented version of its Chronomaster A384 inspired by the Japanese manga and anime series Lupin the Third. It was unprecedented because this black and grey model only existed in the ‘fictionalised’ realm of gentleman-thief Lupin’s universe. Although brands like Seiko are at home producing watches dedicated to characters from Japanese manga, the Zenith Chronomaster Revival “Lupin the Third” marked Zenith’s first foray into this imaginary dimension – and it was a resounding success. For 2020, Zenith follows up with a second Revival Lupin the Third model based on a second cameo appearance of Zenith’s A384 in the first TV series dedicated to Lupin the Third and his gang. Limited to 200 pieces, the watch was initially available exclusively at the Zenith Ginza Boutique in Tokyo but will be winging its way over to international retailers very soon.
Lupin III is one of the most popular characters in Japanese manga folklore. Created by Monkey Punch (Kazuhiko Katō), Lupin III was first serialised in Weekly Manga Action magazine in August 1967. A huge success and one of Japan’s longest-living franchises, Lupin III has evolved from print to a TV series, from films to video games and from live-action films to television specials and even a musical!
As the grandson of Arsène Lupin, the fictional gentleman thief, detective and master of disguise created by French writer Maurice Leblanc in 1905, Lupin III inherits his grandfather’s penchant for robbery and dapper style. His modus operandi is to send a calling card to potential victims and alert them to his intentions. Daisuke Jigen is his sidekick and an expert marksman (always dressed in dark suits with strong mafia overtones). Other characters in Lupin III are Goemon Ishikawa XIII, a master swordsman and Lupin’s love interest (and occasional competitor for the loot), the voluptuous femme fatale Fujiko Mine. Fast on their heels is Inspector Koichi Zenigata of Interpol.
The success of the print version of Lupin III spawned a TV series in 1971. In the very first episode, we see marksman Daisuke Jigen behind the wheel of a red sports car. Dressed in a tight blue and white jumpsuit and matching helmet, he’s wearing goggles and – wait a minute – what’s that on his wrist? A close-up reveals that the high quality replica watches is a cartoon take of perhaps the most famous chronograph of the day. With its hexagonal cushion-shaped case, pump-style pushers, tachymetre scale, tri-compax layout and steel ladder bracelet, it is clearly meant to be Zenith’s 1969 El Primero reference A384. Fair enough, the colour scheme is not accurate, but even the date window is featured in its 4h30 position, and the brand name appears as ENIT (minus the Z and H, no doubt for copyright reasons) along with the cursive font used for El Primero (hard to decipher what it actually says). This first cameo of the A384 inspired the first Lupin the Third watch with its black dial, grey counters and tachymetre scale.
The styling of Lupin III is totally in tune with the groovy 1970s: flared trousers, shaggy hairstyles and accessories to match. Featuring an El Primero A384 watch would have made perfect sense to Monkey Punch. After all, the El Primero was a rock star on the watchmaking scene having claimed first place in the race to create an automatic chronograph movement (with a hyper-precise 5Hz frequency to boot). Initially launched as a movement in January 1969, the integrated El Primero high-frequency column-wheel chronograph calibre was eventually housed in three variants: the classic round A386 model with tri-colour counters, the A385 cushion-shaped model with a gradient brown dial, and the reference A384 with the same bold hexagonal cushion-shaped case as the A385 but with a panda dial (white background, black counters).
Fans of the original A384 and A386 references were in for a treat last year when Zenith launched faithful Revival re-editions to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Fans of Lupin III and the El Primero A384 also got to celebrate with the first Revival Lupin the Third model. Well, it turns out that the El Primero didn’t make just one cameo appearance in the first episode of the 1971 TV series, but two. The second time the A384 appears on Daisuke Jigen’s wrist (what’s with the hairy knuckles?), you can almost make out the brand name and the colour scheme is closer to the original 1969 A384 panda dial with a white centre and black chronograph counters.