The debate on who is superior in a celebrated sporting rivalry usually rages on long after the competitors have retired. In most instances it is straightforward for people to voice their opinion. Rarely do you witness epic contests between two sporting icons whose personality and style echo each other. In motorsport three-time F1 champion Niki Lauda was easy going and a relentless perfectionist, whilst he said of his nemesis James Hunt: “For me, James was the most charismatic personality who’s ever been in Formula One.” In the heavyweight boxing division Lennox Lewis stood at 6 ft 5 in and Mike Tyson 5 ft 10 in, and whilst Lewis was a laid-back gentleman boxer, Tyson, the one-time “Baddest Man on the Planet”, was prone to spates of extreme volatility. And in tennis, albeit still occurring on court, the rallies between the ethereal backhand of Roger Federer and vigorous forehand of Rafael Nadal are legendary.
In haute horology, the debate and ever popular comparison between the Rolex Daytona and Zenith El Primero is not so clear-cut. Despite the watches being offered by separate companies under completely different model names with outer design differences, these two timepieces were originally running on a very similar mechanical movement. Created by Zenith and originally named 3019 PHC, the movement was re-named simply as “El Primero”. Whilst Zenith were the first to create it, Rolex later made expert tweaks to the El Primero engineering for their Daytona. As is usually the case, the first of anything is rarely the best version. For watch collectors, this reality is known to cloud and impact their perspective on which watch they prefer. However, this is not the case for the Founder of The Rake & Revolution magazines Wei Koh who gives his verdict: “Among emblematic sports chronographs that have seen the light of day since the birth of the watch industry, there is only one timepiece bestowed with a sobriquet that inflames the desire of men to such an extreme — that is, of course, Zenith’s legendary El Primero Ref. A3818, otherwise known as the “Cover Girl”, thanks to its appearance on the front of Manfred Rössler’s book Zenith: Swiss Watch Manufacture Since 1865.”
In 2020, Julien Tornare, CEO of Zenith, Romain Marietta, Zenith's Product Chief and Wei Koh masterminded a revival of the legendary 1970s Zenith Ref. A3818 “Cover Girl”. It had one huge difference compared to the original model; the dial was treated with luminous paint, even down to the 600 markers on the racing track, which, in combination with the luminous hand set — including those found in the subdials — meant you can record elapsed time, down to 1/10th of a second at that, in low-light conditions. Unsurprisingly with the interest in Zenith Ref. A3818s at an all-time high, the watch sold out very quickly. The good news for Zenith enthusiasts is that the horological triumvirate of Julien Tornare, Romain Marietta and Wei Koh have engineered yet another inventive Cover Girl revival, this time using grade 5 titanium for both the case of the watch and the ladder bracelet. Aptly named “The Airweight Cover Girl”, the launch of this timepiece is a special homage to the Cover Girl’s 50th anniversary.
Returning back to the Rolex Daytona, much of its fame is attributed to Hollywood icon Paul Newman. His affiliation with auto racing sensationally put the Rolex Daytona into a lifestyle bracket of speed, endurance and glamour. And with the timepiece having a chronological ability to measure elapsed time, it fitted the bill perfectly for Newman. Perpetuating the legacy of the El Primero movement, and with its ethereally lightweight Gay Frères ladder-style bracelet, you have to assert that like the Rolex Daytona, “The Airweight Cover Girl” has heaps of track-shredding character, and so should be deemed a terrifically suitable watch for motorsport fanatics, and particularly the gentleman racer.
A unique and stylish sports watch, the intensified focus on material innovation means the “The Airweight Cover Girl”, is an extremely wearable timepiece. Despite Newman starring in his own motor-orientated film, Winning, 1969 it was beyond acting where the Daytona suited his philanthropic and charismatic nature off the track to his potent style on the track. The point is that in the realms of sport watches, “The Airweight Cover Girl” has all the attributes to not only fit into a lifestyle of speed behind the wheel, but be a sound instrument that stays on your wrist when flitting between business and social engagements; especially sporting events where one can emulate the dashing businessman Philippe Junot at the Monaco Grand Prix, Eddie Redmayne at Wimbledon and Clint Eastwood at the Masters Golf at Augusta, Georgia – all iconic locations that have played host and fostered memorable match-ups between two greats of the same era.