A review of the vintage Zenith Cairelli CP-2 watch

The Editorial Team

In this youtube video, we’re going to look at a military-issued chronograph manufactured by Zenith and distributed by A. Cairelli Roma. The Zenith A. Cairelli Roma Chronometro Tipo CP-2 was issued to the Italian Air Force by the Rome-based retailer during the 1960s but makes for a particularly interesting military chronograph and a collectable should you be in the market looking for a large-sized vintage military wristwatch with a compelling history.


There are some battle-proven military wristwatches like the Breguet Type XX and Rolex’s Peruvian Air Force Daytonas that may immediately spring to mind when you think of vintage military chronographs. Yet the Zenith Cairelli is still lauded as one of the most interesting models in the entire industry, making it a particularly appealing investment. Any luxury watch brand with military provenance certainly drives up desirability on the pre-owned watch market, promising considerably more character and thus appealing to collectors from a practical and novelty point-of-view. The Zenith Cairelli CP-2 is the perfect example of such a watch, despite information on its design being scarcer than some of the more renowned brands’ military watches.

About the Zenith Cairelli CP-2

The Zenith A. Cairelli CP-2 is a watch that succeeded the likes of the Breitling and Leonidas CP-1 watches and had big shoes to fill during a time when the demand for military tools was at one of its highest. The Aeronautica Militare Italian, or AMI, no doubt, required a legible and accurate instrument for navigational purposes to which A. Cairelli answered this need. A. Cairelli has a decades-long history in supplying pilot watches and navigators’ timepieces to the Italian Air Force and the Italian military, including the legendary split-second, 24-hour-dial Universal Geneve watch that sold for nearly $200,000 just a few years ago. A reference to the Aeronautica Militare Italian was inscribed onto the back of all watches issued to the AMI and signed with the “A. Cairelli” lettering on the dial. Whilst these attributes add to the rarity of these purpose-built watches, not all of them clocked hours in the cockpit. It is estimated that some 500 of the original 2,500 Zenith Cairelli watches created were held onto by Cairelli and sold privately to civilians. This ramps up the difficulty in the hunt for remaining vintage Zenith Cairelli CP-2 watches on the pre-owned market today. It’s also worth noting here that there are thought to be civilian versions with three- sub-dials also.

Some of the key characteristics of the Zenith Cairelli CP-2 watch upon first glance are its 43mm case size which made for a considerably large wristwatch at the time of its release. Large luminous Arabic numeral and hands stand out with presence on the “Cairelli”-stamped dial, and the watch is powered by a reliable manual-winding movement. Similar to Rolex’s Paul Newman Daytona watches, the dial of this vintage Zenith Cairelli CP-2 watch is engine turned, to again, add further depth and definition to the dial.

The case:

As mentioned, the 43mm size of this military-issued chronograph was exceptionally large for its time. Larger than the 39mm CP-1 watches labelled the Leonidas. The stainless steel model is both robust and sturdy, creating a huge wrist presence when attached by its aged light brown calfskin leather strap with a steel buckle. The case measures a thickness of 12.5mm on the wrist, providing plenty of room around the manual-winding movement that sits inside. As aforementioned, an inscription of the Aeronautica Militare Italian lettering is engraved onto the back of a screwed stainless steel caseback and these models feature a revolving black bezel. Alongside this inscription is the inventory number, whilst civilian versions bear only the “A. Cairelli” name and “CP-2” reference. The three-part polished steel case of the Zenith CP-2 marked the second generation of the CP watch – an abbreviation short for “cronometro da polso” or “wrist chronometer”. Although pre-owned Zenith Cairelli watches can vary in condition, many will bear a faded bezel from its original black colour to a deep blue – a patina that greatly adds to the character of the watch, and models can vary from pristine case conditions to a “worn” appearance. The front of the case was also sealed with a pane of plexiglass to protect the dial from scratches, bumps and external damage.

The dial

The black dial of the vintage Zenith Cairelli CP-2 watch presents itself in tritium coated large-sized Arabic numerals that are easy to locate around the hour scale. The hands are also treated with the same luminescent material and taper at the ends in a sword-like shape. A detailed minute track borders the very edge of the dial and the sub-counters located at 3 and 9 o’clock (providing 30-minute and small second functions respectively) are sunken to create a recessed finish. The chronograph sweep hand is crafted into a pointer design that echoes the look of a miniature “swept wing” aircraft.

The movement

Powering away inside the vintage Zenith Cairelli CP-2 watch is the hand-wound chronograph calibre, known as the Cal. 146. This tried and tested movement was based upon the Martel Cal. 749 made by a manufacturer that Zenith actually acquired in 1960. This came just before the iconic El Primero movement developed by Zenith - arguably one of the most industry-changing calibres of all time. Initially, the 146DP movement was made in the Ponts-de-Martel workshops, however, and powered a Universal Geneve watch. The Cal. 146 comprises a monometallic balance, shock-protection and a self-compensating flat balance spring, as well as 17 jewels and a promise of a 38-hour power reserve.

Prices for the Zenith Cairelli CP-2 watch

The vintage Zenith Cairelli CP-2 watch will always be hugely desirable to those "in the know2, mainly due to its ability to instantly seduce military watch buffs and chronograph collectors alike. Twenty years ago, the watch was valued around the $1,800 mark but as of 2015 onwards, the watch has been known to sell for around $11,800, with prices still set to peak. Just like the French military’s Type 20 and Fifty Fathoms watches, along with the unrivalled 12 timepieces known as the famous “Dirty Dozen” - the Zenith Cairelli CP-2 is a sub-genre of its very own.

Today there is no doubting the beauty and the lesser-known historical significance of the CP-2 watch by Zenith. It not only deserves the respect of any military watch connoisseur but should be recognised as one of the most interesting military tools to collect from the 1960s era.

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