Sometimes people seem to forget the significant accolades Zenith has acquired over time. Today, it’s one of the most ‘in’ brands on the market. However, it’d be folly to write them off as just another passing fad. There is no doubt that Zenith is one of the most important manufacturers in the history of watchmaking. It has a large amount of complications at its disposal that begins with the minute repeaters, then Flyback chronographs, to Tourbillons, and a complication that redefined the Tourbillon (more on that a bit later).
Everything began in 1865, as a 22 year old George Favre-Jacot succeeded in establishing a watchmaking factory that united several production line steps into just one single process. In Le Locle, he founded the “Fabrique des Billodes”. Fast forward a half of a century later; the company’s founder was deliberating on a new name. Legend has it that the perfect craftsmanship of one of his watches reminded him of a beautiful night sky, which made him name the company Zenith. Perfectionism today is still the name of the game. At the same time, Zenith isn’t only a traditional and well-respected manufacturer, but is well-known for its price-performance ratio.
The El Primero is a paragon among chronograph movements and forms the cornerstone of the Zenith collection. Beyond them, there are also three handed watches without a stop mechanism (El Primero Synopsis and El Primero Espada). One of the most iconic design elements is the dial version with three-tone registers, which is found on El Primero Original 1969 and the Stratos Tribute Felix Baumgartner.
DISCOVER ZENITH EL PRIMERO WATCHES
Originally a calibre description, just like the El Primero, the Elite has made quite a name for itself as the designation for an entire watch collection. Especially noticeable is the unusual position of certain extra features e.g. the model variants with a small second, power reserve regulation, date and moon phase. These attributes make the dress watch stand out from all the rest.
The Pilot collection consists largely of oversized watches. Its not only the opulent onion crown but also the dominating fonts with their Arabic numerals that are reminiscent of the pilot watches of the 1930s. Some Zenith Pilots are equipped with Elite calibres while other models in a larger size employ the pocket watch movement 5011K.
The Zenith Star is part of a ladies watch collection with a striking pillow shaped case. A shape which is also reflected e.g. in the Panerai Luminor and Radiomir as well as earlier Rolex Oyster models. The Star is furnished with either El Primero or Elite movements and has a case diameter clocking in at 33 to 37 millimetres.
The movement El Primero, has gone down in the pages of history as the first automatic chronograph. Zenith, in a famous head to head contest, managed to just barely win against Dubois¬-Dépraz, Breitling, and TAG Heuer. Even today, El Primero resembles the first draft from 1969. In terms of accuracy, the calibre is still an authority in the industry.
The El Primero, however, is by far not the only conspicuous movement that Zenith has created over the passage of time. The pocket watch 5011 K, still used in some pilot watches today, won innumerable Chronometre prizes and is widely recognized for its indestructibility. Another famous movement which Zenith incorporates is the Elite. The different Elite versions belong to the thinnest of their kind, yet at the same time remain highly dependable and accurate.
Zenith has to be considered as one of the most innovative watch manufacturers in history. Broken down into numbers, it has submitted 300 patents and 600 different movements over the years. It’s certainly one of the most inventive and can share the good company of other manufacturers e.g. Jaeger-LeCoultre or Rolex. Over time, it’s collected a sum total of 2,333 Chronometre prizes. The number speaks for itself and only further solidifies Zeniths position as one of the most remarkable and extraordinary manufacturers in the history.
Zenith doesn’t view the term manufacture as just another advertisement slogan attached to a slim line up of self-produced movements. It’s one of the few brands that produces its own in-house constructed movements. Zenith now aims to offer a substantially thinner portfolio, with fewer calibre and model variations, in the hopes that their different watch models will enjoy more brand recognition.
Even though today Zenith is a small niche brand in comparison with industry giants like Rolex or Omega, they’ve still successfully carved out a segment of the market pie for themselves. Nor has success been in short supply either, particularly when taking into consideration that it’s quintupled its sales and production within the space of 5 years. In 2014, 50,000 movements in total have left through the front doors of its manufactory, where all the individual steps of production are unified in one place. Truly, hardly anything less is expected of Zenith.
Tourbillons have always been an important pillar of the brand’s savoir faire and is also reflected in its more recent labours. In 2005, the world’s first mechanical ladies watch with a tourbillon was created. The 2010 Gravity Control caused quite a stir, which rightly has been called groundbreaking. Be that as it may, it uses a completely different approach than conventional tourbillons. The heart of the watch doesn’t turn in a predetermined path, but is consistently in a horizontal position independent of the wearer’s movements. While normal tourbillons have a rotating micro-cage which negates gravity, the escapement in this structure is always in the same position. This ensures that every fluctuation in friction, regardless of whether short or long, can be adjusted. This perpetual horizontal position, particularly paramount to accuracy, is provided courtesy of 4 axels. This very special tourbillon caliber is employed in the model Christophe Colomb, whose balance wheel ticks to the beat of 36,000 per hours.
1865: Georges Favre-Jacot creates the first watch manufacture. One of the founding ideas, was to unify the entire production process in one place.
1909: Since 1909, Zenith produces wristwatches and is one of the first producers to focus on the production of wristwatches instead of pocket watches.
1911: The watch manufacture is now named Zenith.
1969: The Zenith El Primero literally begins a watch making revolution with its first automatic chronograph movement. It wins, in a direct competition against its competitors Breitling, TAG Heuer, Buren/Hamilton, and Dubois-Dépraz.
2005: The first tourbillon is assimilated into the ladies wristwatch, the Zenith Star.
2010: The gravity control is presented in the watch model, Academy Christophe Colomb. It’s a kind of Tourbillon, which keeps the balance wheel and escapement in a horizontal position.
2020: The Zenith Chronomaster Revival “Manufacture Edition” adorns a previously unknown dial, which was found in the attic of the Manufacture in Switzerland.