News Monday, October 8th 2012
The “Gravity Control” system, along with openworking in the best Fine Watchmaking tradition: by dedicating its Academy Christophe Colomb skeletonised model to Charles Fleck, its legendary “chronométrier” or precision timer, the Manufacture Zenith pays a two-fold homage to these pioneers that each in their own way made their mark on history.
Academy Christophe Colomb Tribute to Charles Fleck © Zenith
A tribute to pioneers, to the exceptional men who forge history
When Christophe Colomb set his course westwards in the 15th century, a time when all the other navigators were headed east, he could barely have imagined that his epic voyage would lead him to discover the New World. Despite his accomplishment that forever changed world history, the maritime adventurer was faced with one of the challenges that continues to haunt contemporary horology: that of making exact measurements with instruments subject to constant motion that is detrimental to their precision.
Charles Fleck was an exceptional precision timer who also left an indelible imprint on history, notably that of watchmaking, during the over 30 years that he spent at the Manufacture Zenith. Between 1925 and 1956, he registered a number of patents both for Zenith and under his own name. He is in particular the inventor of the double-arrow governor that was to equip Calibres 133, 71, 120, 40 and 5011. His passion for precision led him to take part in developing Calibre 135 which won a number of chronometry prizes, including the prestigious Best Wristwatch Prize over five consecutive years. His life dedicated to serving exceptional mechanisms contributed to making Zenith the most titled brand of all time in the field of precision, with no less than 2,333 prizes won to date. A proud heritage that the Manufacture daily perpetuates by pursuing its tireless quest for the ultimate in horological feats.
Today, the Manufacture with the guiding star pays tribute to these two pioneers by creating a timepiece in their image: the Academy Christophe Colomb Tribute to Charles Fleck. A watch imbued with audacity, avant-garde innovations and a determination to push the boundaries of established conventions in order to write a new page in history – that of Fine Watchmaking and of the men and women who continue to shape it.
At the heart of the Academy Christophe Colomb Tribute to Charles Fleck beats a self-regulating gyroscopic mechanism representing one of the major breakthroughs in 21st century watchmaking. Based on the principle that maintaining the regulator organ in a horizontal position engenders the best possible balance amplitude and thus guarantees the finest timing precision, Zenith has devised a revolutionary system ensuring that the regulating organ and the escapement are permanently kept in this position, and aptly named “gravity control”.
Inspired by marine chronometers, gravity control is also a tribute to company history in the sense that Zenith has in the past produced this type of instrument, as well as a Lépine chronometer from the early 20th century equipped with an escapement named the “Echappement Colomb”.
The patented gravity control system borrows from marine chronometers the principle of gimbal suspension, a kind of universal hinge fitted to marine chronometers from the 16th onwards in order to keep them horizontal despite the inevitable rolling and pitching of the ships they equipped.
Later, the appearance of pocket watches meant that the same means could not longer be implemented, since they would have accommodating a voluminous 50 mm mechanism within a pocket watch. The tourbillon was thus invented to compensate for the variations in rate of the watch, based on the principle that it generally remained in a vertical position in a pocket, and that only the winding-stem tended to shift slightly to the left or right.
Today, the classic tourbillons in wristwatches continue to correct for these positions by equalling them out over all 4 vertical axes once a minute. Inclined or multi-axis tourbillons take the regulating organ through a larger number of different positions, even though they only remain very briefly in a horizontal position and merely correct the sum of several errors induced by multiple wrist movements.
The ultimate development in terms of wristwatch precision thus consists in equipping such models with a constant horizontal escapement that surpasses the performances of tourbillon mechanisms. That is exactly what has been done with the Academy Christophe Colomb.
Feats and virtuosity of an integrated Fine Watchmaking Manufacture
The development of this exceptional mechanism required a full five years of research, while producing it called for the creation of 60 new tools dedicated to assembling the sphere and its 175 components – a technical feat that would have been impossible without the expertise of a fully integrated Manufacture.
In keeping with the Zenith signature codes, the Academy Christophe Colomb Tribute to Charles Fleck beats at a frequency of 10 vibrations per second, amounting to 36,000 per hour – an exceptional cadence that entailed even greater complexity. Never one to refuse a challenge, Zenith thus compounded the complexity by openworking this model dedicated to the precision timer who made such a profound impact on its history, as if to better reveal the exceptional mechanism beating at its core. This masterful exercise drew upon the full range of skills cultivated within the Manufacture, since the openworking involved constantly reconciling technical and aesthetic constraints. Mainplate, bridges and plates: all the layers have been patiently chased and engraved, finely readjusting the balance at each stage.
Magnificently accentuating the contrasts between the anthracite of the movement, the blue of the hands and screws, and the rose gold of the gear wheels, three screw-down sapphire dials catch and hold the gaze, further celebrating the magic of the dome at 6 o’clock.
The platinum case underscores the precious nature of this timepiece issued in a 25-piece limited series. A rare collector’s piece perpetuating the proud lineage of models composing the Zenith legend, of which Charles Fleck himself wrote some of the finest chapters. ■
Academy Christophe Colomb Tribute to Charles Fleck
• The Christophe Colomb module: a major milestone in mechanical watchmaking
• Inspired by the legendary marine chronometer instrument
• A self-regulating gyroscopic module to guarantee flat positioning of the regulating organ
El Primero 8804, Manual
Unique Gyroscopic system that ensures perfect horizontal positioning of the regulating organ
Calibre: 16½ ``` (Diameter: 37 mm)
Thickness: 5.85 mm
Gyroscopic carriage made of 175 components
Frequency: 36,000 VpH – (5 Hz)
Power-reserve: min. 50 hours
Hours and minutes excentred at 12 o’clock
Self-regulating Gravity Control module at 6 o’clock
Small seconds display at 9 o’clock
Power-reserve indicator at 3 o’clock
Case, Dial & Hands
Diameter: 45 mm
Thickness: 14.35 mm
21.40 mm (with domed sapphire crystal)
Crystal & Case-back: Box-shaped sapphire crystal with anti-reflection treatment on both sides and excrescent domes that cover the Christophe Colomb module.
Water-resistance: 3 ATM
Dial: 3 sapphire dials or gold-toned barleycorn guilloché motif with “Clous de Paris” hobnail pattern on small seconds counter
Hour-markers: Black lacquered
Hands: Blued steel
Straps & Buckle
Alligator leather strap with protective rubber lining
Black alligator leather
Brown alligator leather
18-carat gold triple folding clasp