In 1972, an adventurer named John Blashford-Snell led an expedition through the Darién Gap, an inhospitable swampland between Columbia and Panama. The 100-mile swath is known as the “missing link”, because it constitutes a gap in the Pan-American Highway that would otherwise link Central and South America. John Blashford-Snell, who counts among his achievements the invention of white-water rafting, chose a Land Rover for the expedition and wore a Zenith watch on his wrist. Today, Land Rover and Zenith are announcing a reunion of sorts: a partnership to launch the Zenith Land Rover watch collection, commemorating their shared legacy as makers of high-performance luxury products.
“We didn’t want this collaboration to be just about putting our name on the watch,” says Land Rover Chief Design Officer Gerry McGovern. “We wanted it to have more integrity than that. It was a true collaboration. One of the things we talked about right from the start was how do we get the weight out of the watch, to make it large but comfortable to wear. Range Rovers are made on aluminum platforms because we need vehicles to be lighter. Weight is a killer in automotive design. We asked if they could do aluminium coating….”
“We said no at first,” says Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of the LVMH watch division, Zenith’s parent company. “Aluminum is soft and it scratches. The second problem with aluminium is that it oxidizes. But we wanted to find a way, so we asked [fellow LVMH brand] Hublot to help. The idea came from Magic Gold, a case material for Hublot that combines gold and ceramic. We tried it with aluminum and ceramic and it worked. It will have a lot of future because it’s the perfect material for watches. It is scratch-resistant, doesn’t oxidize, it’s super light and very hard.”
The Zenith El Primero is one of the most distinctive watch designs ever produced, in my view.
The 1969 milestone
The inaugural watch, the El Primero Range Rover Special Edition, is a tribute to the first luxury SUV, with a brushed grey dial marked “Zenith Range Rover”. The case is made of aluminum – a nod to the Range Rover chassis – coated with ceramic. “Our goal is always to make cars lighter, and we wanted the watch to be lighter, as well,” says McGovern. The result is an El Primero Caliber 400B movement with integrated column-wheel construction that powers a tenth-of-a-second display with its fast-paced beat of 36,000 vibrations per hour. The rotor bears the Zenith and Range Rover logos. “Zenith and Range Rover are both pioneers in our respective industries,” says Aldo Magada, President and CEO of Zenith. “Both brands express authentic luxury.” Land Rover famously makes the Range Rover, its signature four-wheel drive SUV. The company introduced the first prototype for a luxury off-road vehicle in 1969, the same year Zenith unveiled its signature El Primero chronograph movement, a high-frequency caliber that is legendary in watchmaking and still used today. “The Zenith El Primero is one of the most distinctive watch designs ever produced, in my view,” says McGovern. “We took a great classic and we gave it a Range Rover twist.”
According to McGovern, Range Rover intends to install Zenith clocks on the dashboards of future Range Rover models. “Prince Philip asked me when we were going to get some real clocks in the Range Rover,” he says. “That is now in the works.” Currently, Range Rovers have digital clocks. McGovern says that when collaborating on the design of the new collection, “we looked to the reductive nature of a modern Range Rover interior, and the Zenith team translated that into the dial of the watch, keeping it simple and unfussy. The matte finish simultaneously suggests understatement, sophistication and durability – like a Range Rover.”
The watch is priced at US$7,700. It is being launched at a series of parties in several markets. At each party, an artist will create a work using exterior parts of a Range Rover. The works will be auctioned, with the proceeds going to charity in each market. First up, artist Carlito Dalceggio created an on-site artwork during the launch party in New York this week.