Felix Baumgartner: a philosophy of daring
Georges Favre-Jacot would doubtless have appreciated Felix Baumgartner, since these two individuals living a century and a half apart share the same philosophy of daring accomplishments and challenges. These challenges however extremely well calculated and prepared at length. The kind of challenges conveying values destined to enrich future generations – such as the fact that the only true limits are those that we set for ourselves. This former Austrian army paratrooper has racked up an incredible set of records, including that for the highest parachute jump, from the Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur (1999), for the lowest extreme jump from the hand of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro (1999). He has also crossed the Channel in freefall with a carbon fibre wing (2003), done a base jump from the Millau viaduct (2004) and leapt off the 91st floor of the Taipei 101 skyscraper in Taiwan (2007). However, Felix Baumgartner achieved his most breathtaking feat with Zenith as a companion on October 14th 2012, 65 years to the day after Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier. Moreover, he broke not just one, but three freefall records on this occasion. The first is about height, since he jumped from a capsule hoisted by a helium-filled stratospheric balloon to the drop altitude of 38,969.4 metres. The second relates to speed, since during his fall he broke the sound barrier at 1,357.6 km/h, meaning Mach 1.25. Finally, the third is about the duration of his jump: four minutes and 20 seconds. This extreme athlete, who is nonetheless not a reckless adrenalin-seeker, has made excellence his rule of life and aims for success in all that he undertakes. The Academy Christophe Colomb Tribute to Felix Baumgartner is entirely in harmony with this philosophy.
Meeting challenges head-on
Like all models in the line, the Academy Christophe Colomb Tribute to Felix Baumgartner stands out at first glance from the rest of the Zenith collection. Its dial illustrates Felix Baumgartner’s feat and the exceptional setting in which he accomplished it, by means of original decorations and unusual materials. The Zenith master artisans have succeeded in faithfully reproducing the famous photo of Felix Baumgartner preparing to jump from the capsule that has reached its maximum height. The figure in a space suit adorning the power-reserve dial at 3 o’clock is chased and engraved on a hand-polished 18-carat gold plate fixed to the dial by two screws: one above the helmet, and the other under the left foot. The 12 o’clock hours and minutes dial bears a subtle detail: a mark lightly drawn between the number 12 and the first hour-marker, discreetly evoking the duration of the jump (4 minutes and 20 seconds). Like all models in the line, the plate is hollowed to embrace and enhance the shape of the gyroscopic Gravity Control module at 6 o’clock. The other striking feature of the watch face is the dial base, with the turquoise Earth occupying the greater part, while the upper section shows the Milky Way viewed from the stratosphere and depicted in aventurine. Rarely used in the field of Fine Watchmaking, the latter material was born in the 16th century workshop of a Venetian master glassmaker. While working on his latest creation, he dropped a speck of metal dust into the molten paste, thereby inadvertently creating a glass with a spangled radiance. What more beautiful and natural way could one possibly imagine of portraying the star-studded sky?
An incredible feat immortalised on the back
On the case-back side of this model, the 18-carat gold power-reserve bridge illustrates the incredible freefall of the Austrian base jumper. All the motifs are hand-engraved using the line engraving technique, with Baumgartner’s stylised silhouette at 12 o’clock, the capsule at 9 o’clock and the Earth at 3 o’clock, overlapping the gyroscopic Gravity Control module. These are surrounded by engraved inscriptions indicating the champion’s three records: “The highest 38,969.4 m = 127,852.4 feet / The fastest 1,357.6 km/h = 843.6 mph / The longest 4min 20s Freefall”, as well as the “Forty-Five (45) Jewels” on the movement, and the mention “Zenith Manufacture Le Locle”. In a particularly subtle detail, six jewels are placed on the capsule and the spacesuit, including one at the exact same spot as the watch that Felix Baumgartner wore when doing the jump.
This new timepiece, bearing the name of the last great 15th century explorer along with that of the first 21st century supersonic man, houses a movement featuring two horological feats dedicated to peerless precision: a regulating organ with a high oscillation frequency (36,000 vibrations/hour) serving to divide time into tenths of a second; and a micromechanical marvel in the shape of a patented Gravity Control gyroscopic module, which neutralises the effects of gravity on the rate of the watch. This system developed by the Zenith master artisans is inspired by the precision instruments that the Manufacture used to produce: marine chronometers. The gimbal suspension system with which they were equipped enabled them to remain horizontal despite ships’ pitching and rolling. The Gravity Control module picks up the same principle in miniature form: it enables the escapement to remain in a constantly horizontal position whatever the slant of the wrist. This results in the widest possible amplitude of the balance wheel and neutralises the influence of gravity on the smooth running of the watch, thereby guaranteeing the highest possible precision. This daring accomplishment by the Manufacture, which required a full five years of development, is the finest possible tribute to that of Felix Baumgartner and his own incredible feat. To date, Zenith is the only Manufacture to master this system, which was rewarded by the 2011 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in the Best Complicated Watch category.