“We’re tapping into what we already have and steering a course ahead.” Jean-Frédéric Dufour, Chief Executive of Zenith, delivered this analysis while at Baselworld 2014. Dufour, who is to take up a new position as CEO of Rolex, easily imagines Zenith winning market share this way, with the current year serving as a period of consolidation for the brand. This is reflected in the year’s new products, with Zenith’s particular interest in extreme sports never far away. Already the brand partnered Felix Baumgartner when he became the first person to freefall through the sound barrier. Earlier this year it teamed up with Spindrift and its ocean-racing trimaran, the largest in the world.
A simple idea
To mark the event, Zenith has come up with an El Primero Lightweight which has shed superfluous grams thanks to a hefty dose of what are now referred to as watchmaking’s “new materials”. In this instance titanium (mainplate and bridges), carbon and aluminium (case) and silicon (lever and escape wheel). The finished watch weighs in at just 46.65 grams (minus the strap) with a tiny 15.45 grams for the movement, making it the lightest chronograph calibre around. “This limited-edition model is intended to demonstrate Zenith’s creative innovation, a permanent feature within the Manufacture and which also defines our involvement in sport,” says Jean-Frédéric Dufour.
Innovation gives way to a more classical approach in the new version of the 1969 El Primero 410 (chronograph, triple calendar and moon phases) and, even more noticeably, in the all-new El Primero Synopsis. Its restrained design is accentuated by the characteristic opening in the dial, the “Open” concept which has been one of Zenith’s style signatures since 2003. Irresistibly, the eye is drawn towards the escapement and regulating organ incorporating a silicon lever and escape wheel. But what have we here! Not the least sign of a chronograph on its 4613 calibre! A first for Zenith which still refers to its El Primero as the most accurate series-produced automatic chronograph in the world. For more than 40 years, its 36,000 vibrations/hour have measured time in fractions of 1/10th of a second. Jean-Frédéric Dufour explains the thinking behind this new watch: “It is obviously a legendary movement, but not everyone likes chronographs. It was a simple idea and one that works well.” Sometimes the simplest ideas are the least obvious…
Exclusive meets entry-level
Zenith’s Pilot range is also in the frontline. Unsurprisingly, all ten of the limited-edition Type 20 Grand Feu found takers even before the curtain came down on Baselworld. Its 60 mm case is ornately engraved and has a sapphire crystal middle to show off the 5011K calibre inside, a 1960s movement that was part of a stock of vintage calibres at Zenith. “Collectors recognise what Zenith can achieve in the métiers d’art at Le Locle,” comments Dufour. “The 5011K is an exceptional calibre, distinguished by numerous prizes in chronometry competitions. Our task was to produce a watch on a par with its reputation.” This limited edition is joined by a Type 20 GMT Hommage 1903 driven by an Elite calibre, and a Type 20 Extra Special with a movement by… Sellita. That Zenith could be buying in movements from an outside supplier was the talk of Baselworld. The Extra Special’s entry-level positioning goes some way towards answering the question.