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Zenith’s rising star?
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Zenith’s rising star?

Wednesday, 28 June 2017
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

“The desire to learn is the key to understanding.”

“Thirty years in journalism are a powerful stimulant for curiosity”.

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4 min read

Not one to keep a low profile for long, Jean-Claude Biver lifts the lid on a revolutionary new regulator, to be unveiled this autumn. Precise to one second in 24 hours, it will be part of a Zenith mechanical movement, already touted as the most accurate ever made.

When earlier this year Jean-Claude Biver took over at the head of Zenith, it was only a matter of time before the brand experienced its own “big bang” on a par with the ones that had already shaken up Hublot then TAG Heuer. With Baselworld around the corner, something had to be done, sooner rather than later, to awaken this sleeping beauty. Ditching the smelling salts, Jean-Claude Biver whipped out one of the sit-up-and-take-notice slogans he does so well, a soundbite for a new identity. Henceforth, Zenith would steer its fortunes as the brand shaping “the future of tradition”. Turning words into deeds, it came to Basel with the Defy El Primero 21, a watch for the 21st century intended to give the lie to any badmouthing that the El Primero calibre, launched in 1969, was the first and last spark of inspiration from a brand that was now clinging to its Pilot line for dear life.

Jean-Claude Biver and Guy Semon
Jean-Claude Biver and Guy Semon

As the head of LVMH’s watch division, Jean-Claude Biver had plenty to work with. Beginning with TAG Heuer’s now defunct R&D department, a hotbed of expertise that gave the world such marvels as the Carrera MikroPendulum, a high-frequency chronograph moved by magnets. TAG Heuer’s repositioning means the department has been virtually dismantled, but the expertise it accumulated under new general manager Guy Sémon was just itching to get out. Enter, then, the Defy El Primero 21, a watch with a dual-chain architecture (like TAG’s Mikro range) whose high-frequency chronograph (50 Hz/360,00 vph) tracks time to a hundredth of a second by means of a hand that makes a complete turn of the dial every second. Equally noteworthy are the two regulators whose carbon-matrix carbon nanotube balance springs are unaffected by temperature change or magnetic fields.

Zenith Defy El Primero 21
Zenith Defy El Primero 21
An heir for the Mikrogirder?

And that was just for starters. In a recent interview, while in Singapore, given to Su Jia Xian (watchesbysjx.com), Jean-Claude Biver revealed phase two of his comeback plan. This coming September, the brand will reveal a completely new regulator with neither balance nor balance spring. A high-frequency, friction-free (hence zero lubrication), silicon-based regulator that will deliver accuracy in the region of one second per day. This new technology will premiere in what Biver is claiming will be “the most accurate mechanical watch ever” – a watch that maintains 100% amplitude when fully wound and continues to do so down to the last minute before power reserve runs out. And just to show that synergy means something at the LVMH watch division, Hublot has developed the new aluminium alloy, Aeronite, for this future watch’s case. Ultra-lightweight, it features “pores” which are filled with the same resin used for carbon to make it even harder.

Zenith Defy El Primero 21
Zenith Defy El Primero 21

These two world-firsts will initially equip ten Defy Laboratory watches that will make their debut on September 14th at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, “because the Germans are crazy about accuracy and precision.” The lucky owners of these ten experimental timepieces, priced around CHF 30,000, will be invited to travel to the Zenith factory in Le Locle where they can collect them from Jean-Claude Biver in person. Everyone else will have to wait until Baselworld 2018 for the final, unlimited version which will retail between CHF 8,000 and CHF 9,000, “in the normal Zenith price range”. Any questions – such as is this new regulator a derivative of the revolutionary Mikrogirder, which TAG Heuer presented in 2012 as an interpretation of Jean d’Alembert’s research into vibrations – will have to wait. Jean-Claude Biver likes to keep something up his sleeve!

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