Zenith: A Vintage Gem in Modern Times

The watch industry is saturated with various historical innovations made by mankind. Some innovations started legacies and others created history. Zenith is a living relic among these innovators that have not failed to combine more than a century of craftsmanship with modern cutting-edge technology.

In this article, we’ll be taking you on a journey of who Zenith is and what they do. 

Zenith

Where It Started

Zenith is among the oldest Swiss watch manufacturers in league with other brands such as Rolex, Omega, Longines, and many more. The brand started back in 1865, during a time when watch manufacturers outsourced parts to be assembled by master watchmakers throughout the city. Georges Favre-Jacout, Zenith’s founder, had the idea to organize all the craftsmen under one roof. This led to Zenith becoming the first established watch “Manufacture”. 

Ten years later, a third of the population of Le Locle became employees of Zenith, and the brand became one of the biggest quality watch manufacturers in its time. These watches have set the bar in watch history with their alarms, chronograph functions, chronograph movement, and the utilization of different metals. 

Zenith, known to watch enthusiasts as a living relic of horology, to this day continues to produce watches of astonishing quality. In the past, Zenith became the industry standard for chronometer grade movements winning over 200 awards in chronometry. Known to many, Zenith was at the forefront of chronograph complications in both pocket watches and wristwatches throughout the 19th century. 

El Primero

If there’s one thing that Zenith is known for, it is undoubtedly the legendary El Primero. In the 1950s automatic movements for basic watches became common, however, there had not yet been a manufacturer to combine the complication of a chronograph and a self-winding mechanism within a small wristwatch. In order to do this, Zenith had to develop an entirely new design to utilize a column wheel for actuating the chronograph. In addition to that, with the increased beat rate of the new design, the El Primero became arguably the most accurate automatic chronograph movement of the time. 

In 1970, the El Primero was put to the test. The watch was strapped to the landing gear of a Boeing 707 airplane as it crossed the Atlantic and over New York. Facing extreme temperature changes, pressure changes, tremendous acceleration, and various environmental factors, once the aircraft had landed, the watch remained pristine and the chronograph was inspected to have never missed a beat. This masterpiece garnered the five consecutive Neuchâtel Observatory Chronometry prize of 1950 to 1954 and is also one of the first three automatic chronograph watches.

Inclusivity

When wristwatches were first introduced, they were originally made for women. However, as more men preferred them, they easily overtook the market and manufacturers developed more male-centric designs for their timepieces. Zenith, on the other hand, continued to develop watches with a feminine aesthetic. Currently, Zenith as one of the few watchmakers who develop mechanical-only watches for women proudly boasts their collection that is equipped with their own automatic manufacturing movements.

The DEFY Midnight collection is the first women-exclusive line developed by Zenith. With multitudes of adjustable styles to choose from, it is the perfect watch for the modern-day woman. Living up to its name, the design centers on the aesthetic of the midnight sky. Stars appear as specks of white, hour markers as shining jewels and a diamond-studded bezel surrounds the deep blue gradient dial. On the wrist, it is an enchanting watch, to say the least.

Feats

Continuing from their success in chronographs, during the 2019 Baselworld trade show, Zenith unveiled the “Defy 21” Series of watches. With only mechanical components, they engineered a watch with a chronograph that can measure up to 1/100th of a second with the help of a beat rate of 360,000 vph or 50 Hz. This watch was unveiled alongside their “Revival” Edition of watches, which shows that zenith is capable of focusing on both vintage and hyper-modern aesthetics.

Zenith was also part of another major feat by enduring the record-setting jump of the daredevil Felix Baumgartner from the edge of space. As Felix broke the speed of sound when he fell at an astonishing altitude of 38,969.4 meters above Earth, he wore the Zenith Stratos Flyback Striking 10th for the jump. The watch has then been officially called the fastest traveling watch outside an aircraft. The watch was later awarded the GPHG Sports Watch category prize. 

Currently, Zenith is under the LVMH group after being purchased in 2000. Through its brilliant engineering, it has produced over 600 movement variations and has 300 patents for them. Because of these masterpieces, Zenith has received 2,333 precision time-keeping awards since 1903 surpassing any other watchmaker in the industry. 

Takeaway

Zenith may be one of the forgotten gems of the industry but its story certainly made its mark in history and continues to live up to its legacy as one of the pioneers of the industry. So if you’re a watch enthusiast wanting to explore, feel free to check them out!

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