Zenith Watches: A Brand History
In 1865, 22-year-old watchmaker Georges Favre-Jacot founded his own manufacture in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel. His commitment to creating exceptional timepieces with the finest craftsmanship was encapsulated by a name synonymous with success, power and the highest point reached by a celestial body: Zenith.
Over the past 148 years, Zenith has continued to create beautiful hand-crafted watches in the same location. Clearly a precocious talent, Favre-Jacot was the first watchmaker to ensure that all aspects of watchmaking were brought under one roof. Today, Zenith is one of very few watchmakers that produce its pieces entirely in-house.
From creation to completion, a Zenith watch will spend nine months in their Swiss headquarters. During that time, they are meticulously crafted and tested. In fact, when all the watchmakers, designers, scientific researchers and engineers are considered, each watch is created by 80 different talented individuals!
The luxury brand’s autonomous spirit and high-end pedigree are reflected in the kind of inspiring individuals who have relied on their timepieces over the decades.
Mahatma Ghandi, the preeminent father of Indian nationalism, used a Zenith timepiece. (In fact, his trusty pocket watch sold at auction for over $2 million in New York in 2009).
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who was the first person to reach the South Pole and the North Pole in the early twentieth century, wore Zenith watches on his expeditions.
Albert I, Prince of Monaco — a man of means and social status who could have chosen a fine timepiece from anywhere in the world — also chose a watchmaker that does not rest on its laurels.
In 1969, Zenith launched the vaunted El Primero, one of the most celebrated and recognisable movements in the history of horology. As the name hints, it was one of the first automatic chronograph movements, and one packed with myriad breakthrough innovations.
The El Primero calibre operates at 36,000 VpH (vibrations per hour), meaning it is capable of performing ten vibrations per second (most other movements will vibrate eight times per second at best). It is, therefore, the most accurate series-produced mechanical movement you can buy.
Before it can provide unrivalled accuracy on your wrist, the intricate movement requires the attention of 20 watchmakers, who perform 5,500 steps to assemble it. The result lies at the heart of every piece in the El Primero Collection, including the exquisite El Primero Chronomaster 1969 (which features a viewing window in the dial to reveal some of the 282 components and 31 jewels in the movement) and the Limited Edition Striking 10th. The latter is the very latest iteration of the El Primero calibre, limited to 1,969 pieces (in recognition of the original year of production).
The complex Striking 10th can be relied upon in the most extreme of environments, as proven by Austrian adventurer Felix Baumgartner, who wore one during his record-breaking skydive that broke the speed of sound in 2012.
Thanks to the accuracy and dependability of their chronographs, Zenith also has a proud history within aviation. Their suitability for the skies was proven in daring fashion in 1970, when an El Primero was strapped to the landing gear of a Boeing 707 during a flight from Paris to New York. Despite huge fluctuations in temperature and pressure — not to mention tremendous jolting — the watch maintained its regular cadence of 36,000 VpH throughout, and required no adjustment. Well, except for time difference.
Today, Zenith pays homage to the aviators with the Pilot Collection. The Pilot Chronograph Big Date Special features a stainless steel 42mm-diameter case, calfskin leather strap and a sapphire crystal caseback through which you can admire the famous El Primero movement.
Georges Favre-Jacot was committed to the goal of creating the most accurate, reliable and technically superior watches of his era. Nearly a century-and-a-half later, the Swiss artisan’s aspirations are still being upheld.