zenith el primero skeleton 17

Exclusive: Zenith skeletonizes the El Primero

Ceramic is newcomer to the collections produced by the Manufacture Locloise founded in 1865, and has proven remarkably apposite in this new model, for within its dark moody beauty there lies a fascinating je ne sais quoi.

By Joel Grandjean

Now don't go thinking that skeletonization isn't a mean feat. In the field of watchmaking, this delicate operation defies all trends and regularly resurfaces as part of almost every watchmaker's repertoire across all brands. And it is especially indicative of a certain watchmaking mindset. It's a strange impulse indeed that makes the watchmaker want to see how many angels he can get to dance on the head of a pin, in other words how much he can overcomplicate things other than with mere function, aesthetics, or ease-of-use. For the painstaking efforts required for this visual refinement is surely something for the awe and wonderment of another watchmaker or an enthusiast of micro-mechanics. 

Zenith El Primero Skeleton Zenith El Primero Skeleton

The evolutionary skeleton

In effect, you have be at the top of your game as a watchmaker to tackle your material to this extent in an operation that requires shaving off tiny degrees to almost entire surfaces, milligram by milligram. Especially as it is the driving goal of any watchmaker never to sacrifice chronometric performance on the altar of appearance, however impressive this may be. The priority of any watch undergoing this process is to continue functioning as if nothing had every happened, that is to retain the highest level of precision. As for the master watchmaker, he not only requires a knowledge of the breaking points and load-bearing axes, but also of the thresholds of tolerance and the texture of a material.

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The arrival of new processes within this sphere of competence means that the watchmaker no longer needs to start with a solid calibre in order to skeletonize a movement by chiselling, paring down and hollowing out as if there's no tomorrow. The skeleton watch, today, has come to epitomize the craftsman's supreme mastery of technological and physical skills. Not only thanks to CAD and all the complex calculations and simulations that this entails, but also the advent of technologies whereby micro amounts of material are deposited by electrolytic transfer. In other words, all these new processes increase the certainty of obtaining identically repeatable results and an infinity of rare and unique forms that would defy even the most expert rasp. 

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Intense black, high-tech and aesthetic

Zenith's El Primero Skeleton chronograph is instantly striking for its colour. It is intensely black, right down to the tips of its carbon fibre-coated rubber strap with titanium triple deployant buckle sporting a PVD treatment… in black obviously. Ceramic is the material of choice for the large 45 mm diameter case in the same colour, which remains water-resistant to 50 metres. We are far from the 'old school' skeleton here, whose prime goal was once to preserve the contours of the piece while removing a maximum amount of material. In the case in hand, architectural options have prevailed, with a tridimensional dial taken directly from screw-down elements on the El Primero 400 B calibre, an automatic movement measuring 13 1⁄4 lines, equipped with chronographic functions. 

Zenith El Primero Skeleton Zenith El Primero Skeleton

The famous calibre with column wheel boasts a total of 326 parts, including 31 rubies, for a thickness of 6.60 mm, and keeps time at a tempo of 36,000 vibrations an hour, thereby ensuring tenth-of-a-second precision. The watch also offers a power reserve of 50 hours and the surfaces of its oscillating weight are decorated with Côtes de Genève motif.Black ruthenium-treated hands sweep the dial's openwork surface, with red accents here and there lifting the darkness and echoing the tip of the seconds hand and the date at 6 o'clock provided by an openwork date disc. The hands point to similarly treated lume-filled, faceted indices. 

Zenith El Primero Skeleton Zenith El Primero Skeleton

As for the watch's functionalities, hours and minutes are positioned in the centre, while the small seconds completes its revolution in a sub-dial at 9 o'clock. The 30-minute counter placed at 3 o'clock echoes the 12 hours counter (the maximum for intermediate time measurement) positioned at 3 o'clock. The play of chiaroscuro in this piece, expected to arrive on the market at the end of the year, has a certain distinguished elegance, a touch of class, albeit not without a hint of sportiness. There you have it, the El Primero Skeleton chronograph…

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