Power Trio: How The Bamford Watch Department X Black Badger Zenith El Primero Superconductor Came To Be
In an exciting turn of events, a three-way collaboration between two upstarts and a legendary chronograph is now available for pre-order.
When we first saw photos of the new Bamford Watch Department X Black Badger Zenith El Primero Superconductor, we had so many questions. Visually it’s fascinating. For starters, the honeycomb-patterned case looks like the surface of a futuristic spaceship that’s made more than a few Kessel runs. For another, while the case material is certainly unexpected, it somehow suits the El Primero’s curves, changing texture and color as the metal is milled across the lugs.
There is also the relationship between the timepiece personalization house Bamford Watch Department (BWD) and Zenith. The London-based BWD works directly with brands like Zenith to create timepieces that are true collaborations, not just watches that are modified after the fact.
BWD has worked separately with both Black Badger and Zenith before, but the Superconductor is the first collaboration between the three very distinctive entities. And the personality of each player definitely comes through in the final product. Which brings us back to the fact that we have so many questions about how this limited edition came to be. So, we called Black Badger designer James Thompson at the Badger Den in Sweden to get answers.
First off, George Bamford is very good at making friends. Not only has he gotten brands like Zenith to give him their blessing to modify their watches, but he is also able to work directly with the watchmaker throughout the manufacturing process.
Thompson posits it is Bamford’s genuine enthusiasm for watchmaking that allows him this rare access. “George is so unbelievably good and gracious,” said Thompson. “He just gets so excited. When I first met with him, I had a Pelican case full of rings, and we just started throwing rings and material samples around.”
Like any good party host, Bamford is also adept at making introductions, which is why instead of simply reimagining the El Primero’s dial for this collaboration, he recommended bringing in Thompson to redo the case.
Canadian-born industrial designer James Thompson is something of a magician with materials. He has crafted jewelry and watch dials out of sheets of coffee and Fordite (also called Motor City agate, Fordite is formed by layers of enamel car paint which has hardened sufficiently to be cut and polished). And he has worked with independent horologers like MB&F and MW&Co to develop glowing, luminous timepieces.
With the Superconductor, Thompson set out to use a material that would provide “the most appropriate expression” of the El Primero.
As Thompson explained it, “superconductor” is a blanket term for the family of materials used in applications where transferring massive amounts of electrical energy are required. Think MRI machines, particle accelerators, and nuclear reactors.
There are many types of superconducting material, but in this case, the team chose a copper-niobium variation in which filaments of niobium metal are housed within copper (sort of like a wire wrapped in plastic).
“I’m not a designer who just sits down and sketches things,” said Thompson. “I don’t add a finish as an afterthought. I work from the materials out.”
When you cut across the filament, it creates a honeycomb aesthetic. When playing with this metal in the past (he has used it to make jewelry for years), Thompson discovered that the pattern changed when cut and faceted, giving it an almost wood-grained texture. The finished exterior is then treated with an acid that peels away the copper but leaves the niobium untouched. This biomechanical, almost skeletonized surface seemed perfect for an iconic piece like the El Primero. “It’s super tech but shipwrecked,” Thompson said. “Like the best of the best that’s been through the wringer.”
Looking Out For Number One
The El Primero is one of the most storied chronographs in horological history, so kudos to Zenith for letting BWD and Black Badger reimagine it. “Being able to work directly with Zenith was an outright blessing,” said Thompson. “They actively participated in the creation. They gave us access to their engineers and only made minor changes.”
“Everything we did was from a love of the El Primero,” added Thompson. Not only do the voices of BWD, Black Badger, and Zenith shine through, but all three parties also had fun working on the project, “and it shows.”
The Superconductor gets its power from the 31-jewel El Primero 400B Automatic movement that beats at 36,000 VpH (5 Hz) and has a power reserve of 50 hours. The black dial has a slightly aged look and the classic El Primero display with a Tachymetric scale, central chronograph seconds, small seconds at 9 o’clock, 12-hour counter and date at 6 o’clock, and a 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock. The hands are, of course, coated with Super-LumiNova.
The tension between the futuristic copper-niobium surface and classic silhouette of the El Primero creates a visually pleasing presence. Plus, the Superconductor also has a slightly beefy appearance thanks to the 42mm diameter, 13mm thick case. Adding to its rugged good looks is a gold topstitched black suede strap suspended between lugs set 21mm apart.
(Images provided by Bamford Watch Department)