Zenith: building the future on legendary calibers

The new El Primero Sports models open a new chapter in the history of Zenith’s most famous caliber. New pieces will still be released during 2015, thus confirming the brand’s legitimacy as manufacturers.

By Marco Cattaneo

With the three versions of the El Primero Sports presented at Baselworld, Zenith has opened a new chapter in the 46 years of history of the legendary El Primero caliber. The brand is proud of its manufacturing tradition and has constantly facilitated its evolution since its presentation in 1969 by adapting it to both trends and requirements over the years.

The 2015 version of a high-frequency legend 

The main characteristic of the 2015 batch is that the pieces have strong and clearly assumed lines. Housed in a 45-mm stainless steel case, the sword-shaped hands and rhodium-plated indexes, coated with Superluminova, stand out on the grey-toned and hand-spangled slate thus enhancing their readability. The screwed on crown and pushers serve as reminders that the El Primero Sport is water resistant to 200 meters.

Whilst the tachometer scale on the flange further highlights the piece’s sportive character, the sapphire glass allows for the movement to be observed.

The El Primero is one of the rare movements to have left its mark on mechanical watchmaking history. Its column wheel helps integrate the chronograph rather than the latter being simply an additional module added to a base caliber. Its high frequency heart beats at 36,000 vibrations per hour, which therefore guarantees time measuring to a 10th of a second. Its very characteristic aesthetics make it recognizable by a simple glance at the dial or by the perfect alignment of its counters.

Saved from oblivion

Add some drama, success and achievement to the objective question of performance and you have a legend. In 1975, Zenith, temporarily under American management, was struggling against the great watchmaking crisis. The then shareholders decided to stop producing mechanical movements and got rid of their production tools. However, like in an industrial thriller scenario, a hero came to the rescue. Charly Vermot, an employee of the manufacture, secretly moved the plans, tools and swages (no less than 150 were needed to produce the El Primero pieces) night after night into an abandoned attic and into his own garage and hence saved them from destruction.

After the crisis, the mechanical movement came back to life and was soon adopted by leading brands, which came looking for the small elegant and precise jewel at the Le Locle-based manufacture. It spurred an unending success and was soon joined by incredible accomplishments. Felix Baumgartner was wearing a Zenith El Primero Stratos Flyback on his wrist when he jumped into the stratosphere at more than 38 kilometers from earth in 2012. The watch accompanied him in his spatial adventure and together they broke the sound barrier in a jump that lasted 9 minutes and 18 seconds, of which more than 4 minutes were in free fall.

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