In this series we showcase mechanical and artistic wonders that were especially designed for women and others originally for men that come alive on spirited ladies’ wrists. Last week I took out Zenith’s b’day boy and its techno cousin for a stroll in the summer Vienna and the experience is well worth a dedicated chapter.
Jean-Claude Biver once said that finding Zenith’s place in the LVMH group and its unique message was one of his toughest challenges. The company has been famous for its El Primero movement, which defined much of its existence. It brought fame but enclosed the company within boundaries at the same time. The fantastic calibre did not require too many adjustments for five decades and this left its mark on the organisation’s ability to react to changes in customer attitudes and desires. In 2017 the strategy was revisited (with a new CEO Julien Tornare) to find Zenith’s connection points beyond the purists. Part of this has been building a more self-conscious image and being right there where the future of chronographs gets written. Defy has become the most expressive collection of the intent where self-deforming silicon oscillators, 50Hz chronograph oscillators and high-tech materials such as carbon or ceramic are not unusual to appear. (Check out the two serious novelties of this year in our Baselworld article.)
Interestingly, this is not far away from the strategy of Vienna. Building on its unique historic and artistic role, the Imperial City has set ‘Digital Humanism’ in the centre of its development for the 21st century. Invent and apply the highest technologies that clearly serve people and not the other way around is what the finest thinkers and entrepreneurs of the city profess. The advancement of humankind and strengthening human values are just as important as that of technology. In fact, ‘we need to put humankind at the centre of our work’ – they say in their manifesto.
I’m curiously watching these ventures develop. Being founded in an entrepreneur space in Vienna and by participating in the changing art scene we even feel it on our skin.
The opportunity to have 2019 Zenith novelties with us for a few days in Vienna caused much excitement. We chose two models which could not be more different, but both reflect Zenith’s goals well and interact with the various moods of this multi-faceted techno-cultural city so naturally. And both look insanely good on the wrist of a woman.
El Primero A386 Revival
R&D Francs and Yens at the second half of the ‘60s went into creating the first automatic chronograph. The spontaneous ‘race’ was undertaken by various players in the highest secrecy. The Chronomatic consortium of Heuer-Leonidas, Buren (acquired by Hamilton Watch Company in 1966), Breitling and Dubois-Depraz had worked on a solution with a modular structure. Their package was built on Buren’s base calibre with their patented micro-rotor (‘Intramatic’ system), the new chronograph module developed by Dubois-Depraz and the cases (and financial backing) of Heuer and Breitling. Seiko invested in reference 6139 ‘Speed Timers’ on its own. Zenith-Movado, that acquired complication and chronograph producer Martel Watch Company in 1960, embarked on the same challenge by developing a high-frequency integrated automatic chronograph, a few years later.
1969 brought fireworks. The story is rather interesting (read Jeffrey M. Stein’s article here) but in a nutshell: hearing the market rumours about the competition Zenith-Movado announced the El Primero (The First) in January, followed by the grandiose presentation of the Caliber 11 by the Chronomatic venture in March and Seiko showcasing its model in Japan in May.
Zenith celebrated the 50th anniversary of the El Primero movement at this year’s Baselworld with a limited re-edition of the A386 watch, one of the first models equipped with this calibre back then. The three old-new versions shine in the same original design and with the El Primero 3019 PHC (400) movement inside but in three different golds (the original was steel). All of them are limited to 50 pieces each.
Gold has not been a rare colour in Vienna. It has appeared on buildings, statues, paintings and objects of use for centuries. The light building walls and the lush green and flowery parks welcomed the 18k pink gold version as one of their own. The metal does not make it old at all. The look with the grey-blue sub-dials and the dark chromo seconds track is still so fresh that I refuse to call it vintage.
I loved every minute spent together, especially because the 38mm case sat so comfortably that it makes the wearing barely noticeable even on hot days like we had.
Defy Classic white ceramic
The Defy design has been much more progressive since the beginning in the early-70s. The case ends in a flat area north and south from the bezel with an integrated strap. Part of Zenith’s new strategy was to position the Defy as how Zenith sees the future of watchmaking. Make it a field for experimenting (such as the Defy Lab with the aforementioned silicon oscillator and the full production models like the Defy Inventor) but also make it affordable. They use materials like titanium, carbon, Aeronith (an aluminium alloy developed by LVMH stablemate Hublot) and ceramic.
A new entry-level line came with the introduction of the Defy Classic in 2018. This year, three Classic ceramic novelties with very technical open-worked dials were shown in Basel. In the middle of the summer we picked the white version for our stroll in Vienna (the other two are blue and black).
The case is 41mm and is made of ceramic that is scratch resistant. The strap is rubber with the same colour tone. Having had both the A386 and the Defy Classic Ceramic with us, I can say that the former is a bit more comfortable on the wrist due to the smaller size. In exchange, the Defy is funkier.
The 50 hours Elite 670 SK automatic peeks out from under the open-worked dial. It is an updated version of the calibre 670, fitted with a silicon pallet lever and escape wheel. The wheel you can spot at around 10 o’clock in purple.
When I saw it in Basel in artificial light I thought that legibility would be an issue. Having worn it under various circumstances day and night I can tell that time is surprisingly easy to read due to the decent sword-like 3D hour and minute blades. Only the actual date information hides slightly under the bones at 6 o’clock on a ring visible in 360 degrees. The aesthetic is captivating and is paired with cheekiness and a definite charm. I found it very versatile that will serve you at the beach, in your daily routines but also on semi-elegant events.
Photo credits: Loupiosity.com, Fruzsina Jelen
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