We have underscored it several times—the work of ‘re-conquering’ its own watchmaking legitimacy, started in 2009 by Jean-Frédéric Dufour, at the head of Zenith, deserves to be praised. ‘Just by chance’, or more realistically, carefully put into action after deep reflection on the state of watchmaking and the heritage of Zenith, this re-centring of the brand on purely watchmaking values is arriving at its maturity, at the right moment. And, in two ways—in terms of both design and price.
Speaking of price
Normally this is not what we do, but in this case, let’s first talk about price. The new Captain collection, in steel, equipped essentially with in-house Elite movements (an 11 ½’’’ automatic, beating at a frequency of 28,800 vibrations per hour, with a 50-hour power reserve, bi-directional winding, instantaneous date change, and stop seconds), includes a Dual Time version for CHF 4,900, a Power Reserve model for CHF 5,350, and a Large Date Lunar Phases timepiece for CHF 6,200. In terms of price, they could not be more correct for these proven in-house movements that are well finished and meticulously decorated with the Côtes de Genève and circular-graining patterns, as can be seen through the transparent sapphire crystal case back.
From a design point of view, this new Captain collection is right in line with current trends. Inspired by the Captain line created by Zenith in 1952 (decidedly, the 1950s have been a major source of inspiration for Swiss watches today), the new versions have been finely adapted to contemporary tastes: cases enlarg-ed to 40mm; silvered or black Clou de Paris guilloché dials that offer space, elegance and readability; faceted and rhodium-plated dau-phine hands and long hour markers that have been positioned by hand.
In two words, Zenith offers precise watchmaking, one that is respectful and timeless in its own way. Careful attention has been given to so many small details, such as the minute hand extended to the edge of the dial and the alligator straps subtly lined with a fine layer of rubber, thus increasing the wearing comfort and providing a nice play on colour. With all these fine touches, the Captain series makes up a highly consistent and coherent collection.
CAPTAIN POWER RESERVE, CAPTAIN DUAL TIME, CAPTAIN LARGE DATE LUNAR PHASE
A step up
One step up is a new version of one of Zenith’s great successes, the El Primero Chronomaster Open. This concept was launched in 2003 by Thierry Nataf, who was Jean-Frédéric Dufour’s predecessor. Dufour, however, while keeping the opening on the dial that lets the wearer admire the ultra-rapid beating of the El Primero (36,000 vibrations per hour) decided to ‘return it’, if we might use this term, to a much more classically styled case, one dating back to 1969.
This stylistic transformation (the opening remained more or less the same) is fully justified, not only because it firmly establishes the Open in the global coherence of the brand, but also because it better highlights the value of the movement. Practically devoid of a bezel, this type of case maximizes the opening in the dial and gives the piece a much greater technical appearance—a more ‘watchmaking’ aspect in line with the exceptional qualities of the El Primero movement. Its price? Again, it is very competitive since few other column-wheel chronographs with a power reserve indicator are sold for CHF 7,900 in a steel version.
Last but not least is the re-launch of a new movement with a central seconds hand, the 2572, a 4Hz calibre dating back to the 1970s that Zenith introduced as its basic ‘tractor’.
EL PRIMERO CHRONOMASTER OPEN
Respect for the retailer
“Being authentic, cultivating the watchmaking spirit,” is one of Jean-Frédéric Dufour’s mottos. We have heard the word ‘authenticity’ from so many others and so often that we are always a bit sceptical. But, just by looking at the work Zenith is doing, we realize that it is ‘authentic’. It really is about returning to the roots of timekeeping and to the notions of legitimacy, by a manufacture that has accumulated many timely treasures over its long history. It is about a brand that nearly lost them forever before rediscovering them today.
And, as an additional point, Zenith’s re-conquest of its watchmaking heritage was carried out in a humble manner. This is also evident when Dufour talks about distribution. Like few others, he insists on how important retailers are. “I need them. I need these teachers,” he says. “They have the eyes and ears in the marketplace. Our watches are part of the art of timekeeping. They must be explained and the retailers are the ones to best do this.”
At a time when so many brands are tempted to become their own retailer, opening stores with rather diverse fortunes, Dufour’s words should be somewhat reassuring to a profession that, in these times, has been subjected to quite a few arrogant fatwas.
Source: Europa Star April - May 2011 Magazine Issue