Zenith

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Zenith
Georges Favre-Jacot (1843-1917)

Swiss watch manufacture

Foundation in 1865

Only 22 years young, in 1865 Georges Favre-Jacot founded the „Fabrique des Billodes“ in Le Locle. First he manufactured precision pocket watches, which were signed with his name. About 1900 the product range was expanded: There were on-board chronometers, table clocks, precision pendulum clocks and later marine chronometers.

The name "Zenith" came to his mind, when he just had developed a movement which seemed to him more perfect than all previous; looking up at the sky full of stars the sky appeared to him similar to the game of the wheels and cones in a perfect mechanical instrument, and he decided that his new movement and its manufacture should be named after the highest point of the universe: the zenith. From this emerged also the choice of a five-pointed star as corporate icon.

From 1903, the Favre-Jacot company took part regularly and very successfully in the competitions of the observatory Neuchâtel with its pocket watches and on-board chronometers. In 1903, he achieved a first prize in the competition of the observatory of Neuchâtel. The nephew of Favre-Jacot, James Favre, sold the watches to North and South America, Russia, India, China and Japan. 1908 followed the establishment of a branch in Moscow, 1909 in Paris, 1910 in Vienna and 1914 in London.

The brand Zenith

By transforming the firm into a stock company in the year 1911 the Zenith brand arose. In the same year Favre-Jacot retired and handed the management of the company over to James Favre. By James Favre, there was a revival of old traditions, especially with the "neuchâteloises". These new pendulum clocks were equipped with a 8-day carillon and on demand had also a quarter-hour repetition. 1923 he founded another company in the French Besançon and 1926 an additional office in New York.

After the First World War Zenith began with the development and manufacture of wristwatches, including alarm and chronograph functions. Zenith was instrumental in developing the now-standard central seconds complication, with the direct arrangement of the 1948 calibre 133 now widely used. For the chronographs movements by Valjoux, Excelsior Park and from 1960 on by Martel were used, which were bought by Zenith. In May of the year 1929, the astronomical observatory in England told the public that out of 19,835 watches from all over the world a watch by Zenith set a new record with a daily deviation of only 0.6 seconds.

The legendary movement 'El Primero'

The legendary automatic chronograph movement 'El Primero' by Zenith

In 1948 the precision calibre 135, successful at many chronometer competitions, entered the market.

1969 followed the first automatic chronographEl Primero“, developed along with Movado. Mondia and Movado are included in the company. From this merger arises the holding company "Mondia-Zenith-Movado".

The development of the automatic chronograph movement "El Primero" (English: the first) had already started in 1967. Not only was it the first automatic chronograph movement in the world, but the movement oscillated with even 36,000 A/h. The 'El Primero', presented on 10 January 1969, outcompeted the concurrent development of a competing consortium with Breitling, Heuer-Leonidas, Hamilton/Buren Watch Company and Dubois Dépraz, which presented their product only on 3 March 1969 under the name of Calibre 11 "Chronomatic".

In contrast to the "Chronomatic" the 'El Primero' is produced even today with great success and is highly esteemed by connoisseurs as one of the top-quality chronograph movements.

Alternating history in the 70's and 80's

In 1971, the majority of shares of the company is taken over by the American Zenith Radio Corporation of Chicago, America's largest group for the manufacture of electronic components. One of the reasons, perhaps, were to exclude problems the Americans feared because of the name similarity. Zenith was planned to be used as a base for sales of quartz movements produced in the U.S. Believing in their imagination of the future the Americans soon lost interest in the mechanical movements and in 1978 ordered the production to be stopped and all movements, fournitures and machinery to be destroyed. It is thanks to the head of the chronograph studios, Charles Vermot, that the 'El Primero' was saved for the afterworld. He objected to the order and hid large quantities of plants, tools, machines, and all design and manufacturing drawings in the attic of the manufacture. [1][2]

End of 1978, the Zenith brand was sold to the Swiss Dixi group. With the support of the watch manufacturer Ebel the production of the 'El Primero' was resumed. First the movements of Ebel were used, but since 1984 there were again watches from Zenith.

1990 to the 125th Anniversary of the company's founding Zenith presented a collection, which consisted of four models: three mechanical watches with manual winding and one chronograph. All models had a COSC chronometer certificate. The edition of the mechanical models amounted to 300 copies, while the chronograph was published in a limited edition of 500 copies. The numbering together with the Zenith Crest could both be seen on the dial as well as on the caseback. The chronograph was equipped with a 13-lignes El Primero movement 400, while the mechanical models possessed round 11-lignes Zenith calibres with 17 jewels and had also a small second. All models featured enamel dials and were produced with various indications.

At the Baselworld 1991 Zenith showed two particularly valuable collections to the 700th Anniversary of the Confoederatio Helvetia. Both series were produced in limited and numbered editions and offered chronograph chronometer models. The calibres 400 and 410 were used. The Calibre 410 consisted of 354 components, of which 277 were not interchangeable with each other. On the face of these models a full calendar could be seen, and at the outer edge of the moon phase indicator at the 6 appeared the 12-hour schedule of the chronograph. The dial of the Calibre 400 shows only the date. Both casebacks showed a serial numbering: 250 copies for the Calibre 410 and 900 copies for the Calibre 400. The caseback showed also an inscription to the 700th Anniversary as well as a map of Switzerland with Swiss heraldic.

Reorientation in the LVMH

Zenith Chronomaster T Open
© Zenith

After Zenith, together with TAG Heuer, had become part of the luxury goods group LVMH, the brand was positioned as a luxury watch brand of the top class. Zenith plays a special role within the group as supplier of manufacture movements. From January 2002, Thierry Nataf, who was also responsible for the design of new models as an art director, was president of the Swiss watch manufacturer.

To the changed direction under the new leadership also belonged that the qualities of the legendary "El Primero" no longer had to sleep in secret. Moreover, the watches appeared stronger and much more spectacular. This could be seen, for example, at the successor models of the Chronomaster, namely the "Open" series. With the new dial design, which provided a direct front view to the movement, the watch friend could now witness closer the mechanical finesse of the watch. A feature of this series was also the unusually arranged display of the power reserve indicator, namely horizontally in the middle of the dial, which let the watches "smile."

Literature

Address

Zenith International SA
Billodes 34-36
CH-2400 Le Locle

Weblinks

References

  1. Watchtime: Zenith El Primero Chronomaster / Geschichte and Hintergründe (Thomas H. Ernst)
  2. Hieber Journal 16.06.2002