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Earlier this summer, Zenith hosted collectors and enthusiasts at its Master of Chronographs exhibition in New York. During the special three-day pop-up exhibit and watchmaking clinic, the Swiss watchmaker hosted hands-on demonstrations of chronograph movements and displayed a room full of historical Zenith chronographs.

Zenith CEO Julien Tornare.

We spoke with Zenith CEO Julien Tornare during the event to learn more about the purpose of the exhibit. His responses are below.

 

IW: What do you hope people will learn about Zenith when they see this exhibition?

Julien Tornare: If they know about Zenith, then they probably already know about the El Primero. But they may not know about our history before 1969. My objective is to show that starting from the end of the 19th-Century the race for precision and chronometry began. That’s how we got to the El Primero.

In the 1960s we did not wake up and suddenly decide we were going to make super precise integrated chronographs. No. This started much earlier in the minds of our watchmakers.

This exhibit is to show existence of our heritage and where we got to where we are today.

At the turn-of-the-century, the only argument for the best watches focused on the most precise. In those days precision not only meant accuracy but also security. Sometimes it was a question of life or death, for example in an airplane or in a train it was very important to be precise.

There was no digital backup or satellite at that time. That was the ultimate proof of quality. Zenith has won with so many chronometry prizes, 2,333, out of which 233 or ten percent, were won by the Caliber 135.

Today most clients aren’t going to check the super precision of their watches. During those years this was key and Zenith was the leader. In this exhibition we display this point clearly.

 

Is Zenith planning additional vintage caliber projects similar to the Caliber 135 Observatoire Limited Edition with Kari Voutilainen?

I wish we had more of these. This is unique. When we started the project we begin talking about the commercial versions of the Caliber 135. But the extra-specialized versions of that caliber, which were made strictly for racing contests, will never be done again.

The Zenith Caliber 135 Observatoire Limited Edition, now sold out.

We have only a limited quantity of those. We use these to get them on people’s wrists because we believe this is the best testimony to our incredible past achievements. The remaining pieces we will keep in our museum. All of the recent debut pieces are already sold out.

The Zenith Caliber 135.

We will however have one more unique piece later this year with a different material, and a different dial, also by Kari Voutilainen. Phillips will auction that piece at the end of the year.

Many people wrote to me to obtain one of the ten limited-edition pieces. I told them you still have a chance when this piece comes to auction later this year.

 

Have the Skyline and new Chronomaster debuts met with your sales expectations in stores?

The Chronomaster Sport we cannot deliver fast enough. Our Defy Skyline is also very much in demand. The Chronomaster Open is just hitting the market now.

The Zenith Chronomaster Original.
The new Zenith Defy Skyline, also available in black or silver dial.

Is the Zenith Icons program growing?

This is a fantastic program, one of the most exciting projects we have started. It is more than a project, it is happening. But we don’t produce those watches so we have to look for them and acquire them. The main challenge is the sourcing. Most of the time we have to find their watches and go to acquire them.

Last year, we acquired between twenty-five and thirty watches and ninety percent of those sold out. So if you go to one of the five Zenith boutiques today where we have these icons, you will see a few, but many of them are empty. Sold out.

We cannot produce these, so this is a great concept but we need to acquire more of the pieces. We are fully prepared with the restoration capabilities.

The Zenith Defy A364-2 revives a 1969 Defy nicknamed the ‘bank vault” due to its rugged construction.

What are collectors looking for among the vintage Zenith pieces?

They are looking for a nice vintage watch that they know it is fully guaranteed and restored and certified by the brand. Many of them have purchased a vintage watch at auctions in the past. Or they bought them on other resale sites.

And when they receive their watch, it was not working properly. Or they realize much later that some of the parts in those watches are not genuine.

Available on the Zenith Icons site, this G581 was among the very first El Primero chronographs from 1969.

So we thought why not guarantee that you were getting something fully perfect. I’m not excited as much about the revenue from this project, but more about the concept and the message we give to our clients.

 

What is that message?

The message is that Zenith does commit. We will restore and repair every single watch since day one. You know there are some brands that just will not repair their own watches after twenty or thirty years. I don’t want to do that. I want to be sure that if anybody buys our watches, old or new, we can always restore them.

That is a strong message. The inspiration is there. When one of our employees is wearing an A386 from 1969, and we want to sell a new Chronomaster Original, the speech is right there. Just the presence of the vintage pieces in the stores will help sell the new pieces.

The Zenith A386 was launched in 1969 in a more classical round-case with straight lugs. This example is offered at the Zenith Icons boutique in Shanghai.

 Are the late 1960s pieces currently most in demand among the vintage items?

Yes, primarily the A386, A385, A384. We are just starting to see interest in some of the vintage Defy pieces. The A277, the earlier Chronomaster Sports.

Next year we will begin the new generation of pilot watches, so I expect vintage pilot watches to also come back in demand.

The Zenith Defy 21 Chroma.

Why should a watch collector today choose a new Zenith Watch?

When you buy a Zenith you buy three things. You’ve buying a brand that has a strong heritage. And when you get to know the brand, our history is so rich. This is a very important and it speaks to our legitimacy.

The new Zenith Defy Extreme E Island X Prix.

Second, look at our authenticity. At Zenith I can tell you that all of our stories are authentic. There are other brands that are successful commercially based on good marketing. Do you want to buy a marketing story or a true story?

Finally, we express our history in a very contemporary manner. We have, for example, the big Defy Extreme but also the Caliber 135, which is super elegant and decorated by Kari Voutilainen. We can do both of these things. We have the heritage, we focus on authenticity­ – and we exist in the 21st-century.

 

Zenith debuted the second model in series of Defy Extreme Carbon models designed to commemorate the electric rally racing championships for which the Le Locle watchmaker is official timekeeper and founding partner.

The new Zenith Defy Extreme E Island X Prix.

The new Defy Extreme E Island X Prix, cased in carbon fiber and with bright orange accents and tinted sapphire crystals, celebrates the upcoming racing series Island X Prix scheduled for this weekend on the island of Sardinia. Orange is the official color of the Island X Prix as it is said to evoking the hot temperatures of the Italian island during summer.

The color stands out against the black carbon fiber case, crown and chronograph pushers of the angular 45mm watch.

Visible in part through the front and the back of the watch is Zenith’s Defy Extreme high-frequency chronograph caliber that offers 1/100th-of-a-second time measurements, with two escapements independently beating at 5Hz (36,000 vph) for the timekeeping part and 50Hz (360,000 vph) for the chronograph. Zenith also shows off its unusual movement through a sapphire display caseback emblazoned with the Island X Prix logo.

Zenith adds to the watch’s racing and recycling theme with a special strap infused with materials of recycled tires. The Velcro strap features a black rubber central element surrounded by an orange rubber inlay. Zenith also includes two additional straps, one in black rubber and the other in black Velcro, each easily swapped without any tools.

Zenith will make the Defy Extreme E Island X Prix as a limited edition of twenty pieces. Price: $27,100.

The Horological Society of New York (HSNY) and Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo will host an online watch auction July 6 to July 13, with proceeds to assist HSNY as it advances the art and science of horology. Funds raised from the auction will underwrite offering financial aid to watchmaking institutions and scholarships to full-time watchmaking students.

Timepieces for HSNY: 2022 Charity Auction will include interesting and often rare watches from Swiss, German, Japanese and American brands, including a Tiffany-stamped watch, one prototype model and many others. Bidding is encouraged with a ‘No Reserve’ policy in force.

Here are the Lot items from Timepieces for HSNY: 2022 Charity Auction.

Lot 1 Unimatic x Massena LAB, U1-MLBN “Family and Friends”, DLC-plated stainless steel, circa 2020. Brand New. Donated by Massena LAB.

Lot 2 Nomos Glashütte, Ludwig Neomatik 39, stainless steel, circa 2020. Brand New. Donated by Nomos Glashütte.

Lot 3 Equation of Time x Atom Moore ‘Fat Arrow’ Prototype, stainless steel, circa 2022. Brand New, with limited edition metal print. Atom Moore and Roland Murphy/EOT Watches.

 

Lot 4 Grand Seiko, Reference SBGW277 U.S. Exclusive, stainless steel, circa 2021. Brand New. Donated by Grand Seiko.

Lot 5 Ulysse Nardin, open-face chronograph pocket watch with certificate and presentation box, gunmetal blue steel, circa 1912. Donated by Ulysse Nardin.

Lot 6 Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, stainless steel, circa 2022. Brand New. Donated by Jaeger-LeCoultre.

Lot 7 Paket Philippe, Reference 715, open-face pocket watch retailed by Tiffany & Co., 18K yellow gold, circa 1967. Donated by Collectability.

Lot 8 TAG Heuer, Hodinkee TAG Heuer Carrera ‘Dato’ Limited Edition, stainless steel, circa 2020. Brand New. Donated by Hodinkee. .

Lot 9 Zenith, Collective x Zenith Chronomaster El Primero C.01, stainless steel, circa 2019. Pre Owned. Donated by Collective Horology.

“The watches donated for HSNY’s 2022 auction are amusing, exciting, historical and most of all – meaningful,” said HSNY Executive Director Nicholas Manousos. “The proceeds from the generosity of the donors and bidders will go a long way towards ensuring the success of watchmaking students, and I encourage everyone to bid with that in mind.”

“We are honored and delighted to once again support HSNY’s efforts that continue to advance watchmaking science and culture in the United States,” adds Paul Boutros, Phillips’ Head of Watches, Americas. “One hundred percent of the proceeds from the sale of each watch, including Phillips’ buyers’ premium, will benefit HSNY’s educational programs, scholarships, and watchmaking school awards.”

Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo (at 432 Park Avenue in New York) will be hosting viewings of Timepieces for HSNY: 2022 Charity Auction by appointment only from July 6-13. To schedule an appointment contact watchesny@phillips.com.

 

Zenith invites collectors and enthusiasts to stop by its “Master of Chronographs” exhibition and workshop on June 15 through June 17 to learn all about the Zenith El Primero direct from Zenith’s own experts.

During the special three-day pop-up exhibit and watchmaking clinic, Zenith will host the public during a multi-faceted display and hands-on demonstration of chronograph movements in watchmaking history. Zenith CEO Julien Tornare, Zenith Product Development and Heritage Director Romain Marietta and U.S. Zenith Brand President Ellen Sorensen will host the event.

The new Zenith Chronomaster Open.

Visitors can expect a slate of chrono-centric activities starting at 10 a.m. each day of the event, which takes place at 
Phillips Auction House,
 432 Park Avenue at (at 56 Street), New York, NY 10022.

Schedule:

10 a.m. to 5 p.m.: A watch clinic 
(every hour).

In the 30-40-minute hands-on clinic a master watchmaker will discuss the inner intricacies of the chronograph complication, with focus in the El Primero movement.

11 a.m.: Tour of Exhibit

Zenith’s Product Development and Heritage Director Romain Marietta will guide guests through a series of historically significant archival timepieces. These rare timepieces, the legacy of the watchmakers that propelled the brand into the future, take visitors on an ‘unforgettable journey through time.’

4 p.m.: Product Presentations

Romain Marietta will present Zenith’s 2022 debuts.

To attend Zenith’s Master of Chronographs pop-up exhibition at Phillips Auction House, register online  here.

 

Zenith teams with Phillips and independent watchmaker Kari Voutilainen to restore and hand-decorate a batch of vintage Zenith Caliber 135-O movements. As a result of this partnership, Zenith is launching the Caliber 135 Observatoire Limited Edition, a stunning 38mm platinum chronometer watch rife with vintage design cues that complement the 1950s-era manual-wind movement inside.

The new Zenith Caliber 135 Observatoire Limited Edition.

The modern Zenith star logo on the dial may be the only contemporary design detail on this retro beauty. Its tapered lugs, sapphire glass box crystal, triangular hour markers, faceted gold hands and seconds subdial recall the mid-20th century era when Zenith routinely took prizes in Swiss chronometry competitions – frequently with its Caliber 135. With more than 230 chronometry prizes, the Caliber 135-O holds the most awards of any observatory chronometer caliber in the history of watchmaking.

The Zenith Caliber 135.

In addition to hand finishing the movement, Voutilainen (through his atelier) also applied an eye-catching guilloché engraving in a fish-scale motif to the dial along the bezel. Inside the seconds subdial, you’ll find the movement’s serial number inscribed, a gesture meant to note that each movement, regulated originally by revered chronométriers Charles Fleck or René Gygax, has been updated by Voutilainen and his team.

“The persons working on these movements were the best watchmakers at the time. They had the know-how to make things precise. That precision doesn’t disappear after 70 years,” says Voutilainen. “Our duty was not to touch that performance.”

Voutilainen has refined the historical movement’s aesthetic appearance with hand chamfered and polished edges on the gold-colored bridges, beveled and polished screw-heads, circular graining on the main plate, snailed brushing on the ratchet and crown wheels and more.

Unusually, Zenith and Voutilainen has signed “Neuchâtel” at the bottom of the dial. This denotes the historical Observatory where the Calibre 135-O competed and won so many of it Swiss chronometry competitions.

Zenith and Phillips will offer the new Zenith Caliber 135 Observatoire Limited Edition as a series of ten pieces sold exclusively by Phillips in association with Bacs & Russo. Price: CHF 132,900.