The latest “Zenith by Bamford” limited-edition watch collab is visually very interesting, a further collaboration with James Thompson’s Black Badger, who is an expert in materials and men’s luxury goods. This “three-way collaboration” among England’s George Bamford, Canadian James Thompson (who works out of Sweden), and the Swiss watchmaker Zenith shows just how internationally diverse watch design has become, as well as the high level of importance modern engineering and artistic trends have in the realm of traditional, mechanical watchmaking.
Bamford continues its longstanding relationship with Zenith to use its watches as a base for interesting limited editions. What makes this relationship unique is that, unlike most other watch modifiers, Bamford can work directly with Zenith’s manufacturing processes. This is as opposed to taking a commercially finished watch and then modifying it after the fact. Being able to work directly with Zenith allows Bamford to have far more creative options, as well as to have the resultant limited-edition Zenith X Bamford watches be of a much higher quality.
Bamford brought in Black Badger for the special case material, as well as the way the case material has been processed, with this limited-edition 20-pieces watch series, called the Zenith El Primero “Superconductor” because the case material is, from an electrical engineering perspective, a superconductor (versus insulator) of electricity. Does that make a difference on the wrist as a timepiece? No. But the superconductor copper-niobium mix also has some interesting aesthetic qualities. When processed correctly, this copper-niobium metal construction has an amazing honeycomb array in the material, which is further made interesting with the case, which is given a partial acid wash. I’m not an expert on the case material itself, but similar to how Richard Mille keeps things interesting by playing with exotic forms of colored and layered carbon sheets, Zenith with Bamford and Black Badger are transforming an industrial superconductor metal into an artistic luxury watch case material.
Bamford went to Black Badger who had already learned about the material and has been using it for more simple products, and then presumably experimented with how to machine and render it for maximum aesthetic appeal in a timepiece. Each case is also masked and then given an acid bath to eat away the niobium matrix to reveal the copper below. This allows the lugs of the watch to be copper, while the rest of the case has an interesting science-fiction look to it. While certainly a matter of taste, the resultant case is both inspired and visually assertive. Personally, I think this would be a really sweet El Primero to rock, with loads of personality. Thankfully it uses the 42mm-wide Zenith El Primero case (13mm-thick and water-resistant to 100 meters).
Inside the watch is a Swiss Made Zenith in-house-made caliber El Primero 400B automatic chronograph movement. As with all El Primero movements, the 400B operates at 5Hz with a power reserve of about 50 hours. The movement is comprised of 326 parts and features the time, date, and the 12-hour chronograph display. For the dial of the Bamford Watch Department X Black Badger Zenith El Primero Superconductor watch, Zenith designed a traditional El Primero-style dial but with colors that match the major tones of the case, down to a copper-like texture for the chronograph subdials and dial periphery ring.
Zenith heritage traditionalists and vintage watch lovers might snort at these artistic takes on classic tool watches. I think that dishonors the artistic merit and appeal of giving a classic item a fresh skin. This is why people like George Bamford have proven to be popular, and there is certainly a market for ritzy luxuries such as these. I will agree that the price premium for Bamford’s Zenith watches over the stock models can be challenging for some watch enthusiasts to understand. The time and effort it takes just to perfect the way these 20 cases end up looking is probably where the majority of the price difference goes. The Bamford Watch Department X Black Badger Zenith El Primero Superconductor watch will be limited to 20 pieces and has a retail price of £14,500. Learn more or order at the Bamford Watch Department website here.