February 20, 2015
by Kenny Yeo
To mark the brand’s 150th anniversary, Zenith has introduced another version of its ultra-complicated Academy Christophe Colomb Hurricane watch (hands-on here). That watch is unique because of its gimbal-style gyroscopic escapement, which Zenith calls a “Gravity Control system”; it also has a fusée-and-chain constant force mechanism, which is rarely seen in wristwatches.
In 2013, Zenith updated the collection with the Hurricane Grand Voyage, a limited special edition piece that featured lavish decoration in the form of hand-engraving and enamel painting that depicts Christopher Columbus’ founding of the New World.
For 2015, and to mark the 150th anniversary of Zenith, the manufacture has just announced the Zenith Christophe Colomb Hurricane Grand Voyage II. It’s very similar to the Grand Voyage from 2013, but it is still worth going over what makes this watch so special. Since there is so much going on with this watch, let’s begin with the case. Case size is 45mm and is 18k rose gold. It is 14.8mm thick, but this actually varies up to 21.8mm thanks to the sapphire dome which houses the Gravity Control system. Despite the large sapphire dome, and contrary to expectations, the Zenith Christophe Colomb Hurricane Grand Voyage II wears quite well once you get used to it. The only thing we would note is that it can be easy to bump the sapphire dome into things if you are not careful.
Like its predecessor, the dial exposes much of the watch’s underlying movement and mechanisms. There are three subdials made out of gold and filled with enamel and decorated with guilloche. Hands are blued steel. The subdial at 12 o’clock tells the time, while the subdials at nine and three o’clock offer the running seconds and power reserve, respectively. Legibility is not an issue, though wearers would likely get distracted by other aspects of watch that are exposed on the dial side – that we would get into later.
The first Zenith Academy Christophe Colomb Hurricane Grand Voyage was a showcase of Zenith’s watchmaking prowess coupled with its flair for the arts and craft, and the new Zenith Academy Christophe Colomb Hurricane Grand Voyage II is no different. Flip the watch around and owners will be greeted with a large sapphire display caseback and a breathtaking artwork that celebrates Christopher Columbus.
The painting is hand-engraved and hand-painted, and depicts Columbus landing in the New World, with Columbus himself on the right-hand side holding the Spanish flag and natives on the left. In the background is a large and colorful parrot that is engraved and painted in excruciating detail, and further back, one can spy the three ships in which Columbus and his crew arrived – the Santa Maria, Niña, and Pinta. The entire painting is really fascinating to look at, and we could just stare at it for hours on end to take in all the details.
Fortunately, the artwork is more than matched by the mechanical prowess of the watch. Powering the Zenith Academy Christophe Colomb Hurricane Grand Voyage II is Zenith’s hand-wound El Primero 8805 movement, which beats at 5Hz, offers 50 hours of power reserve, and is made up of no fewer than 939 parts – a stratospheric amount in itself, and even more unusual when we consider that the watch offers a relatively small number of complications. The three complications it features are the power reserve indication, the fusée-and-chain constant force mechanism, which can be clearly see on the dial side at 12 o’clock just behind the time subdial (and which you could find in Zenith’s other recently announced creation, the Georges-Favre Jacot Academy, hands-on here). Transmission of power between the mainspring and fusée is handled by an 18cm long chain that is made up of 585 parts, and the fusée regulates the force that is passed on to the going train by adjusting for variations in tension. Winding the watch offers a visual treat of the chain wrapping itself back onto the fusée.
The third, and arguably most notable complication is the Gravity Control system, which is made up of 173 parts and borrows heavily from the principle of gimbal suspension systems used in marine chronometers of days long past. The idea behind it is that this self-regulating device would keep the escapement leveled at all times, regardless of the ships’ rolling and pitching, thus negating the need for the timekeeping device to be regulated in multiple positions.
The counterweight of the Gravity Control System features a hand-painted half-sphere of the Southern hemisphere. In some ways, this is the antithesis of the tourbillon and carrousel, and is arguably the more fun and interactive mechanism/complication. Moving the watch around lets wearers observe the mechanism at work and it is quite wondrous to see that no matter how you position the watch, the escapement stays absolutely level. It does have a wobbly action to it, as the gimbal tries to stay at level, but to think that the drive from the massive mainspring nevertheless finds its way into this tirelessly moving construction is in itself awe-inspiring.
All in all, the Zenith Academy Christophe Colomb Hurricane Grand Voyage II combines haute horlogerie with some of the most magnificent artwork we have seen on a watch. And despite its lofty specifications and presentation, it also comes off as a very fun watch to wear because of the Gravity Control system. The Zenith Academy Christophe Colomb Hurricane Grand Voyage II comes in an ornately designed presentation box made out of fine mahogany and features ox-bone inlays. It is priced at $353,000 and is limited to just 10 pieces. zenith-watches.com